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Panentheism and Its Place in the History of Religion

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Material Christianity

Abstract

In this chapter we opt for a very literal interpretation of materiality and religion by highlighting religious notions that merge the usually mundane material with the divine, with some discussion about how many Christians find such views problematic. There has been much written of late on the topic of panentheism, which is pertinent to religions of the Western and Eastern traditions. Questioning many contemporary descriptions of ‘panentheism’, a good number of which we feel arise out of theistic presuppositions, we produce our own definition of sorts, rooted in and paying respect to the term’s etymology, and the concept’s roots in Indian religion and Western philosophy. We also explore the historical roots of the panentheistic concept and contrast it with its alternatives, i.e. theism, pantheism, and polytheism. Finally, we very briefly comment on the attempts to define panentheism by a few contemporary scholars, who often wish to downplay its plausibility relative to theism.

An alternative version of this chapter was published in 2018 in the Journal of World Philosophies. It includes more detailed responses to Göcke and Mullins (Lataster and Bilimoria 2018). Some of the claims and counter-claims made about panentheism are controversial, to say the least.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The concluding contribution noted the lack of a clear definition (Hutchings 2010).

  2. 2.

    Please note that ‘God’ typically refers to the god of classical theism , while we generally use the terms ‘deity’ and ‘god’ in a more generic sense.

  3. 3.

    Some scholars argue that pantheistic models are to be preferred due to both logical and pragmatic reasons (Lataster 2015b).

  4. 4.

    Taoists tend to see the Tao as the all/divine.

  5. 5.

    As with other types, there are many possible forms of panentheism . Patrick Hutchings, a Christian theist, also notes the great diversity of panentheisms and yearns for a definitive panentheistic concept (Hutchings 2010, pp. 297–300). Some might also effectively conflate panentheism with panpsychism (Mathews 2010, p. 235). However, we favour drawing a distinction by taking panpsychism, for one, as per Schopenhauer, as entailing that everything is conscious (cf. Goff et al. 2017). See also Leidenhag 2018.

  6. 6.

    For some discussion on pantheism , and the pragmatic benefits of a pantheistic mindset, see Levine 1994a, b.

  7. 7.

    For more on such panentheistic notions, see Overzee 1992. See also Barua 2010, pp. 1–3 for some discussion about Christian reactions to notions of the world where the deity and the Universe are of the same substance, and Rāmānuja’s belief that the “world literally is the body of Brahman”. Barua has further discussed the thought of Rāmānuja (2012).

  8. 8.

    Barua concluded that Rāmānuja would reject ‘creation out of nothing’, as he believed that the world always existed in the sense that it is literally of “the Lord’s Body” (Barua 2010, pp. 10, 21).

  9. 9.

    For instance, the Lakota of North America are believed to have held panentheistic views (Callicott 1997, p. 122).

  10. 10.

    This prompted considerable discussion. See Lataster 2014, Göcke 2014, Lataster 2015a, and Göcke 2015.

  11. 11.

    We do not believe that this means that Göcke is, all things considered, not open to the thesis of panentheism in its own right, whichever other ways this thesis may get flashed out.

  12. 12.

    This appears to be a reprint of his article in Philosophia volume 35.

  13. 13.

    Note that James E. Taylor finds this model “logically incoherent”, and believes that “all of the components of the model just mentioned can be accommodated by a Christian monotheist model without having to resort to panentheism ” (2007).

  14. 14.

    For a sample, see Czachesz 2017, pp. 79, 87; Crossley 2015, p. 171; Balstrup 2015, p. 15; Carrier 2014; Lataster and Carrier 2015; Lataster 2016. Lataster’s monograph on the topic is expected to be published this year.

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Lataster, R., Bilimoria, P. (2020). Panentheism and Its Place in the History of Religion. In: Ocker, C., Elm, S. (eds) Material Christianity. Sophia Studies in Cross-cultural Philosophy of Traditions and Cultures, vol 32. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-32018-8_8

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