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Panentheism is the theological position that God is immanent within the Universe, but also transcends it. It is distinguished from pantheism, which holds that God is synonymous with the material universe. In panentheism, God is viewed as creator and/or animating force behind the universe, and the source of universal truth. The term is closely associated with the God of Greek philosophy and the Logos in the works of Herakleitos, which pervades the cosmos and whereby all things were made.


Ancient panentheism

North American Indians were and still are largely panentheistic, conceiving of God (or the Sacred Other as George Tinker, a member of the Osage Nation, describes the Deep Mystery which creates and sustains all Creation in his book Spirit and Resistance: Political Theology and American Indian Liberation) as both immanent in Creation and transcendent from it. An exception is the Cherokee who were monotheistic. Most South American peoples were largely panentheistic as well (as were ancient South East Asian cultures). The Central American empires of the Mayas, Aztecs as well as the South American Incans (Tahuatinsuyu) were actually polytheistic and had very strong male deities.

Neoplatonism is polytheistic and panentheistic. Plotinus taught that there was an ineffable transcendent God (The One) of which subsequent realities were emanations. From the One emanates the Divine Mind (Nous) and the Cosmic Soul (Psyche). In Neoplatonism the world itself is a God.

Development of a formal philosophy

The German philosopher Karl Christian Friedrich Krause (1781–1832) seeking to reconcile monotheism and pantheism, coined the term panentheism (all in God) in 1828. This conception of God influenced New England transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson. The term was popularized by Charles Hartshorne in his development of process theology and has also been adopted by proponents of various New Thought beliefs. However despite formalization of this term in the west as late as the 18th century, the formal analysis of panentheism is not new; for example philosophical treatises have been written on it in the context of Hinduism for millennia.

Beginning in the 1940s, Hartshorne examined numerous conceptions of God. He reviewed and discarded pantheism, deism, and pandeism in favor of panentheism, finding that "panentheistic doctrine contains all of deism and pandeism except their arbitrary negations". Hartshorne formulated God as necessarily being able to become 'more perfect', contending that God had absolute perfection in categories for which absolute perfection was possible, and relative perfection (i.e. was superior to all others) in categories for which perfection can not be precisely determined. [1]

Panentheism in Christianity

Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christianity

The Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches have a doctrine called panentheism to describe the relationship between the Uncreated (God, who is omnipotent, eternal, and constant) and His creation that bears surface similarities with the panentheism described above but maintains a critical distinction.

Most specifically, these Churches teach that God is not the "watchmaker God" of the Western European Enlightenment. Likewise, they teach that God is not the "stage magician God" who only shows up when performing miracles. Instead, the teaching of both these Churches is that God is not merely necessary to have created the universe, but that His active presence is necessary in some way for every bit of creation, from smallest to greatest, to continue to exist at all. That is, God's energies maintain all things and all beings, even if those beings have explicitly rejected Him. His love of creation is such that he will not withdraw His presence, which would be the ultimate form of slaughter, not merely imposing death but ending existence, altogether. By this token, the entirety of creation is sanctified, and thus no part of creation can be considered innately evil. This does not deny the existence of evil in a fallen universe, only that it is not an innate property of creation.

This Orthodox Christian panentheism is distinct from a fundamentalist panentheism in that it maintains an ontological gulf or distance between the created and the Uncreated. Creation is not "part of" God, and the Godhead is still distinct from creation; however, God is "within" all creation, thus the Orthodox parsing of the word is "pan-entheism" (God indwells in all things) and not "panen-theism" (All things are part of God but God is more than the sum of all things).

Other Christian panentheists

Panentheistic God-models are exceptionally common amongst professional theologians (exegetes, Christian ethicists, and religious philosophers). Process theology, Creation Spirituality and Panentheist Circle, three Christian views, contain panentheistic worldviews. Their models of panentheism are distinct from that of the Orthodox Churches. The Unity Church is another example of a Christian church with panentheistic views.

Some argue that panentheism should also include the notion that God has always been related to some world or another, which denies the idea of creation out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo). Thomas Jay Oord advocates panentheism, but he uses the word "theocosmocentrism" to highlight the notion that God and some world or another are the primary conceptual starting blocks for eminently fruitful theology. This form of panentheism helps in overcoming the problem of evil and in proposing that God's love for the world is essential to who God is.

Panentheism was a major force in the Unitarian church for a long time, based on Ralph Waldo Emerson's concept of the Oversoul. This survives today as the panentheistic religion, Oversoul. [1]

Panentheism in Islam

Several Sufi saints and thinkers, primarily Ibn Arabi, held beliefs that were somewhat panentheistic. These notions later took shape in the theory of wahdat ul-wujud (the Unity of All Things). Some Sufi Orders, notably the Bektashis, continue to espouse panentheistic beliefs. Most Ismailis are panentheistic.

Panentheism in Hinduism

Many interpretations of Hinduism can be seen as panentheistic and the first and most ancient ideas of panentheism originate in the Bhagvad Gita. Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, said that "panentheism is the view that the universe is part of the being of God, as distinguished from pantheism ("all-is-God doctrine"), which identifies God with the total reality. In contrast, panentheism holds that God pervades the world, but is also beyond it. He is immanent and transcendent, relative and Absolute. This embracing of opposites is called dipolar. For the panentheist, God is in all, and all is in God."

Certain interpretations of the Gita and the Shri Rudram support this view. For example, Lord Krishna's saying to Arjuna: "I continually support the entire universe by a very small fraction of My divine power," has been interpreted to support panentheism. (Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 10, verse 42.) Panenthestic views are stated explicitly in several stotras. For example, the Vedasara Shivastotram says: "It is you from whom this universe of forms emerges, and it is you within whom it stays. It is you in whom it finally disappears."(11) [2]

The panentheistic view of Hinduism has been termed by some scholars as monistic theism. For example, in Vaishnavism, it is interesting to note that the schools were all panentheistic. Vallabhacharya's school of pure monism, Nimbarka's school of Dvaitaadvaita and Ramanuja's school of qualified monism are all panentheistic. Additionally, Chaitanya's school of Gaudiya Vaishnavism is also panentheistic. In Saivite theology, some schools of Saiva Siddhanta and Kashmir Shaivism are also panentheistic.

Gnosticism, Manichaeism, and Kabbalism

Some branches of Gnosticism hold the inverse idea of panentheism: they regard matter as evil and ultimately flawed, and thus not a part of God (see the Sethian and Ophites). This rigid dualism is seen most clearly in the teachings of Manichaeism.

Valentinian Gnosticism claims that matter came about through emanations of the supreme being, and to some this event is held to be more of an accident than of being on purpose. To other Gnostics, the emanations are akin to the Sephiroth of the Kabbalists - description of the manifestation of God through a complex system of reality.

New Thought Movement

Unity, Religious Science, and Divine Science are denominations that represent a panentheistic worldview within the New Thought Movement.

See also


  1. Charles Hartshorne, Man's Vision of God and the Logic of Theism (1964) ISBN 0-208-00498-X p. 348

External links

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