What is Panentheism?

Introduction

Panentheism is a view that Nature and God are one and the same. In this regard, it is similar to Pantheism; however, unlike the latter, Panentheism does not equate the two and instead stresses that God is more than Nature alone. While one can speak of Nature as being synonymous to speaking about God, and just as with Pantheism, to claim that God is present in all aspects of Nature, Panentheism holds that God is more than a mere physical matter and goes beyond it. In other words, Panentheism holds that while Nature is part of God, it is only one part and not God in their entirety.

Some key historical texts have been attributed to the notion of Panentheism. In the Western tradition, there is Neoplatonism of Plotinus where Earth is thought to be a God. In the East, Bhagavad Gita and Sri Rudram encompass Panentheism in Hinduism. Many other societies and religions have closely held Nature and God without fully equating the two, in various forms and to various degrees: tribes in pre-colonial Americas, Hasidic Judaism, Sufism, Orthodox Christians. This list is far from exhaustive.

While there have been many belief systems that can be said to have been Panentheistic, the term itself is relatively recent and was coined by the German philosopher Karl Christian Friedrich Krause in the early 19th century. Krause aimed to combine Monotheism and Pantheism – a reconciliation of what is known through faith (Monotheistic God) and what is known through the senses (Nature). He called this system Panentheism arriving from the Greek πᾶν (all), ἐν (in) and Θεός (God) – all-in-God. The main influence on Krause’s thinking were the works of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, and specifically on the relation of God and the universe as it was opposed to Baruch Spinoza’s pantheism. Krause became very influential in his time, and his conception of a Panentheistic God influenced Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Transcendentalism. His views also heavily influenced the 19th century New Thought religious movement and Process Theology of the 20th century.

Types of Panentheism

There two types of panentheism – a weak panentheism and a strong panentheism. In addition to that, there is a closely connected view of Panendeism.

  • Strong Panentheism – a view that holds that God and the universe are one and the same, and thus not only that God is present in Nature. Strong Panentheism is closer to Pantheism and accepts God’s direct influence on the world around us. In other words, Nature is not understood as an autonomous entity, but one that is directly influenced by God in order to impact his will on the world.
  • Weak Panentheism – a view that holds that God is present in the universe, and not at all one and the same with it. In contradistinction to Strong Panentheism, Weak Panentheism holds that Nature is autonomous to some degree and is therefore outside of God’s will and impact.
  • Panendeism – a view that combines Panentheism with Deism and holds that Nature is part of God, and yet operates in a wholly independent way from God. Panendeism thus also holds that God does not intervene with Nature or its mechanisms.

Further Reading

Mitchell, S. (2002). Bhagavad Gita, New York: Harmony.

Saraswati, S. D. (2010). Sri Rudram, Chennai: Arsha Vidya Research And Publication Trust.

Emerson, R. W. (2002). The Essential Writings. New York: Random House.

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