Pantheism is the idea that God and the world are identical—that the creator, sustainer, destroyer, and transformer of all things is the universe itself. From a monotheistic perspective, this notion is irremediably heretical since it suggests divinity might be material, mutable, and multiple. Since the excommunication of Baruch Spinoza, Western thought has therefore demonized what it calls pantheism, accusing it of incoherence, absurdity, and—with striking regularity—monstrosity.
In this book, Mary-Jane Rubenstein investigates this perennial repugnance through a conceptual genealogy of pantheisms. What makes pantheism “monstrous”—at once repellent and seductive—is that it scrambles the raced and gendered distinctions that Western philosophy and theology insist on drawing between activity and passivity, spirit and matter, animacy and inanimacy, and creator and created. By rejecting the fundamental difference between God and world, pantheism threatens all the other oppositions that stem from it: light versus darkness, male versus female, and humans versus every other organism. If the panic over pantheism has to do with a fear of crossed boundaries and demolished hierarchies, then the question becomes what a present-day pantheism might disrupt and what it might reconfigure. Cobbling together heterogeneous sources—medieval heresies, their pre- and anti-Socratic forebears, general relativity, quantum mechanics, nonlinear biologies, multiverse and indigenous cosmologies, ecofeminism, animal and vegetal studies, and new and old materialisms—Rubenstein assembles possible pluralist pantheisms. By mobilizing this monstrous mixture of unintentional God-worlds, Pantheologies gives an old heresy the chance to renew our thinking.
This nuanced history from Wesleyan religion professor Rubenstein exposes how scientists and philosophers have, for centuries, used pantheism as an outer limit of the thinkable. Her key argument centers on how pantheism uncomfortably blurs spiritual distinctions as a kind of queerness. In particular, it calls into question the ostensibly rational, masculine superiority of intellect over matter and God over the world. She opens with a close reading of Spinoza and his critics, explaining that his perspectival monism views nature as expressions of God. She next considers the role matter plays in pantheist claims and how medieval and contemporary scholars challenged notions of inert, blank substance including recent philosophical work on vibrant and interconnected matter. Returning to Spinoza's assumptions, she meticulously deconstructs arguments about a single, gridlike world in favor of a world dominated by a creative multiplicity, then closes with debates over Einstein's invoking of Spinoza's God to show how conservative theological aversion to pantheism has continued well past the 19th century. Scholars of the philosophy of science and religion will find complex analyses that reshape the assumptions within both fields in this impressive work.