1. Panentheism and Panpsychism

Two great forms of unity metaphysics enjoy energetic discussion in the current debates of philosophy and theology. Firstly, panpsychism as a naturalistic, non-reductive ontology of mind has gained ground in the analytic philosophy of mind over the last 25 years.1 Additionally, and dating back to early 20th century, panentheism has found use in theology and the analytic philosophy of religion to describe the relationship between God and the world.2

This volume is the first attempt to create an anthology of the more recent history of philosophy and theology, and aims to bring these two research directions together in an interdisciplinary conversation.

Our aim is to examine the benefits which panpsychism and panentheism offer to one another; which problem-solving proposals are made possible by a synthesis of the two; and where the limitations of their interplay need to be demarcated.

One could of course wonder if the commonalities and potential connections between panpsychism and panentheism do not in fact end with the common prefix »Pan«. We would beg to differ: In the history of philosophy and theology, great thinkers have repeatedly combined panpsychism and panentheism in their systematic designs. The philosophical systems of Karl Christian Friedrich Krause3, Alfred North Whitehead4 and Charles Hartshorne5 all contain panpsychistic and panentheistic motifs.

However, this is not primarily a historical anthology. Rather, we are concerned with the systematic question of the explanatory potential which the combination of panpsychism and panentheism holds for current debates in philosophy and theology.

Although panpsychism and panentheism prima facie refer to different areas of subject matter, they exhibit astonishing structural similarities: Both panpsychistic and panentheistic approaches generally mediate between dualistic and monistic theories by avoiding a complete ontological separation of God and the world, or mind and matter. The rejection of reductionism and the legacy of unity metaphysics can also be seen as common ground. God and world, as well as mind and matter, are regarded as different but nevertheless intrinsically related to each other.

The present volume is divided into two major thematic areas: The first section focuses on articles that examine the relationship between panpsychism and panentheism from a philosophical perspective. The second section focuses on articles that examine the relationship between panpsychism and panentheism from a theological perspective. Our aim in compiling the articles was to assemble a clearly interdisciplinary anthology, containing both philosophical and theological approaches. Our objective is to encourage the debate with each other’s discipline in order to enable new insights beyond established boundaries.

We hope that we can make a contribution with this volume to a debate whose conceptual potential is not just far from exhausted, but rather just beginning to establish itself as a promising approach in philosophical theology.

The editors would like to thank the following institutions and individuals for their contributions to the creation of this volume:

The research upon which this volume is based was carried out by the DFG Emmy Noether junior research group »A scientific theology? Naturalism and Philosophy of Science as Current Challenges of Catholic Theology (Grant ID 295845819)«, and was made possible by the project »Analytic Theology and the Nature of God« sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation.

Friedrich Sieben, Stephen Henderson, Max Brunner and Tobias Keweloh have made major contributions to the production of the printed version of this volume.

2. Summaries

In his essay Interdisciplinary Convergences with Biology and Ethics via Cell Biologist Ernest Everett Just and Astrobiologist Sir Fred Hoyle Theodore Walker tries to show that biology and ethics can supplement theology. According to cell biologist Ernest Everett Just (1883-1941) ethical behaviors »evolved« from our very most primitive origins in cells. Evolution includes evolving ethical behaviors. Hence, for a significant portion of the panpsychist spectrum, from cells to humans, ethical behavior is necessary for evolutionary advances. This insight contributes to solving the problem of relating ethics to nature. Ethical behavior is natural. Also, natural ethics and cell biology coupled with human-mind-body-cell analogy can supplement ontological panentheism (all-in-God-ism) by adding a corresponding spatial metaphor (all-inside-God-ism). God is the all-inclusive whole of reality, and we are parts of reality included inside the all-inclusive divine body, somewhat like cells inside our bodies. Furthermore, according to astrobiologist Sir Fred Hoyle (1915-2001), life-favoring providence (ethical behavior) extends far beyond planet Earth. Hoyle advanced theories of stellar evolution (we are evolved stardust) and cosmic evolution guided by all-inclusive divine intelligence.

In his Panpsychism and Panentheism Benedikt Göcke works out a plausible version of the panpsychist thesis before two arguments for panpsychism are examined for their soundness. In a next step, two arguments against the developed panpsychist thesis are discussed, which, prima facie, pose theoretically insurmountable aporia for it. In a final step, it is argued that panpsychism as located in analytic philosophy can overcome these problems when it is included in the wider theoretical framework of panentheism, as it is paradigmatically set out in the classical German philosophy of the panentheist Karl Christian Friedrich Krause and his pupil Arthur Schopenhauer.

In her Deploying Panpsychism for the Demarcation of Panentheism Joanna Leidenhag addresses the problem that if panentheism cannot be clearly defined and demarcated from neighbouring theological positions, then it is in danger of becoming a vacuous term, devoid of any purpose or promise within theological discourse. Leidenhag helps panentheists avoid this dismal fate in two ways. First, she provides a model of the kind of definition and demarcation necessary, by outlining the family of positions known as panpsychism in philosophy of mind. Second, she tests the correspondence of specific versions of panpsychism to panentheism’s two central claims: (a) that the world is the body of God, and (b) that the world is in God. She concludes that a cosmopsychism that posits a non-constitutive relation between the one cosmic subject and the many individual subjects, may be a useful, even necessary, ontology for panentheists to adopt if they are to deliver on the promise of a middle path between classical theism and pantheism.

According to David Skrbina’s God as World-Mind: Some Theological Implications of Panpsychism, the two perhaps most important concepts in the history of philosophy are God and mind. Though there is a vast literature on each, their intersection is much less examined, and his work seeks to further this discussion in light of a broadly panpsychist metaphysics. Panpsychism in conjunction with a monist ontology suggests that mind is present at all levels of physical systems, from the smallest subatomic particles up to the universe as a whole. Ultimately Skrbina postulates a sort of minimalist panentheism, one on which God is a cosmic mind. On this view, God’s relation to the universe is parallel to that between our own mind and body—no more, no less. According to Skrbina, this theory offers a concrete and tractable model on which to conceive of God, and it leads to broader conclusions about the nature of both subjects and objects. He concludes that viewing God as a universal mind has clear religious and ethical implications, ones which are positive in their own right.

In his paper Universal Consciousness as the Ground of Logic Philip Goff first argues that mystics in many cultures throughout history claim to have experiences in which it is apparent (to the mystic undergoing the experience) that there is a kind of non-dual ›universal consciousness‹ underlying all of reality. In a second step, Goff then presents an argument for something like the view of reality suggested by these experiences, based on its potential to account for the metaphysics and epistemology of logical truth.

In his paper Naïve Panentheism Karl Pfeifer attempts to present a coherent view of panentheism that eschews Pickwickian senses of »in« and aligns itself with, and builds upon, familiar diagrammed portrayals of panentheism. The account is accordingly spatial-locative and moreover accepts the proposal of R.T. Mullins that absolute space and time be regarded as attributes of God. In addition, however, it argues that a substantive parthood relation between the world and God is required. Pfeifer’s preferred version of panpsychism, viz. panintentionalism, is thrown into the mix as an optional add-on. On this account, God is conceived of as a »spiritual field« whose nature can be made more intelligible by regarding »God« as having a mass-noun sense in some contexts. Pfeifer closes with the suggestion that we look to topology and mereology for further development of the position outlined in his paper.

In his paper What a Feeling? In Search of a Metaphysical Connection between Panpsychism and Panentheism Uwe Voigt raises the following question: Even if panpsychism and panentheism are logically independent from one another, could there be a metaphysical connection between them? As in the Kripkean parallel case of water and H2O, Voigt looks for the foundation for that eventual metaphysical connection in a certain kind of experience: the experience what it is like to be a microsubject. The disclosure of that experience starts from a closer look at the combination problem of panpsychism, whose core can be seen in the question how phenomenal bonding is possible. One promising possibility, according to Voigt, is to understand mental states, as New Phenomenology does it, as spatially extended ›atmospheres‹. From a panentheist point of view, God could then be conceived of as the mental inside of the space which encompasses the whole of a panpsychist universe, and herein panpsychists could see the reason why microsubjects are ›lured‹ to combine with one another in the first place.

In his paper God or Space and Nature? Henry More’s Panentheism of Space and Panpsychism of Life and Nature Christian Hengstermann argues that Cambridge Platonist philosophy of religion as a whole left a decisive mark on the history of panentheism and panpsychism. As to panentheism, they have been credited with seeking to precipitate a »pantheism controversy« more than a century before the outbreak of the historic debate of that name in Enlightenment Germany. Theirs is a religious philosophy that may well be qualified as a »Spinozism of freedom«, i.e. a system of thought that views God as informing and suffusing all of reality, while also emphasizing man’s capacity for libertarian choice. Like the more well-known dispute between Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi and Moses Mendelssohn about the late Lessing’s Spinozist creed, the controversies about Cudworth’s account of Platonist, Patristic and Egyptian ancient theology pivoted around God as hen kai pan. As to panpsychism, it is thanks to their staunch resistance both to Cartesian mechanism and Spinozist panpsychism that the Cambridge Platonists are accorded a pivotal role in the history of this contentious doctrine.

In his Varieties of Panpsychism Philip Clayton argues that, at first glance, the panpsychism debate appears to be a question of all or nothing, just as the thief either takes all of William’s money or he doesn’t. Clayton, however, suggests that we need to think our way beyond this way of approaching panpsychism. Particularly in the context of panentheism, panpsychism should be more complex than the thesis that all levels of evolution can be summarized under the heading of pan-psyche or, following David Ray Griffin, pan-experience. Instead, Clayton argues, the discussion of God, evolution, and psyche needs to be expanded to include the full variety of qualities, including awareness, intention, goal-directed behavior, mental representation, cognition, and consciousness. Clearly this shift has implications for understanding the nature and scope of metaphysics and theology, a topic to which Clayton returns at the end of the discussion.

Uwe Meixner’s essay Orthodox Panentheism: Sergius Bulgakov’s Sophiology explores the panentheistic ideas within a system of thought which is basically theologically orthodox, a system which is without impersonalistic tendencies, upholding, instead, a personal god: the sophiological theology of Sergius Bulgakov (1871-1944), inspired by Platonism, Byzantine Christianity (in the guise of Russian Orthodoxy), and German Idealism. The essay also shows that Bulgakov’s orthodox panentheism is connected with an orthodox panpsychism.

In their chapter Panentheism and Panexperientialism for Open and Relational Theology Thomas Jay Oord and Wm. Andrew Schwartz argue that a particular form of theism—»open and relational theology«—has an affinity for panentheism and panpsychism. The open and relational theology Oord and Schwartz recommend includes several attractive features. It affirms belief in a personal/relational God, which offers a host of advantages to those who believe that God interacts with creation. According to Oord and Schwartz, their theology furthermore has the advantage of solving at least the theoretical aspect of the problem of evil. Oord and Schwartz finish by arguing that open and relational theologies that adopt panpsychism and panentheism can also overcome other theoretical problems in contemporary thought that alternative theologies cannot.

In his essay A panpsychist panentheistic incarnational model of the Eucharist James Arcadi discusses the conception of the Eucharist as a special locus of the divine presence. In virtue of the consecrated elements’ status as the body and blood of Christ, and in virtue of Christ’s status as himself God, these objects are taken to be an instance of »God with us.« Arcadi’s essay attempts to make sense of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist within a panpsychist panentheism. Arcadi conjoins a causal explication of panentheism with a panpsychism whereby God supplies the mental component of the cosmos to arrive at a conception of orthodox Christology that then funds an incarnational model of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist.

Ayon Maharaj’s chapter Panentheistic Cosmopsychism provides the first detailed examination of the views on consciousness of Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), the famous nineteenth-century Indian monk who introduced Hinduism and Vedānta to the West. Maharaj first presents Vivekananda’s metaphysical framework of panentheistic cosmopsychism, according to which the sole reality is Divine Consciousness, which manifests as everything in the universe. He then goes on to argue that Vivekananda’s panentheistic cosmopsychism combines elements from the classical Indian philosophical traditions of Sāṃkhya and Advaita Vedānta as well as the teachings of his guru Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886). Once this is done, Maharaj reconstructs Vivekananda’s sophisticated arguments in favor of panentheistic cosmopsychism. Maharaj argues that Vivekananda’s panentheistic cosmopsychism, in light of its distinctive features and its potential philosophical advantages over rival theories of consciousness, deserves to be taken seriously by contemporary philosophers of mind and religion.

3. References

  • Brüntrup, G. and L. Jaskolla (2017) »Introduction.« In: G. Brüntrup & L. Jaskolla (eds.) Panpsychism. Contemporary Perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1-16.

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  • Peacocke, A. (2004) »Introduction: ›In whom we live and move and have our being?‹« In: P. Clayton, A Peacocke (eds.) In Whome we Live and Move and Have our Being. Panentheistic Reflections on God’s Presence in a Scientific Universe. Eerdmans Publishing, xviii-xxxii.

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  • Göcke, B.P. (2018) The Panentheism of Karl Christian Friedrich Krause. From Transcendental Philosophy to Metaphysics. Oxford: Peter Lang [Open Access]

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  • Whitehead, A.N. (1929/1978) Process and Reality. An Essay in Cosmology. New York: The Free Press. Corrected Edition by David R. Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne.

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  • Hartshorne, C. (1967) A Natural Theology for our Time. La Salle: Open Court.


Brüntrup and Jaskolla 2017.


Cf. Peacocke 2004.


Cf. Göcke 2018.


Whitehead 1929/1978.


Hartshorne 1967.