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Immanence, derived from the Latin in manere - "to remain within" - refers to philosophical and metaphysical theories of divine presence, which hold that some divine being or essence manifests in and through all aspects of the material world. It is usually applied in monotheistic, pantheistic, or panentheistic faiths to suggest that the spiritual world permeates the non-spiritual, and often contrasts the idea of transcendence.

Immanence is generally associated with mysticism and mystical sects, but most religions have elements of both immanent and transcendent belief in their doctrines. Major faiths commonly devote significant philosophical efforts to explaining the relationship between immanence and transcendence, but these efforts run the gamut from casting immanence as a characteristic of a transcendent God (common in Abrahamic faiths) to subsuming transcendent 'personal' gods in a greater immanent being (Hindu Brahman) to approaching the question of transcendence as something which can only be answered through an appraisal of immanence (Buddhism, and some philosophical perspectives).

Immanence in religion

Immanence implies the omnipresence of a divine entity or essence. It is related to issues such as omnipotence and omniscience, but not all faiths consider the divine to be an 'actor' or a 'knower'.


According to Christian theology the only transcendent, almighty, and holy God, who cannot be approached or seen in essence or being, becomes immanent primarily in the God-man Jesus the Christ, who is the incarnate Second Person of the Trinity. In Eastern Orthodox theology the immanence of God is expressed as the hypostases or energies of God, who in his essence is incomprehensible and transcendent.

This is most famously expressed in St. Paul's letter to the Philippians, where he writes:

Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.[1]

The Holy Spirit is also expressed as an immanence of God.

and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."[2]

The immanence of the triune God is celebrated in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodoxy during the liturgical calendar feast as the Theophany of God (see Feast of Theophany).

Pope Pius X wrote at length about philosophical-theological controversies over immanence in his encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis.

In the theology of Karl Rahner, it is said that "the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity, and the immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity." That is to say, God communicates Himself to humanity ("economic" Trinity) as He really is in the divine Life ("immanent" Trinity).


According to LDS theology all of the material creation is filled with by an immanence known as the "Light of Christ". This same immanence is responsible for the intuitive conscience born into man. The Light of Christ is understood as the source of intellectual and spiritual enlightenment. It is the means by which God is in and through all things.[3] These scriptures identify the divine Light as the mind of God, the source of all truth, and the conveyor of the characteristics of the divine nature (God's goodness). The brilliance or glory of God when seen reflects the “fullness” of this spirit within God's being.[4] Similarly, mankind can incorporate this spiritual light or divine mind and thus become one with God.[5] This immanent spirit of light bridges the scientific and spiritual conceptualizations of the universe.[6]

36 in section 93 of the LDS Doctrine and Covenants says "The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth." Which means that all substance is Intelligence.

Judaism and the Kabbalah

Traditional Jewish religious thought can be divided into Nigleh ("Revealed") and Nistar ("Hidden") dimensions. Hebrew Scripture is traditionally explained using the four level exegesis method of Pardes. In this system, the first three approaches of the Simple, Hinted and Homiletical interpretations, characterise the revealed aspects. The fourth approach of the Secret meaning, characterises a hidden aspect. Among the classic texts of Jewish tradition, some Jewish Bible commentators, the Midrash, the Talmud, and mainstream Jewish philosophy utilise revealed approaches. Other Bible commentators, the Kabbalah, and Hasidic philosophy, utilise hidden approaches. Both dimensions are traditionally seen as united and complimentary. In this way, ideas in Jewish thought are given a variety of ascending meanings. Explanations of a concept in Nigleh, are given inherent, inner, mystical contexts from Nistar.

Descriptions of Divine immanence are found in Nigleh, from the Bible to Rabbinic Judaism. In Genesis, God makes a personal covenant with the forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Daily Jewish prayers refer to this inherited closeness and personal relationship with the Divine, for their descendants, as "the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob". To Moses, God reveals his Tetragrammaton name, that more fully captures Divine descriptions of transcendence. Each of the Biblical names for God, describe different Divine manifestations. The most important prayer in Judaism, that forms part of the Scriptural narrative to Moses, says "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One." This declaration combines different Divine names, and themes of immanence and transcendence. Perhaps the most personal example of a Jewish prayer that combines both themes is the invocation repeatedly voiced during the time in the Jewish calendar devoted to Teshuva (Return, inaccurately translated as Repentance), Avinu Malkeinu ("Our Father, Our King"). Much of the later Hebrew Biblical narrative recounts the reciprocal relationship and national drama of the unfolding of themes of immanence and transcendence. Mainstream Jewish thought and philosophy further describes and articulates these interconnected aspects of the Divine-human relationship.

Jewish Mysticism gives explanations of greater depth and spirituality, to the interconnected aspects of God's immanence and transcendence. The main expression of mysticism, the Kabbalah, began to be taught in 12th Century Europe, and reached a new systemisation in 16th Century Israel. The Kabbalah gives the full, subtle, traditional system of Jewish metaphysics. In the Medieval Kabbalah, new doctrines described the 10 Sephirot (Divine emanations) through which the Infinite, unknowable Divine essence reveals, emanates, and continuously creates existence. The Kabbalists identified the final, feminine Sefirah with the earlier, traditional Jewish concept of the Shekhinah (immanent Divine Presence). This gave great spirituality to earlier ideas in Jewish thought, such as the theological explanations of suffering (theodicy). In this example, the Kabbalists described the Shekhinah accompanying the children of Israel in their exile, being exiled alongside them, and yearning for Her redemption. Such a concept derives from the Kabbalistic theology that the physical World, and also the Upper spiritual Worlds, are continuously recreated from nothing by the Shefa (flow) of Divine will, which emanates through the Sefirot. As a result, within all creations are Divine sparks of vitality that sustain them. Medieval Kabbalah describes two forms of Divine emanation, a "light that fills all worlds", representing this immanent Divine creative power, and a "light that surrounds all worlds", representing transcendent expressions of Divinity.

The new doctrines of Isaac Luria in the 16th Century completed the Kabbalistic system of explanation. Lurianic Kabbalah describes the process of Tzimtzum (צמצום meaning "Contraction" or "Constriction") in the Kabbalistic theory of creation, where God "contracted" his infinite essence in order to allow for a "conceptual space" in which a finite, independent world could exist. This has received different later interpretations in Jewish mysticism, from the literal to the metaphorical. In this process, creation unfolds within the Divine reality. Luria offered a daring cosmic theology that explained the reasons for the Tzimtzum, the primordial catastrophe of Shevirat Hakelim (the "Breaking of the Vessels" of the Sefirot in the first existence), and the messianic Tikkun ("Fixing") of this by every individual through their sanctification of physicality. The concept of Tzimtzum contains a built-in paradox, as it requires that God be simultaneously transcendent and immanent:

  • On the one hand, if the Infinite did not "restrict itself", then nothing could exist. There would be no limits, as the infinite essence of God, and also His primordial infinite light (Kabbalistic sources discuss God being able to reign alone, a revealed "light" of the Sefirah of Kingship, "before" creation) would comprise all reality. Any existence would be nullified into the Divine Infinity. Therefore, we could not have the variety of limited, finite things that comprise the creations in the Universe that we inhabit. (The number of such creations could still be potentially limitless, if the physical Universe, or Multiverse had no end). Because each limited thing results from a restriction of God's completeness, God Himself must transcend (exist beyond) these various limited things. This idea can be interpreted in various ways. In its ultimate articulation, by the Hasidic leader Shneur Zalman of Liadi, in the intellectual Hasidic method of Chabad, the Tzimtzum is only metaphorical, an illusion from the perspective of man. Creation is panentheistic (taking place fully "within God"), and acosmic (Illusionary) from the Divine perspective. God Himself, and even His light, is unrestricted by Tzimtzum, from God's perspective. The Tzimtzum is merely the hiding of this unchanged reality from Creation. Shneur Zalman distinguishes between the "Upper Level Unity" of God's existence from the Divine perspective, with the "Lower Level Unity" of God's existence as creation perceives Him. Because God can be above logic, both perspectives of this paradox are true, from their alternative views. The dimension of the Tzimtzum, which implies Divine transcendence, corresponds to the Upper Level Unity. In this perspective, because God is the true, ultimate Infinity, then Creation (even if its physical and spiritual realms should extend without limit) is completely nullified into literal non-existence by the Divine. There is no change in the complete unity of God as all Reality, before or after creation. This is the ultimate level of Divine transcendence.
  • On the other hand, in Lurianic Kabbalah, the Tzimtzum has an immanent Divine dimension. The Tzimtzum formed a "space" (in Lurianic terminology, the Halal, "Vacuum") in which to allow creation to take place. The first act of creation was the emanation of a new light (Kav, "Ray") into the vacated space, from the ultimate Divine reality "outside", or unaffected, by the space. The purpose of the Tzimtzum was that the vacated space allowed this new light to be suited to the needs and capacities of the new creations, without their being subsumed in the primordial Divine Infinity. Kabbalistic theology offers metaphysical explanations of how Divine and spiritual processes unfold. In earlier, mainstream Jewish philosophy, logical descriptions of creation ex nihilo (from nothing) describe the new existence of creation, compared to the nothingness that preceded it. Kabbalah, however, seeks to explain how the spiritual, metaphysical processes unfold. Therefore, in the Kabbalistic system, God is the ultimate reality, so that creation only exists because it is continuously sustained by the will of God. Creation is formed from the emanated "light" of the Divine Will, as it unfolds through the later Sefirot. The light that originated with the Kav later underwent further contractions that diminished it, so that this immanent expression of Divinity could itself create the various levels of Spiritual, and ultimately, Physical existence. The terms of "light" and temporal descriptions of time are metaphorical, in a language accessible to grasp. In this immanent Divine dimension, God continuously maintains the existence of, and is thus not absent from, the created universe. In Shneur Zalman's explanation, this corresponds to the conscious perception by Creation of "Lower Level Unity" of God. In this valid perspective, Creation is real, and not an illusion, but is utterly nullified to the immanent Divine life force that continuously sustains and recreates it. It may not perceive its complete dependence on Divinity, as in our present World, that feels its own existence as independent reality. However, this derives from the great concealments of Godliness in our present World. "The Divine life-force which brings all creatures into existence must constantly be present within them ... were this life-force to forsake any created being for even one brief moment, it would revert to a state of utter nothingness, as before the creation ...". (Tanya, Shaar Hayichud, Chapter 2-3. Shneur Zalman of Liadi).


Tantric Buddhism and Dzogchen posit a non-dual basis for both experience and reality that could be considered an exposition of a philosophy of immanence that has a history on the subcontinent of India from the early common era to the present. A paradoxical non-dual awareness or rigpa (Tibetanvidya in Sanskrit) — is said to be the 'self perfected state' of all beings. Scholarly works differentiate these traditions from monism. The non-dual is said to be not immanent and not transcendent, not neither, nor both. One classical exposition is the Madhyamaka refutation of extremes that the philosopher-adept Nagarjuna propounded.

Exponents of this non-dual tradition emphasize the importance of a direct experience of non-duality through both meditative practice and philosophical investigation. In one version, one maintains awareness as thoughts arise and dissolve within the 'field' of mind, one does not accept or reject them, rather one lets the mind wander as it will until a subtle sense of immanence dawns. Vipassana or insight is the integration of one's 'presence of awareness' with that which arises in mind. Non-duality or rigpa is said to be the recognition that both the quiet, calm abiding state as found in samatha and the movement or arising of phenomena as found in vipassana are not separate. In this way it could be stated that Dzogchen is a method for the recognition of a 'pure immanence' analogous to what Deleuze theorized about.

Pagan philosophy

Another meaning of immanence is the quality of being contained within, or remaining within the boundaries of a person, of the world, or of the mind. This meaning is more common within Christian and other monotheist theology, in which the one God is considered to transcend his creation.

Pythagoreanism says that the nous is an intelligent principle of the world acting with a specific intention. This is the divine reason regarded in Neoplatonism as the first emanation of the Divine.[7] Noetic (from Greek nous) is usually translated as "mind", "understanding", "intellect", or "reason". From the nous emerges the world soul, which gives rise to the manifest realm. Pythagoreanism goes on to say the Godhead is the Father, Mother, and Son (Zeus). In the mind of Zeus, the ideas are distinctly articulated and become the Logos by which he creates the world. These ideas become active in the Mind (nous) of Zeus. With him is the Power and from him is the nous.[8] This theology further explains that Zeus is called Demiurge (Dêmiourgos, Creator), Maker (Poiêtês), and Craftsman (Technitês).[9] The nous of the demiurge proceeds outward into manifestation becoming living ideas. They give rise to a lineage of mortal human souls.[10] The components of the soul are:[11] 1) the higher soul, seat of the intuitive mind (divine nous); 2) the rational soul (logistikon) (seat of discursive reason / dianoia); 3) the nonrational soul (alogia), responsible for the senses, appetites, and motion. Zeus thinks the articulated ideas (Logos). The idea of ideas (Eidos - Eidôn), provides a model of the Paradigm of the Universe, which the Demiurge contemplates in his articulation of the ideas and his creation of the world according to the Logos.[12]

Immanence in Continental philosophy

Among scholars of philosophy, the term "immanence" is usually understood to mean that the divine force, or the divine being, pervades and influences all that exists. Such a meaning is common in pantheism and panpsychism, and it implies that divinity is inseparably present in all things. On the other hand, transcendence is understood as the divine being distinct and apart from or having transcended the World.

An exception to this idea would be Giovanni Gentile's "Actual Idealism" wherein immanence of subject is considered identified with transcendence over the material world. Giordano Bruno, Baruch Spinoza and, it may be argued, Hegel's philosophy were philosophies of immanence, as well as stoicism, versus philosophies of transcendence such as thomism or Aristotelian tradition. While risking oversimplification, Kant's "transcendent" critique, can be contrasted to Hegel's "immanent," dialectical idealist critique. Gilles Deleuze qualified Spinoza as the "prince of philosophers" for his theory of immanence, which Spinoza resumed by "Deus sive Natura" ("God or Nature"). Such a theory considers that there is no transcendent principle or external cause to the world, and that the process of life production is contained in life itself.[13] When compounded with Idealism, the immanence theory qualifies itself away from "the world" to there being no external cause to one's mind.

In the context of Kant's theory of knowledge Immanence means to remain in the boundaries of possible experience.

The French 20th century philosopher Gilles Deleuze used the term immanence to refer to his "empiricist philosophy", which was obliged to create action and results rather than establish transcendentals. His final text was titled Immanence: a life..., spoke of a plane of immanence.[14] Similarly, Giorgio Agamben writes in The Coming Community (1993): "There is in effect something that humans are and have to be, but this is not an essence nor properly a thing: It is the simple fact of one's own existence as possibility or potentiality".

In a similar vein, the term has been used by the Kennesaw School to show the emergent nature of communal relationality and the potential for becoming within an Age of Globalization.

Furthermore, the Russian Formalist film theorists perceived immanence as a specific method of discussing the limits of ability for a technological object. Specifically, this is the scope of potential uses of an object outside of the limits proscribed by culture or convention, and is instead simply the empirical spectrum of function for a technological artifact.[15]


  1. The Bible, Philippians 2:6–8, (KJV)
  2. Luke 3:22,, (New International Version)
  3. Doctrine and Covenants Section 88:6-13.
  4. Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology (Salt Lake City: George Q. Cannon & Sons, 1891) particularly chap. V. Google Books Search
  5. Doctrine and Covenants 93:6-18 and 50:24; John 17:22; cf. John 1:16 and 2 Corinthians 3:18
  6. B.H. Roberts "Divine Immanence", The Seventy's Course in Theology, Fifth year, pp. 1-34.John A. Widstoe, Joseph Smith as Scientist (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1968) [originally 1908] pp. 136-137.
  7., Divine Reason
  8., Demiurge Creation
  10., Basic Principles
  11., Components of the Soul
  12., Self Contemplating Nous
  13. See Antonio Negri, The Savage Anomaly: The Power of Spinoza's Metaphysics and Politics (transl. 1991, Minnesota University Press)
  14. Gilles Deleuze. Profile in Philosophical Library. European Graduate School.
  15. Robert Stam, Film Theory, 2006 p.48

See also

Portal-puzzle.svg Philosophy portal
  • Immanentize the eschaton
  • Immanuel ("God is with us")
  • Plane of immanence
  • Substance (God is either transcendent or immanent, as is the case in Spinoza's philosophy)
  • Transcendence (philosophy), often considered as the opposite of immanence

External links

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