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A symbol of Panentheism

Panentheism (from Greek πᾶν (pân) "all"; ἐν (en) "in"; and θεός (theós) "God"; "all-in-God") is a belief system which posits that God exists and interpenetrates every part of nature, and timelessly extends beyond as well. Panentheism is distinguished from pantheism, which holds that God is synonymous with the material universe.[1]

Briefly put, in pantheism, "God is the whole"; in panentheism, "The whole is in God." This means that the Universe in the first formulation is practically the Whole itself, but in the second the universe and God are not ontologically equivalent. In panentheism, God is not necessarily viewed as the creator or demiurge, but the eternal animating force behind the universe, with the universe as nothing more than the manifest part of God. The cosmos exists within God, who in turn "pervades" or is "in" the cosmos. While pantheism asserts that God and the universe are coextensive, panentheism claims that God is greater than the universe and that the universe is contained within God.[2] Hinduism is highly characterized by Panentheism and Pantheism.[3]

Ancient panentheism

In the Americas (Pre-European)

North American Native Peoples (i.e.members of pre-European native ethnic groups, Aboriginal Native Americans such as the nations of the Cree, Iroquois, Huron, Navaho, and others) were and still are largely panentheistic, conceiving of God as both immanent in Creation and transcendent from it. (North American Native writers have also translated the word for God as the Great Mystery or as the Sacred Othe) An exception is the Cherokee who were monotheistic but apparently not panentheistic (as the two are not mutually exclusive) Most South American Native peoples were largely panentheistic as well (as were ancient South East Asian and African 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.

In Europe

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 God. This concept of God is closely associated with the Logos as stated in the 5th century BC works of Heraclitus (ca. 535–475 BC), in which the Logos pervades the cosmos and whereby all thoughts and things originate; e.g., "He who hears not me but the Logos will say: All is one." Later Neoplatonists such as Iamblichus attempted to reconcile this perspective by adding another hypostasis above the original monad of force or Dunamis. This new all-pervasive monad encompassed all creation and its original uncreated emanations.

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. The formalization of this term in the West in the 18th century was of course not new; philosophical treatises had 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 such a "doctrine contains all of deism and pandeism except their arbitrary negations." Hartshorne formulated God as a being who could become "more perfect": He has absolute perfection in categories for which absolute perfection is possible, and relative perfection (i.e., is superior to all others) in categories for which perfection cannot be precisely determined.[4]

Panentheism and Religion

Panentheism in Christianity

Panentheism is a feature of some Christian thought, but it is not everywhere accepted.

Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christianity

In Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches, creation is not considered to be "part of" God, and the Godhead is distinct from creation. There is, in other words, an eternal difference between the uncreated (i.e., God) and the created (i.e., everything else). This does not mean, however, that the creation is wholly separated from God, because the creation exists by and in the Divine energies. These energies are the operations of God and are God, but the created is not God in the Divine essence. God creates the world by the Divine will. It is not an "emanation" of God, an outworking or effulgence of the Divine, or any other process which implies that creation is part of or necessary to God in God's essence. Thus, to speak of panentheism as part of Orthodox theology and doctrine is problematic at best.

In the theology of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches, God is not merely creator of the universe; his active presence is necessary in some way for every bit of creation, from smallest to greatest, to continue to exist at all.[5] That is, God's energies (that is, activities) 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 good in its being and is not innately evil either in whole or in part. This does not deny the existence of evil in a fallen universe, only that it is not an innate property of creation. Evil results from the will of creatures, not from their nature per se (see the problem of evil).

Other Christian panentheists

Panentheistic God-models occur amongst some modern theologians. Process theology, Creation Spirituality and Panentheist Circle, three recent Christian views, contain panentheistic ideas.

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. [2] Charles Hartshorne, who conjoined process theology with panentheism, maintained a lifelong membership in the Methodist church but was also a Unitarian. In later years he joined the Austin, TX Unitarian Universalist congregation and was an active participant in that church. [3]

Many Christians who believe in Universalism hold Panentheistic views of God in conjunction with their belief in apocatastasis, also called universal reconciliation.[6] Christian Universalists often point to Bible verses such as Ephesians 4:6 ("[God] is over all and through all and in all") and Romans 11:36 ("from [God] and through him and to him are all things") to justify both Panentheism and Universalism.

Panentheism in Judaism

While mainstream Orthodox Judaism is stricly Monotheistic and follows in the footsteps of Maimonides, Panentheism is inherent in certain Jewish mystical currents. A leading scholar of the Kabbalah, Moshe Idel ("Hasidism: Between Ecstacy and Magic," SUNY, 1995, pp. 17-18), ascribes this doctrine to the kabbalistic system of Rabbi Moses Cordovero (1522-1570) and in the eighteenth century, Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Hasidic movement, as well as his contemporary, Rabbi Menahem Mendel, the Maggid of Bar. There is some debate as to whether Lurianic Kabbalah, with its doctrine of Tzimtzum, can be regarded as panentheistic. According to Hasidism, The Infinite ein sof is incorporeal (has no body) and is both transcendent and immanent. Aspects of Panentheism are also evident in the theology of Reconstructionist Judaism as presented in the writings of Mordecai Kaplan.

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). Twelver Shi'ism has a panentheistic trend, represented by scholars such as Sayyid Haydar Amuli, Mulla Sadra (all of whom were influenced by Ibn Arabi). Some Sufi Orders, notably the Bektashis, continue to espouse panentheistic beliefs. Likewise, the Universal Sufi movement, which is inspired by Islam but is a form of Sufism separate from Islam. Nizari Ismaili follow panentheism according to Ismaili doctrine.

Panentheism in the Bahá'í Faith

In the Bahá'í Faith, God is described as a single, imperishable God, the creator of all things, including all the creatures and forces in the universe. The connection between God and the world is that of the creator to his creation.[7] God is understood to be independent of his creation, and that creation is dependent and contingent on God. God, however, is not seen to be part of creation as he cannot be divided and does not descend to the condition of his creatures. Instead, in the Bahá'í understanding, the world of creation emanates from God, in that all things have been realized by him and have attained to existence.[8] Creation is seen as the expression of God's will in the contingent world,[9] and every created thing is seen as a sign of God's sovereignty, and leading to knowledge of him; the signs of God are most particularly revealed in human beings.[7]

Panentheism in Hinduism

Brahman is the transcendent and immanent Ultimate Reality of Hinduism. Many schools of Hinduism are panentheistic and the first and most ancient ideas of panentheism originate in the Vedas, Upanishads, as well as the Bhagavad Gita. The Purusha Sukta and Hiranyagarbha Sukta of Rig Veda and verses from the Bhagavad Gita and Shri Rudram support this viewpoint. Panenthestic views are stated explicitly in several stotras.

Lord Krishna says to Arjuna: "I pervade and support the entire universe by a very small fraction of My divine power". (Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 10, verse 42)

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". [4]

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. Vallabha's school of pure monism Shuddhadvaita, Nimbarka's school of differential monism Dvaitadvaita, and Ramanuja's school of qualified monism Vishistadvaita are all panentheistic. Additionally, Gaudiya Vaishnavism is also panentheistic, which was presented by Lord Caitanya as the doctrine of Acintya Bheda Abheda[10] (Acintya=inconceivable Bheda=difference Abheda=oneness). In Saivite theology, some schools of Saiva Siddhanta and Kashmir Shaivism are also panentheistic.

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. --Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami

Gnosticism, Manichaeism, and Kabbalism

Some branches of Gnosticism believe in a panentheistic view and hold the belief that God exists only as sparks of light in the visible material world. We need to know the sparks within ourselves to get back to God who is in the Fullness or Pleroma.

Gnosticism is Panentheistic, believing that the true God is separate from the physical universe however, there are aspects of the true God in the physical universe as well. Thus, "All-In-God" (see pantheism) as stated in one of the Sayings of Gospel of Thomas: "Lift Up A Stone And You Will Find Me There..." This seemingly contradictory interpretation of Gnosticism's theology is not without controversy. Since a good God would not manifest or work through the evil or fallen material world of the demiurge. As Mani stated, "The true God has nothing to do with the material world or cosmos", and, "It is the Prince of Darkness who spoke with Moses, the Jews and their priests. Thus the Christians, the Jews, and the Pagans are involved in the same error when they worship this God. For he leads them astray in the lusts he taught them."

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, Divine Science, Jewish Science and Seicho-no-Ie, are denominations that represent a panentheistic worldview within the New Thought belief system.

See also


  1. "The Worldview of Panentheism - R. Totten, M.Div - © 2000". Web page. Retrieved 2007-10-14. 
  2. Erwin Fahlbusch, Geoffrey William Bromiley, David B. Barrett (1999). The Encyclopedia of Christianity pg. 21. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 0802824161. 
  3. [1] Britannica - Pantheism and Panentheism in non-Western cultures
  4. Charles Hartshorne, Man's Vision of God and the Logic of Theism (1964) ISBN 0-208-00498-X p. 348
  5. St. Symeon in Practical & Theological Discourses, 1.1: When men search for God with their bodily eyes they find Him nowhere, for He is invisible. But for those who ponder in the Spirit He is present everywhere. He is in all, yet beyond all.
  6. For example, see and
  7. 7.0 7.1 Smith, Peter (2000). "God". A concise encyclopedia of the Bahá'í Faith. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. p. 116. ISBN 1-85168-184-1. 
  8. `Abdu'l-Bahá (1981). Some Answered Questions. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. pp. 202–203. ISBN 0877431906. 
  9. Smith, Peter (2000). "creation". A concise encyclopedia of the Bahá'í Faith. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. pp. 164–165. ISBN 1-85168-184-1. 
  10. Caitanya Caritamrita, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Bhaktivedanta Book Trust

External links