Gods, Worlds, Monsters
by Mary-Jane Rubenstein
Pub Date 06 Nov 2018
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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 demonized what it calls pantheism, accusing it of incoherence, absurdity, and—with striking regularity—monstrosity.
In this book, Mary-Jane Rubenstein seeks to diagnose 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, and 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 seeks to give an old heresy the chance to renew our thinking.
Mary-Jane Rubenstein is professor of religion; feminist, gender, and sexuality studies; and science in society at Wesleyan University. She is the author of Strange Wonder: The Closure of Metaphysics and the Opening of Awe(Columbia, 2009) and Worlds Without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse (Columbia, 2014) and the coeditor of Entangled Worlds: Religion, Science, and New Materialisms (with Catherine Keller, 2017).
In Pantheologies, Mary-Jane Rubenstein answers the old problem of the One and the Many by offering a resolute triumph of the Many over the One. Give Rubenstein a One—any one—and she will make a many out of it. I applaud this temperament, as William James called it, and the intuition that it generates and reflects. Multiplicity, thy name is woman. Rubenstein will save us every time from the totalitarian tendencies of certain regions of process philosophy, from the teutonic idealisms of post-Hegelian theologies, even from the totalizing forms of monistic pantheisms.
-Nancy Frankenberry, John Phillips Professor in Religion, Emeritus, Dartmouth University