Gods, Worlds, Monsters

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.

  • “Pantheologies is an elegant and lively tour of pantheism and of the racialized gender panics it has prompted in Euro-American thought. I leave the book with the sense that the goat-god Pan is still roaming around, disrupting the either/ors of Western metaphysics and presenting a cosmos both more amazing and more discomfiting. Rubenstein has written an excellent book. ” Jane Bennett, author of Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things
  • “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, editor of The Faith of Scientists: In Their Own Words
  • “It is not out of charity or historicism that Mary-Jane Rubenstein channels this maligned, misunderstood, and mangled legacy. No, there is something in the pan of theism that our Anthropocene mess of a species (its atheists and its theologians included) needs. Now. Mesmerized by the brilliant weave of Pantheologies’ irresistible irony, gorgeous prose, and holographic erudition, readers will be hooked by a mystery too suspenseful in its plotline and too urgent in its intersections to set aside. ” Catherine Keller, author of Political Theology of the Earth: Our Planetary Emergency and the Struggle for a New Public
  • “Rubenstein's examination of pantheism renders a comprehensive and pluralistic view of the cosmos that will interest readers curious about the intersection of religion and philosophy. ” Library Journal