Pantheism, Creation, Emanation: Contemporary Reflections on Nature

This event has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 situation.|   Martin Marty Center for the Public Understanding of Religion 

In the history of the West, influenced as it has been by the thought of Christianity, nature has been both sanctified as creation and seen as a problem when it defied creation’s normative standards. Insofar as nature was seen as prone to sin, it was perceived to be in need of divine grace to reach perfection. This has led to the development of orthodox concepts like creatio ex nihilo, on the one hand, and fears of pantheism when nature did not conform, on the other. Recent work in gender studies and critical theory has led to a renewed focus on nature as distinct from creation, while the environmental crisis has further impacted religious studies to the point that Barthian and other theological objections to natural theology have fallen away and there is openness to a variety of heteronormative views of nature. 

Three recent studies canvas the fraught position of nature in the Western tradition in an attempt to analyze it not as an enemy to be feared but as a welcome critical voice and a potential ally of both the divine and the human. 

They are, respectively: Mary-Jane Rubenstein, Pantheologies. Gods, Worlds, Monsters (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018); Virginia Burrus, Ancient Christian Ecopoetics. Cosmologies, Saints, Things (Philadelphia:  University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), and Willemien Otten, Thinking Nature and the Nature of Thinking. From Eriugena to Emerson (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2020). 

Building on some of the standpoints articulated in these recent studies, this conference aims to serve as a platform for new views on nature and creation, theological and philosophical, historical and theoretical, as the new decade will no doubt see further work in this area. 

Confirmed speakers: 

  • Virginia Burrus, The Bishop W. Earl Ledder Distinguished Professor of Religion, Syracuse University
  • Charles Hallisey, Yehan Numata Senior Lecturer on Buddhist Literatures, Harvard University
  • Karmen MacKendrick, Professor of Philosophy, Le Moyne College
  • Jean-Luc Marion, Andrew Thomas Greeley and Grace McNichols Greeley Professor of Catholic Studies and Professor of the Philosophy of Religions and Theology, The University of Chicago
  • M. Burcht Pranger, Professor of the History of Christianity and Theology, University of Amsterdam (emeritus)
  • Willemien Otten, Professor of the History of Christianity and Theology, The University of Chicago
  • Mary-Jane Rubenstein, Professor of Religion; of Feminist and Gender Studies; of Science in Society, Wesleyan University
  • James Wetzel, Professor of Philosophy, Augustinian Endowed Chair in the Thought of St. Augustine, Villanova University