Nature's Transcendence and Immanence

A Comparative Interdisciplinary Ecstatic Naturalism

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Editor(s): 
Jea Sophia Oh , Marilynn Lawrence
  • Lanham, MD: 
    Lexington Books
    , December
     2017.
     192 pages.
     $90.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781498562751.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

This edited anthology is advertised as a response to Robert Corrington’s Deep Pantheism: Toward a New Transcendentalism (Lexington Books, 2016). However, it is more than this description implies. While Corrington’s most recent book may have been the occasion for this anthology, its essays more broadly respond to and build on Corrington’s ecstatic naturalism and deep pantheism developed in numerous books and articles since the publication of Nature and Spirit: An Essay in Ecstatic Naturalism in 1992 (Fordham University Press).

The structure of the book is straightforward. It begins with a foreword by Corrington in which he briefly chronicles his development of ecstatic naturalism, a version of religious naturalism, and outlines some of the main conceptual features of it, such as his understanding of naturalism, the distinction between natura naturans (nature naturing) and natura naturata (nature natured), the unconscious of nature, ordinal phenomenology, and the distinction between a community of interpreters and a natural community. This foreword is followed by an introduction in which the editors provide a brief description of Corrington’s work for readers who may not be familiar with it and preview each of the essays that make up the body of the collection. These eleven essays are loosely organized as follows: (1) three “offer perspectives on the topics of the immanent and transcendent dimensions of nature”; (2) four address issues of “semiosis and nature’s unconsciousness”;  and (3) four focus on the “relation of pluralism and hybridity to transcendence and immanence” (9-11). 

The editors’ choice of these essays reflects the maturity of Corrington’s work. His ideas, particularly his deep pantheism, serve as the unifying theme rather than the subject matter for most of the contributions. They do not explore or critique Corrington’s work, but, as the editors note, “extend the scope of ecstatic naturalism by comparing and applying it to other lines of thinking and traditions within philosophy and theology of East and West as well as other disciplines” (1). As a result, this is not a volume intended to introduce readers to Corrington, and those who are not already familiar with his views may be disappointed. It is, however, a welcome opportunity for those already familiar with Corrington’s work to appreciate it, reflect on the breadth of its influence, and imagine future directions in which it might take us. This type of project would be a compliment to any author, and it is a well-deserved acknowledgment of both the quality and fecundity of Corrington’s work. 

While the anthology is described as an interdisciplinary work, the contributors are almost exclusively from the fields of philosophy or theology. Still the essays are surprisingly diverse in two respects. First, they address an eclectic array of concerns that connect to Corrington’s work, such as neuroscience, neuropsychoanalysis, semiotics, mythology, theology, philosophical ecology, mystic pluralism, and artificial intelligence. Second, they reflect perspectives from both Eastern and Western philosophical and religious traditions. This diversity works well in some ways and not so well in others. On the one hand, it appropriately reflects the variety of concerns that have shaped Corrington’s work and the incredible range of influence it continues to have. On the other hand, the decision to foreground this breadth so prominently results in a lack of focus. The experience of reading the essays consecutively (perhaps not how they are intended to be read) is akin to a whirlwind tour of a major city: you might see many attractions in a day without feeling that you’ve learned much about any one of them.

This unfocused characteristic is amplified by the inconsistency with which the contributions connect with Corrington’s work. Some engage directly, whereas others are only topically related to themes Corrington addresses. For instance, Austin Roberts’s essay, “Chaosmic Naturalisms: Cosmological Immanence, Multiplicity, and Divinity in Corrington and Faber,” clarifies and situates Corrington’s pragmatic naturalism by comparing it to the process naturalism of Ronald Faber. Here Corrington’s work is a central element of the essay. In contrast, in “Groundwork for a Transcendentalist Semiotics of Nature,” Nicholas L. Guardiano explores Charles Peirce’s semeiotics, its relevance to a semeiotics of nature, and its potential connection to transcendentalism, but includes only a single, somewhat tangential paragraph discussing Corrington. This suggests that while the essay is topically connected to Corrington’s work, it is not truly an extension of it. Most of the essays fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

Despite some slight limitations, this work represents an important contribution towards solidifying Corrington’s legacy. He has been an original scholar and prolific author for nearly three decades, and the development of ecstatic naturalism and deep pantheism are important contributions to American philosophical and theological thought. By drawing our attention to the way in which his work has already influenced and might in the future be brought into conversation with other disciplines, Nature’s Transcendence and Immanence acknowledges and amplifies this significance.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Scot Yoder is Associate Professor and Associate Dean of Students in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities at Michigan State University.

Date of Review: 
May 31, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Marilynn Lawrence teaches philosophy at Immaculata University.

Jea Sophia Oh is assistant professor of philosophy at West Chester University.

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