Raimon Panikkar

A Companion to his Life and Thought

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
Peter C. Phan, Young-chan Ro
  • Cambridge, England: 
    James Clarke & Co.
    , October
     319 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Raimon Pannikar: A Companion to his Life and Thought, is an edited collection of essays and a fine addition to the secondary literature on Panikkar (1918-2010), helpfully bringing to light a number of aspects of his religious biography and immense literary output. Given that immensity, as well as the complexity of Panikkar’s holistic vision of reality, I share with editors Peter Phan and Young-chan Ro the hope that this volume will assist in making Panikkar’s thought more accessible to future scholarship.

I believe Panikkar’s work is of epochal significance, representing one of the most concerted efforts to overcome the spiritual crisis of modernity—marked, as it is, by an acute reflexive awareness of the finitude, historicity, subjectivity, constructedness, and contingency of all the world’s religious forms.

Neither pining for pre-modern religious collectivity (e.g., Christendom, pre-colonial India, the ideology of the “archaic,” etc.), nor resigning himself to post-modern forms of religious pluralism (e.g., relativism, liberalism, New Ageism, etc.), Panikkar forged a third way. Through his unique presentation of the logic of “adualism” (Advaita), Panikkar reasoned—and apparently intuited mystically—that the finitude, historicity, subjectivity, constructedness, contingency, and plurality of our immanent condition, in fact, necessarily belongs to the infinite structure and eternal rhythm of being itself as a unified whole.

Perhaps, then, one might be so bold as to classify Panikkar, who has fittingly been named a “mutant” (19), as embodying a genuinely “hyper-modern” form of religious consciousness. Of course, to call Panikkar “hyper-modern” is not to give into modernity’s own myth of linear progress. Indeed, Panikkar himself describes his vision as belonging to the philosophia perennialis. Yet, precisely insofar as Panikkar interprets perennial philosophy as dynamic in its development—that is, as itself immanent to the rhythm of being (Panikkar, The Rhythm of Being, Orbis Books, 2010)—this then tells us that the kind of mutation Panikkar embodied is no less evolutionarily progressive for it being “perennial.”

In this sense, the term “hyper-modern” does not only point to another historical movement in relation to modernity (though surely it is that, too), but, more fundamentally, to a kind of ontological mutation that is always already (that is, transcendentally) available to human being-in-the-world: the attainment of adualistic consciousness.

Given the centrality of adualism in Panikkar’s work, it is unsurprising that one of the underlying, implicit themes of this edited volume is the attempt to find “unity-in-difference.” This manifests in a number of ways, including in terms of: Panikkar’s pluralistic religious identity as a Christian-Hindu-Buddhist (the subject of chapters 2-6 and 16); mythos and logos (in chapter 7 on hermeneutics and symbolism); thought and being (in chapter 8 on mysticism and spirituality); wisdom and ignorance (the subject of chapter 9); the one and the many (in chapter 10 on the Trinity); history and manifestation (in chapter 11 on Christophany); humanism and perennialism (in chapter 12 on anthropology); sexuality and gender (the subject of chapter 13); the sacred and the secular (the subject of chapter 14); and being and time (the subject of chapter 15).

Overall, the quality of this volume’s essays are high. I found J. Abraham Vélez de Cea’s contribution especially illuminating in its systematic overview of symbolism in Panikkar’s corpus. Also, both M. Roberta Cappelini’s essay on gender’s relationship to the archetypal as well as Fred Dallmayr’s essay on the mystical and the political, are two important areas for the future study of Panikkar. Lastly, it almost goes without saying that Phan’s synopsis of Panikkar’s infamous, unpublished chapter on “eschatology,” adapted from his 1989 Gifford Lectures, is a significant contribution to Panikkar studies, and will be of fascination to anyone interested in Panikkar.

My only misgiving about the volume, besides its number of typographical errors (e.g., 28, 31, 33, 49, 53, 218, 219), is the editors’ decision to close the volume with Francis Clooney’s essay. This misgiving, of course, has nothing to do with the relative quality of Clooney’s reflections—he is an impeccable scholar. However, for someone so seemingly unaffected by Panikkar’s legacy, it is a strange choice to give Clooney the last word here.

One may sympathize with Clooney’s sentiment that, given Panikkar’s lack of dialogue with Christian peers, this “diminishes the likelihood that his writings will have enduring impact in the Church of generations to come” (263). However, this regret seems to encode within itself the presupposition that Panikkar could have primarily addressed himself to Christians, and think as he did, despite the fact that how he thought was, it seems to me, fundamentally incompatible with orthodox Christian discourse and praxis.

For instance, in his unpublished chapter on “eschatology,” Panikkar writes “[i]n this age of the rhythm of Being, we can no longer say, ‘Only a God can save us,’ or ‘We have to save ourselves’ . . . We ourselves constitute [the] is, and form reality.” In response, Clooney simply counters that he sees “no problem in saying … ‘Only God can save us’” (268).

Clooney here appears to refuse to meet Panikkar on his own non-dualistic terms. Yet for Panikkar, it simply makes no sense to speak of God saving us when we are constitutively immanent to God, which is why in the afore-quoted passage Panikkar attempts to outline a middle way between a “top-down” soteriology of divine grace—as represented here by the dictum of Martin Heidegger—and a “bottom-up” soteriology of Promethean technics.

If anything, for Panikkar, it is that only being can save itself, but we are a part—and not the whole—of being, and so participate in unlocking the structural grace of our own salvation. Thus, from within the “cosmotheandric” vision of the rhythm of Being, the mystical and the political, the sacred and the secular, and the divine and the Promethean are two sides of the same reality. Such is Panikkar’s adualistic onto-logic, which constitutes his vision of the future.

Despite my minor qualms, I would readily recommend this volume to anyone interested in acquainting themselves with Panikkar’s work, or for those who wish to deepen their understanding of his “mutationism” and mysticism.

About the Reviewer(s): 

John Allison is an Independent Scholar.

Date of Review: 
September 9, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Peter C. Phan is the inaugural holder of the Ignacio Ellacuria Chair of Catholic Social Thought at Georgetown University.

Young-chan Ro is Professor of Religious Studies and Director of Korean Studies Center at George Mason University.


Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.