Pantheism is the view that the Universe (Nature) and God (or divinity) are identical.[1] Pantheists thus do not believe in a personal, anthropomorphic or creator god. The word derives from the Greek (pan) meaning "all" and the Greek (theos) meaning "God". As such, Pantheism denotes the idea that "God" is best seen as a process of relating to the Universe.[2] Although there are divergences within Pantheism, the central ideas found in almost all versions are the Cosmos as an all-encompassing unity and the sacredness of Nature.

There is no official universal symbol for all types of Pantheism, but one icon is used by the World Pantheist Movement (WPM): the spiral as seen in the curves of the nautilus shell, or in the spiral arms of a galaxy, showing the link between the cosmic physical and the biological. The spiral represents a variety of things: it means evolution, eternity, spirituality, growth.[3] Sometimes the Nautilus spiral alone is used; it embodies the Fibonacci series and the golden ratio.[4]

In Pantheism, God is identical with the universe, but in Panentheism God lies within and also beyond or outside of the universe.[5]



The term “Pantheism" is derived from Greek words pan (Ancient Greek: πᾶν) meaning "all" and theos (θεός) meaning God, in the sense of theism. The term pantheist — from which the word Pantheism was derived — was purportedly first used in English by Irish writer John Toland in his 1705 work "Socinianism Truly Stated, by a pantheist". He clarified the idea in a 1710 letter to Gottfried Leibniz when he referred to "the pantheistic opinion of those who believe in no other eternal being but the universe".[6] However, many earlier writers, schools of philosophy, and religious movements expressed pantheistic ideas.

They include some of the Presocratics, such as Heraclitus and Anaximander.[citation needed] The Stoics were Pantheists, beginning with Zeno of Citium and culminating in the emperor-philosopher Marcus Aurelius. During the pre-Christian Roman Empire, Stoicism was one of the three dominant schools of philosophy, along with Epicureanism and Neoplatonism. The early Taoism of Lao Zi and Zhuangzi is also pantheistic.[6]

In the West, Pantheism went into retreat during the Christian years between the 4th and 15th centuries, when it was regarded as heresy. The first open revival was by Giordano Bruno (burned at the stake in 1600). Baruch Spinoza's Ethics, finished in 1675, was the major source from which Pantheism spread (though Spinoza himself did not use the word, and there is some controversy over whether he may more accurately be termed a panentheist[7]. John Toland was influenced by both Spinoza and Bruno. In 1720 he wrote the Pantheisticon: or The Form of Celebrating the Socratic-Society in Latin.[8]

In 1785 a major controversy known in German as the Pantheismus-Streit (Pantheism controversy) between critic Friedrich Jacobi and defender Moses Mendelssohn helped to spread awareness of Pantheism to many German thinkers in the late 18th and in the 19th century.[9]

For a time during the 19th century it seemed like Pantheism was the religion of the future, attracting figures such as William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge in Britain; Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel in Germany; Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau in the USA. Seen as a threat by the Vatican, it came under attack in the Syllabus of Errors of Pius IX.[10]

However, in the 20th century Pantheism was sidelined by political ideologies such as Communism and Fascism, by the traumatic upheavals of two world wars, and later by relativistic philosophies such as Existentialism and Post-Modernism. It persisted in eminent pantheists such as the novelist D. H. Lawrence, scientist Albert Einstein, poet Robinson Jeffers, architect Frank Lloyd Wright and historian Arnold Toynbee.[6]

Recent developments

In the late 20th century, Pantheism began to see a resurgence.[6] Pantheism chimed with the growing ecological awareness in society and the media. It was described as "Hollywood’s religion of choice for a generation now",[11] and often declared to be the underlying “theology” of Paganism.[12] 1975 saw the foundation of the Universal Pantheist Society, however it remained extremely small. The creation of the naturalistic World Pantheist Movement in 1999, with its multiple mailing lists and social networks, led to much wider visibility.

Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion gave Naturalistic Pantheism increased credibility among atheists by describing it as “sexed-up atheism.” [13] The Vatican gave Pantheism further prominence in a Papal encyclical of 2009[14] and a New Year's Day statement on January 1, 2010,[15] which criticized Pantheism for denying the superiority of humans over nature and "seeing the source of man's salvation in nature".[14]

In 2008, Albert Einstein's 1954 German letter in which he dismissed belief in God was auctioned off for more than $330,000 US. Einstein wrote, "the word 'God' is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish."[16] "I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly,” he wrote in another letter in 1954. Einstein relates his belief to Pantheism: "If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it."[17]


All varieties of Pantheism involve reverence for the Universe/Cosmos as a totality, and all stress some kind of unity. All have a strong emphasis on the natural world as a focus of reverence and of ethics. There are three major categories of Pantheism, which differ as to whether they regard reality as made up of only one type of substance, or two, and what that type of substance is.[6]

Monist Physicalist Pantheism

Monist physicalist Pantheism or Naturalistic Pantheism holds that there is only one type of substance, and that substance is physical, i.e. able at its most basic level to be described by physics, though more complex phenomena such as life, consciousness and societies can appear through emergence. Historically this version was held by Stoics such as Zeno of Citium or Marcus Aurelius, and in modern times by John Toland, Ernst Haeckel, D.H. Lawrence and Paul Harrison. This version is represented today by the World Pantheist Movement. In this version, the term god — if used at all — is basically a synonym for Nature or Universe, seen from the point of view of reverence.

Monist Idealist Pantheism

Monist idealist Pantheism or Monistic Idealism holds that there is only one type of substance, and that substance is mental or spiritual. Some versions hold that the ultimate reality consists of a single cosmic consciousness. This version is common in Hindu philosophies and Consciousness-Only schools of Buddhism, as well as in some New Age writers such as Deepak Chopra. This is distinguished from pandeism in that pandeism asserts that the whole of reality was at some time sentient.

Dualist Pantheism

Dualist Pantheism holds that there are two major types of substance, physical and mental/spiritual, which interact or are unified in some way. Dualistic pantheism is very diverse, and may include beliefs in reincarnation, cosmic consciousness, and paranormal connections across Nature. Criticisms of this interpretation are generally related to the Mind-body problem.[18]


Use of religious vocabulary

A significant debate within the pantheistic community is about the use of the word “God.” Pantheists do not believe in a God in the common and traditional sense of a personal creator being. Some modern Pantheists avoid using God-words altogether, since they regard them as misleading. Others feel that the word God is essential to express the strength of their feelings towards Nature and the Universe.

Some critics have argued that pantheism is little more than a redefinition of the word “God” to mean “Nature,” “Universe”, or “reality”.[citation needed]

When pantheism is considered in relation to theism, there is a denial of theistic claims. For example, theism is the belief in a “personal” God that transcends (is separate from) the world. Pantheists deny the existence of a personal God. Some deny the existence of a Being that has intentional states and associated capacities such as the ability to make decisions. Some Pantheists recognize the intelligence involved in the rational and systematic functioning of Nature and the Universe, which is not necessarily intentional but is "minded" in a sense. Pandeism differs from Pantheism in that pandeism leaves that possibility of a sentient deity before the creation of the universe.

There are disagreements as to whether Pantheism is atheistic or not. Atheists argue the non-theistic god of pantheism is not a god (according to the traditional definition),[19] while others suggest a deity is not necessarily transcendent.[20]

Similar concepts in other religious traditions


Taoism is pantheistic at least in the writings of its leading thinkers Lao Tzu and Zhuangzi, although it later developed into a folk religion with many deities.
The Tao te Ching by Lao Tzu rarely speaks of a personal or creator God. Its central focus, the Tao or Way, is conceived of as a mysterious and numinous unity, infinite and eternal, underlying all things and sustaining them. The Tao is always spoken of with profound religious reverence and respect, similar to the way that Pantheism discusses the "divinity" of the Universe.[6] The ideal of Taoism was to live in harmony with the Tao and to cultivate a simple and frugal life, avoiding unnecessary action: "Being one with nature, he [the sage] is in accord with the Tao."[21]

Zhuangzi emphasized the pantheistic content of Taoism even more clearly. "Heaven and I were created together, and all things and I are one." When Tung Kuo Tzu asked Zhuangzi where the Tao was, he replied that it was in the ant, the grass, the clay tile, even in excrement: "There is nowhere where it is not… There is not a single thing without Tao."[22]


It is generally asserted that Hindu religious texts are the oldest known literature that contains Pantheistic ideas.[23] In Hindu theology, Brahman is the unchanging, infinite, immanent, and transcendent reality which is the Divine Ground of all things in this Universe, and is also the sum total of all that ever is, was, or ever shall be. This idea of pantheism is traceable from some of the more ancient Vedas and Upanishads to vishishtadvaita philosophy. All Mahāvākyas (Great Sayings) of the Upanishads, in one way or another, seem to indicate the unity of the world with the Brahmam. It further says “This whole universe is Brahman, from Brahman to a clod of earth." Pantheism is a key component of Advaita philosophy. Other subdivisions of Vedanta do not strictly hold this tenet.

Other religions

There are many elements of pantheism in some forms of Buddhism, Sufism, Sikhism, Neopaganism, and Theosophy as well as in several tendencies in the major theistic religions. See also the Neopagan section of Gaia and the Church of All Worlds.

Many Unitarian Universalists consider themselves pantheists. The Islamic religious tradition, in particular Sufism and Alevism has a strong belief in the unitary nature of the universe and the concept that everything in it is an aspect of God itself, although this perspective leans closer to panentheism and may also be termed Theopanism. Many traditional and folk religions including African traditional religions and Native American religions can be seen as pantheistic, or a mixture of pantheism and other doctrines such as polytheism and animism.

Distinction from related concepts

Some other theological models have attempted to incorporate the perceived benefits of pantheism with the perceived benefits of classical monotheism.

The term panentheism (from Greek πᾶν (pân) "all"; ἐν (en) "in"; and θεός (theós) "God"; "all-in-God") was formally coined in Germany in the 19th Century to express a philosophical synthesis between traditional theism and pantheism, that God is substantially omnipresent in the physical universe but also in a sense exists "apart from" or "beyond" the universe as its Creator and Sustainer.[24] Thus panentheism is not compatible with pantheism, in which God and the universe are synonymous—with no part of God considered as being distinct from the universe.[25][26]

For the same reasons, pandeism is not a form of pantheism. Though pandeism is characterized as a combination of reconcilable elements of pantheism and deism,[27][28] it is simply a form of deism which uses some pantheistic terminology while still including a Creator-deity which is at some point distinct from the universe.

See also


  1. ^ The New Oxford Dictionary Of English. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1998. pp. 1341. ISBN 0-19-861263-X. 
  2. ^ Owen, H. P. Concepts of Deity. London: Macmillan, 1971.
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ John Culp (May 19, 2009). "Panentheism". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford, CA page=: Stanford Uni versity. "Peacocke identifies his understanding of God's relation to the world as panentheism because of its rejection of dualism and external interactions by God in favor of God always working from inside the universe. At the same time, God transcends the universe because God is infinitely more than the universe" .
  6. ^ a b c d e f Paul Harrison, Elements of Pantheism, 1999.
  7. ^ Genevieve Lloyd, Routledge Philosophy GuideBook to Spinoza and The Ethics (Routledge Philosophy Guidebooks), Routledge; 1 edition (October 2, 1996), ISBN 978-0-415-10782-2, Page: 40
  8. ^ Toland: The father of modern pantheism (
  9. ^ Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (
  10. ^ Syllabus or Errors 1.1 (
  11. ^ Heaven and Nature, Ross Douthat, New York Times, December 20, 2009.
  12. ^ Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon, Beacon Press, 1986.
  13. ^ The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 2006.
  14. ^ a b Caritas In Veritate, July 7, 2009.
  15. ^ Message Of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI For The Celebration Of The World Day Of Peace.
  16. ^ "Einstein letter dismissing God sells for $330,000 US". CBC Canada. 2008-05-15. Retrieved 2011-08-31. 
  17. ^ "Belief in God a 'product of human weaknesses': Einstein letter". CBC Canada. 2008-05-13. Retrieved 2011-08-31. 
  18. ^ Mind & Society, Volume 1, Number 2, 73-85, DOI: 10.1007/BF02512314.
  19. ^ Dawkins, R (2006), The God Delusion, Transworld, a Black Swan Book, ISBN 978-0-552-77331-7  “Pantheism is sexed-up atheism”.
  20. ^ “With some exceptions, pantheism is non-theistic, but it is not atheistic.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Pantheism (
  21. ^ Tao te Ching, 16.
  22. ^ Chuang Tzu - The butterfly philosopher (
  23. ^ General Sketch of the History of Pantheism, p. 29.
  24. ^ John W. Cooper, The Other God of the Philosophers, Baker Academic, 2006, p. 27.
  25. ^ What is Panentheism?, About Agnosticism/Atheism. Retrieved 2 October 2009.
  26. ^ Erwin Fahlbusch, Geoffrey William Bromiley, David B. Barrett (1999). The Encyclopedia of Christianity. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. pp. 21. ISBN 0802824161. 
  27. ^ Sean F. Johnston (2009). The History of Science: A Beginner's Guide. pp. 90. ISBN 1851686819. 
  28. ^ Alex Ashman, BBC News, "Metaphysical Isms".

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