Sept 10, 2016 – Oct 21, 2016

Mary-Jane Rubenstein

Professor and Chair of Religion Department, Wesleyan University

Mary-Jane Rubenstein is a Professor of Religion at Wesleyan University, where she is also core faculty of Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and affiliated faculty of the Science in Society Program. Her current research and teaching interests lie primarily in the intersecting histories of philosophy, religion, and science. She is the author of Strange Wonder: The Closure of Metaphysics and the Opening of Awe (Columbia, 2009) and Worlds Without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse (Columbia, 2014), and is currently working on the history and philosophy of pantheism. 

While at ICE, Mary-Jane spent most of her time on her book-in-progress, which is provisionally called Pantheologies: Monstrosity and Perspective. This project seeks to understand the visceral reaction among Western philosophers and theologians to "pantheism,” the notion that God is nothing other than the universe itself. The notion that divinity might be material seems to instill panic in this tradition, which repeatedly describes this heresy in feminized, racialized, indeed “monstrous” terms. The book then goes on to reconstruct this generally maligned category based on the insights of contemporary cosmology, non-linear biology, and contemporary materialisms, which offer an emergent, complex, and fundamentally multiple picture of the “world” a hypothetical pantheism would divinize.



The Matter with Pantheism: Race, Gender, Divinity, and Dirt

Most commonly attributed to the philosopher Baruch Spinoza, pantheism teaches that what we mean by “divinity” is the immanent, creative-destructive power of the universe itself. God, in other words, is the universe. This heretical teaching infamously led to Spinoza’s excommunication in 1656 from his Jewish community in Amsterdam. In subsequent centuries, pantheism has suffered nearly universal rejection—usually in the form of ridicule—by Western philosophers and theologians. This lecture will investigate the reasons behind this often panicked repudiation, suggesting that the horror over pantheism has less to do with theological orthodoxy or philosophical rigor than with a visceral reaction to matter, which is persistently racialized and feminized in the tradition that refuses to ascribe divinity to it.