What is it to be a human being? This question is central to the philosophical and religious adventure, and a position on it is presupposed in social theories of secularization and modernization.
In my work at the Max-Weber-Kolleg Erfurt, which is situated within the projects financed by the Max-Planck-Forschungspreis “Religion und Moderne: Säkularisation, gesellschaftliche und religiöse Pluralität”, I am developing the concept of ‘panentheistic humanism’ which expresses the idea that understandings of God and of our absolute value commitments are related to experiences of ‘ultimate reality’. The term ‘ultimate reality’ is a summary term for the various experiences of God and of absolute value commitments, which are associated with religious traditions and also, at least with respect to absolute value commitments, with the humanist morality of some atheist traditions. These experiences of ‘ultimate reality’ are often mediated by traditions of inquiry, which are embedded in societies and their histories, and are typically codified in canonical texts bearing universal significance.
This project has developed out of a desire to open up a constructive dialogue about the God-human relation that is not based on the ‘propositional assent’ model, which concentrates on belief or disbelief in a transcendent God beyond human experience. Rather, I focus on how experience of God is constitutive of the experience of being human.
Approaching the ‘God problematic’ as a highly abstract theoretical question of propositional assent or dissent, rather than as a foundational structure of human experience and practice, is a legacy of an early modern heritage and has set the agenda in much contemporary philosophy and sociology of religion, and indeed in perceptions of God in Western society in general ever since.
But, recent philosophical criticism of ‘scientific naturalism’ and developments in the understanding of nature have led me to the position that conceptions of the God-human relation should not be articulated in the former dualistic terms of ‘nature’ and ‘super-nature’, but rather in the categories of an ‘expansive naturalism’. Such an ‘expansive naturalism’ is consonant with the findings of modern science and allows us to speak sensibly about God and values within a non-reductionist conception of nature. My conception of ‘panentheistic humanism’ is a philosophical anthropology based on an ‘expansive naturalist’ interpretation of reality.
Using a modified version of Hans Joas’ ‘affirmative genealogy’, I develop the concept of ‘panentheistic humanism’ through a critical reconstruction of the binary concepts, which have been used to depict the dualistic conception of reality: the ‘sacred’ and the ‘profane’ in the ancient world, the ‘immanent’ and ‘transcendent’ in the Axial civilizations, and the ‘religious’ and the ‘secular’ in the modern world.
This historical-methodological approach is used to both justify the systematic thesis of the emergence of ‘panentheistic humanism’ as a more adequate contemporary philosophical anthropology, and to demonstrate how the former binary concepts have traded upon a dualistic metaphysics, which no longer affords an adequate vision of reality within which to envisage human beings in relation to God.