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Society and Spirit: A Trinitarian Cosmology.

Bracken has written a creative and challenging new cosmology based on what he calls "a panentheistic understanding of the God-world relationship" (35, 140); to be precise, B. proposes a new cosmology based on a "field-oriented understanding of the God-world relationship" (142). His goal is to offer a response to Stephen Toulmin's call for a return to cosmology at a time when many major intellectual and cultural trends resist speculative, holistic interpretations of world and God. Toulmin's point is that contemporary thought needs a "comprehensive new worldview" in order to survive fragmentation and to provide a clear grasp of the goals and values that bind human beings together. B. sketches his comprehensive new worldview in three stages.

B.'s first stage is to develop the notion of "society." He derives the foundation for his understanding of society from the process philosophy of Whitehead. In order to sharpen that understanding, he critiques not only Whitehead but other process thinkers such as Ivor Leclerc, Charles Hartshorne, John Cobb and Edward Pols. He seeks in these critiques to develop his thorough-going metaphorical description (as distinct from a metaphysical description) of reality as "society." His discussion is also influenced by conversations with thinkers and theories in the natural sciences, in physics, chemistry, and biology. The result of his investigations is that "society" is the metaphor that best articulates a philosophy of nature and cosmology. Central to the conclusion is that "field theory" when applied to human communities and ecological systems provides philosophers with a significant conceptual advance beyond substance theories.

In stage 2, B. shifts his attention to "Spirit" with insights drawn primarily from Schelling and Hegel. He finds that the German Idealists'reflections on Geist provide a needed corrective complement to the Whiteheadian metaphor of society. From Schelling B. harvests insights regarding "subjective spirit as the power of radical self-constitution" (88, 104); from Hegel he gleans insights regarding "objective spirit as embodied in progressively more comprehensive structures or intelligible patterns" (88, 118 ff.). These investigations result in a conceptual hybridization of Schellingian subjective spirit and Hegelian objective spirit with the Whiteheadian notion of society which provides, in B.'s judgment, a more adequately detailed metaphor capable of accounting for human agency, individual and social, within a cosmological framework.

Stage 3 "theologizes" or "baptizes" the earlier stages by situating B.'s retrieval of the metaphors of society and spirit within a panentheistic theological worldview, or, more precisely, within a trinitarian cosmology. This cosmology is built on his conceptual construal of the God-world relationship as panentheism, i.e. as one that "maintains that, while all finite entities exist in God and through the power of God, they are ontologically distinct from God in terms of both their being and activity" (123). B. argues that his reconstruction of the metaphors of society and spirit allows for a "genuinely panentheistic" model for cosmology that advances the conversation beyond the present state of the philosophical and theological literature. In developing these latter themes, B. relies on his earlier work, The Triune Symbol.

B. offers an important, interesting, and closely reasoned discussion of philosophical and theological cosmology. His attempt at integrating scientific insight with German Idealists and Anglo-American process thinkers is, indeed, very creative and successful. But the text is difficult; it is not accessible to those who do not possess at least an introductory knowledge of the various conceptual frameworks examined.

Finally, a question: In the relatively tranquil world of philosophical and theological cosmology, a world in which "everything" receives an explanation and coherent rationale, how is the aporia-ridden social experience of human exploitation, suffering, injustice, etc., given the paramount attention, critical analysis, and transformative praxis that it demands in our world today? It seems to me that one of the perennial problems of speculative cosmology is the seeming disconnectedness of the system to the concrete world of human activity. The abstraction of the speculative thought creates a distance from the social reality that is the foundation of knowledge and knowing processes. To reframe my question: What insights would a sociology-of-knowledge or critical-theory critique of B.'s study bring to light? I think the second part of B.'s work has resources that move in the direction of an answer to this question although, it appears to me, the task here remains incomplete.

Here is a book well worth the intellectual discipline needed to read it. It is filled with insight and creative integration of many important thinkers. I recommend it to the speculatively minded.
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Author:Schafer, Stephen J.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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