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Reviewed by:
  • A Philosophy of Sacred Nature: Prospects for Ecstatic Naturalism ed. by Leon Niemoczynski and Nam T. Nguyen
  • Robert W. King
Leon Niemoczynski and Nam T. Nguyen, Editors A Philosophy of Sacred Nature: Prospects for Ecstatic Naturalism Lanham/Boulder/New York/London, Lexington Books, 2015, xvi + 186 pp. Index

What are the possibilities for religious experience in the twenty-first century? While aggressive atheists might respond “None,” in thunder, any good Peircean knows we should not foreclose inquiry. For those who retain a post-orthodox religious temperament in post-modernity, Robert S. Corrington’s evolving account of Ecstatic Naturalism might prove a challenging, engaging framework for a transcendental naturalism. If one can read Emerson and Thoreau and ignore their religious dimension, so be it—attunement is crucial for Corrington, cultivating the habits of thought, the psychosemiosis that enables an engagement with Ecstatic Naturalism and a recovery of the sacred. Those inclined to an experiential, naturalistic view of religion should find his provocative philosophical theology intriguing.

As author of An Introduction to C. S. Peirce: Philosopher, Semiotician, and Ecstatic Naturalist (1993), Corrington’s own inquiries are informed by Peirce’s semiotics and focus on communities of inquiry and habits of interpretation, on a social epistemology and a faith in evolutionary love. Corrington states in the Introduction: “I am convinced that Peirce was an important precursor of ecstatic naturalism and that he gained some insights into the elusive depths of nature.” Corrington seeks to articulate an open-ended metaphysics for exploring and experiencing those “elusive depths” with “an ecstatic naturalism that points to the self-transforming potencies within the heart of nature,” his work seeking to provide a synthesis of phenomenology, metaphysics, psychoanalysis, and aesthetics that assists those “concerned with seeking the primary traits within nature of the human process, the nature of human communities, the structure and powers of religion, and powers and potencies of art.” [End Page 114]

His prospects for success likely depend on one’s faith in psychoanalysis, the ordinal metaphysics of Justus Buchler, and reverence for the aesthetic. What Peirce might make of all this is another matter to be examined later. The collection of essays under review falls within a growing bibliography of secondary works on Ecstatic Naturalism, including special issues of The American Journal of Theology and Philosophy and the Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture, while the maturing International Congress on Ecstatic Naturalism will meet for the sixth time in April, 2016, at Drew Theological School.

The essays fall into three categories: general accounts of Ecstatic Naturalism; more targeted accounts of particular aspects of Ecstatic Naturalism; and juxtapositions with other conceptual systems in the hope for hybrid vigor, that the whole proves greater than the sum of the parts. Corrington contributes his own narrative overview, “Ecstatic Naturalism,” and a more systematic “Categorical Schema,” concise and dense, a compact framework or metaphysical web that may prove sticky for the uninitiated but offers a sense of a carefully constructed yet flexible system responsive to evolutionary experience. The essay collection may function best as a complement to Corrington’s two latest works, Deep Pantheism: Toward a New Transcendentalism (2015) and Nature’s Sublime: An Essay in Aesthetic Naturalism (2013), careful explications of his evolving, mature, systematic approach.

Dwelling on the editors’ introduction allows clarification of Ecstatic Naturalism’s foundational basics. The introduction, “Prospects for Ecstatic Naturalism,” describes Ecstatic Naturalism as “a hybrid of continental phenomenology and American pragmatism that seeks to recognize nature’s self-transforming, self-transcendent potential,” with a commitment to the sacred “as a wholly ‘real’ category in the natural world” (ix). (Skeptics might refer to a work such as Belden Lane’s Landscapes of the Sacred: Geography and Narrative in American Spirituality (Johns Hopkins, 2001) for a pluralist, post-orthodox account of the possibilities for an experience of the sacred in our time and our landscapes.) The editors focus first on the traditional distinction between natura naturans (nature naturing) and natura naturata (nature natured), that is, nature’s creative potencies, its “self-generative dynamic and creative ground” and its product, the creation, the natural world that we are a part of (ix).

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