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Divinity in some theistic (or theistically inclined) Indian religions is often conceived monotheistically, as a supreme OmniGod (much like in Western accounts of God). [1]  Monotheistic conceptions of God occur in Śaivism, Śaktism, Vaiṣṇavism, Sikhism as well as Indian reiterations of Islam, Christianity and Zoroastrianism. There are also arguably monotheistic concepts of God given by the Indian philosophical schools (darṣanas), such as Vedānta, Nyāya, Mīmāṃsā, and Yoga. Furthermore, the polemical arguments offered by non-theistic schools, such as different schools of Buddhism and Cārvāka often present straw man arguments or counterarguments to God rooted in the concept of a monotheistic God.


Despite the evidence for a general Indian religious disposition towards monotheism, Indian concepts of God can exhibit certain peculiarities that distance them from the idea of monotheism. For instance, in some traditions the idea of God is centered on a plurality of divine forms, referred to as avatāras (divine incarnations), which can incorporate other divinities in the Hindu pantheon and exist in ambiguous relationships with them (e.g. the relations between Viṣṇu, Śiva and the Goddess). Other Indian conceptions of God revolve around God’s being united with the world and finite conscious beings in various ways. This is the heart of the famous Vedānta debate about the relationship between Brahman - the ultimate conscious reality (which, depending on tradition , is conceived either with or without attributes or distinctions, or as either God or an ubiquitous beingness) - and the rest of existence, including all actual or seemingly concretely manifest living beings. In India there have been a variety of theistic views on the relation between ultimate conscious reality and the world, or between consciousness and matter. Interpretations range through idealism, qualified monism, dualism, and a mixture of monism and dualism (as in the different theories of bhedābheda, or difference and non-difference).


The reference to consciousness in the expressions “conscious beings” and “ultimate conscious reality” is not gratuitous. Philosophical Indian traditions such as Vedānta and Sāṅkhya have developed sophisticated ontological views on consciousness. These views have strongly influenced and have been influenced by Indian theistic traditions. For example, in the Bhavagad Gītā - a key Vedānta text strongly informed  by Sāṅkhya (or proto-Sāṅkhya) thought - matter is seemingly given a cognitive aspect that somehow intermediates the conscious experience of ordinary living beings. But the Gītā also says that God is the source (prabhava) of consciousness and matter; everything emanates (pravartate) from Him. While matter and consciousness are fundamental aspects of reality, in God they have a common ontological ground. They are part of or comprise the nature (prakṛti) of the fundamental whole, which is God himself. Depending on how a specific theistic tradition interprets this, its concept of God might imply some kind of theory of consciousness.

Against this background, two sets of questions arise, which in current debates are often overlooked or are only partially addressed. The first relates to the nature and tenability of concepts of God; the second concerns the nature of consciousness. On the first set of questions, one might ask, if considering a monotheistic  stance: Can certain concepts of God in Indian traditions really be regarded monotheistic in the Western sense of the term? Or are they closer to panentheism, theistic pantheism , henotheism or polytheism? What divine properties do the traditions ascribe to their respective divinity or sets of divinity ? Can the corresponding concepts of God be described in a consistent way? Is it sensible to presuppose that they should be describable in such a way? Do any of these concepts of God possess an advantage over Western philosophical accounts of God?

On the second set of questions, it could be asked: Which views on consciousness are presupposed by Indian concepts of God? How can these views be philosophically articulated? What are their advantages and disadvantages compared to standard accounts of consciousness found in Western analytical philosophy? Furthermore, are these accounts compatible with a scientific worldview? Can the concept of God contribute to a scientifically consistent theory of consciousness?

Our general goal is to analyse how the most important theistic Indian traditions relate to these sets of questions. More specifically, (1) we want  to philosophically reconstruct concepts of God implicitly found in Indian theistic (or theistically inclined) traditions and (2) to investigate the extent to which these traditions can contribute to the philosophy of consciousness. As a narrower goal, we will focus on one primary Indian text, the Bhagavad Gita, and one prominent but underrepresented Indian theistic tradition, the bhedābheda Vedānta Vaiṣṇava tradition of Caitanya as systematized by Jīva Gosvāmī (16th century) in his seminal treatise, Ṣaṭ Sandharba.

[1] See (Nagasawa 2017a), for example.  


Panentheism and Pansychism

The importance of these questions, as well as the relevance of our approach might be articulated as follows. First, although Western philosophy of religion has developed many useful tools for evaluating Abrahamic conceptions of God as they apply to different philosophical traditions, there is a growing awareness that such monotheistic Western approaches might conceal and prohibit a culturally sensitive and philosophically adequate appreciation of the numerous concepts of God found in religious traditions outside of the Abrahamic domain. This increasing awareness, which is part of the motivation beyond what has become known as cross-cultural and global philosophy of religion,[1] encompasses both the need for and the encouragement of new dialogues between Western philosophy of religion and non-Western traditions.

As a consequence of this, and this is our second point, there has been a growing interest within analytic philosophy of religion towards alternative concepts of God.[2] Panentheism is a case in hand. Panentheism holds that the cosmos is in God (or in the divine), although God is more than the cosmos. It is intended to be a mediating position between theism and pantheism. Panentheism has seen a revival over the past two decades in the philosophical literature, partially because of the problems associated with classical theism and partially because of the prospects that panentheism offers for providing a positive relation between theology and science.[3] Although our general goal aims at accounting for the multitude of interpretations that might be given to Indian concepts of God, in the pursuit of the narrower goal we will prioritize a panentheistic approach. Besides being traditionally associated with the Bhavagad Gītā[4] panentheism seems to suit well bhedābheda Vedānta’s main tenet, namely: that by being in God, the cosmos might be seen as different and non-different from God.    

Third, panentheism has been often been associated with panpsychism,[5] the thesis that consciousness is fundamental and ubiquitous in the natural world. It has been promoted as an account of consciousness that captures the virtues of physicalism and dualism, and the vices of neither.[6] Depending on where one places fundamentality (the idea that something is the ontological grounding for everything else), panpsychism comes in two forms: micropsychism and cosmopsychism. Whereas micropsychism places fundamentality at the micro-level, cosmopsychism places fundamentality at the cosmic level.[7] According to cosmopsychism, the cosmos has some form of consciousness which not only grounds the macro-consciousness we witness in human beings, but also everything else: all facts, be they physical or mental, macro or micro, are grounded in, realized by, or constituted out of consciousness involving facts at the cosmic level. Thus, cosmopsychism aims at accounting for both the causal role of consciousness and the principle of causal closure, which in this context is understood as the ontological principle that any effect in the universe has a cause that is describable in physical terms (the principle of causal closure might also be understood methodologically). On cosmopsychism, since there is no mental causation independently from physical causation - at the cosmic level, conscious properties might be said to be the categorical base for dispositional physical properties by sustaining their structure and playing their causal roles - the principle of causal closure does not contradict genuine mental causation.[9] Although our general goal aims at uncovering the hopefully broad range of approaches to consciousness that might be extrapolated from Indian concepts of God, in the pursuit of our narrower goal we will analyze and defend the philosophical prospects of a cosmopsychistic interpretation of both the Gītā and the Caitanya Vaiṣṇava tradition.


[1] See (Clayton 2006) and (Nagasawa 2017b), for example.

[2] See (Buckareff; Nagasawa 2016) and (Diller; Kasher 2013).

[3] See (Clayton 1997), (Brierley 2006) and (Göcke 2018), for example.

[4] See (Hartshorne & Reese 1953, p. 30) and (Clayton 2013, p. 372), for example.    

[5] See, for example, (Brüntrup; Göcke; Jaskolla 2020) and (Leidenhag 2022).    

[6] See (Chalmers 2017), for example.    

[7] This taxonomy is not widely accepted. See (Goff 2017) and (Leidenhag 2020).    

[8] The version of cosmopsychism described herein is close to what people call Russellian constitutive cosmopsychism. See (Golf 2017) and (Chalmers 2020).

[9] For a discussion of the principle of causal closure see (Smith 1993), (Papineau 2002), (Cartwright 2019), (Dimitrijević 2020), (Zhong 2020) and (Göcke 2008). For the relationships between panpsychism and cosmopsychism and the basic requirements that a scientifically consistent account of consciousness must meet see (Goof 2017).


Theoretical Background

Although the debates concerning concepts of God have regained considerable momentum in Western philosophy of religion since the 1960s, they mainly focus on concepts of God emerging out of the Abrahamic religions and the philosophical traditions informed by Western theology. The recipe for these debates is best described as being firmly focused on approaches involving divine attributes. On this view, a concept of God is first related to a variety of exegetically discovered or philosophically justified attributes apparently worthy of the divine—such as perfection, omniscience, omnipotence, eternity, aseity, etc. Then, these attributes, taken individually or collectively, are assessed for their adequacy and consistency within a concept of God inasmuch as it can hold up to exegetical or philosophical scrutiny.

Despite the growing interest of analytic philosophers of religion in alternative concepts of God (Buckareff; Nagasawa 2016) (Diller; Kasher 2013) and, more generally, in cross-cultural and global philosophy of religion (Clayton 2006) (Nagaswa 2017), there still seems to be a long way to go towards developing philosophical approaches to Indian concepts of God.


There are some comprehensive works that look at Indian concepts of God. Eric Lott’s (1980) Vedantic Approaches to God is perhaps the most well-known. But there are other less known works, both more comprehensive, such as Bharatan Kumarappa’s (1930) The Hindu Conception of the Deity, and less comprehensive, for instance, Manju Dube’s (1984) Conceptions of God in Vaiṣṇava Philosophical Systems, than Lott’s. As far as we know, these are the only comprehensive volumes that focus exclusively on Indian concepts of God. The situation is not so different when it comes to specific Indian theologians, traditions and texts. For example, (Price 1948), (Olivelle 1964), (Whittemore 1985) and (Resnick 1995) are among the few works specifically looking at the concept of God in the Bhavagad Gītā.

Of course, there are publications exploring the Gītā in a general way that touch on relevant aspects of this text’s concept of God. For instance, we have: (Edgerton 1944), (Buitenen 1968), (Malinar 2007) and (Theodor 2010). Similarly, there are a number publications on general Indian philosophy and religion that have something valuable to say about Indian conceptions of divinity. For example, we have: (Smart 1992), (Shattuck 1999), (Klostermaier 2007) and (Bartley 2011). On specific Indian traditions and theologians, there are, for instance: (Srinivasachari 1972), (Kapoor 1976), Sarma 2003), (Barua 2010) and (Ram-Prasad 2013). Nevertheless, all these works are not specific enough to address the first set of questions we posed in the Introduction.

As far as works by Indian studies scholars are concerned, the standard approach seems to be much more historical and philological than philosophical. We have personal experience that this is still the case from our dealings with Indian studies scholars as part of our abovementioned current project on Vaiṣṇava concepts of God. This contrasts strikingly even with general approaches taken by analytic contemporary philosophers of religion. Although there exist many publications by Indian Studies scholars that are extremely competent from the philosophical point of view - (Barua 2010) and (Ram-Prasad 2013) being two good examples of this - (at the very least) as far as the contemporary philosophical debate on the concept of God is concerned, it seems safe to say that there is still a major gap to bridge between contemporary philosophy of religion and the field of Indian studies.

There have been attempts by analytic philosophers to account for Indian concepts of God. For instance, the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy has an entry on “Indian Conceptions of God” (Bhattacharyya 1998) that covers the concepts of God of four major Indian philosophical traditions (Mīmāṁsā, Vedānta, Yoga and Nyāya). In its turn, the entry on “Concepts of God” in the Springer 2017 edition of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Wainwright 2017) deals with theistic Vedānta concepts God, focusing specifically on the relation between God and the world. And its Winter 2021 edition contains an entry entitled “God and Other Ultimates” (Jeanine 2021), which covers some Indian views on God under the label of “Models of Brahman.” Although in some sense comprehensive, these are not deep analyses, nor are the traditions assessed in any sense off the beaten track.[1]


Minimally deep analyses might be found in some recent works about specific theistic Indian traditions. Not surprisingly, many of these analyses offer a panentheistic account for the concepts of God involved. Ayon Maharaj (2018), for example, deals with Ramakrishna’s (19th century) views on God emphasizing the role that panentheism plays in Ramakrishna’s theology. Christopher Bartley (2002) offers a very comprehensive description of the panentheistic views on God of Rāmānuja, the Indian thinker most commonly associated with panentheism. Ankur Barua (2010) also deals with Rāmānuja, but focuses on his famous panentheistic body-soul analogy. Loriliai Biernacki (2014) analyzes the panentheism of the tantric thinker Abhinavagupta (10th-11th centuries). Benedikt Göcke (2024, forthcoming) analyzes the influence of the Indian traditions on the panentheism of the German Idealist Karl Christian Friedrich Krause. Finally, Ricardo Silvestre and Alan Herbert (2023) offer a reconstruction of the concept of God in the Gītā from a panentheistic point of view.

The focus on panentheism is significant because panentheistic models of God seem to constitute a class of metaphysical models about God and God’s relation to the world that not only provide different solutions to severe problems of classical theism (like the problem of evil[2]), but also can be seen historically as a genuine Indian contribution to deep questions in the philosophy of religion which too often has been read only through the lenses of Western colonialism. Because on panentheism there is a close, intimate relationship between God and the world (the world is in God) panentheism can emphasize the holistic unity of all reality: all of science is ultimately science of the divine being. In addition, in contrast to classical theism, panentheism can account for a real impact of the world on God considered as the Absolute: All of reality per se is an expression of the divine Being as such. Finally, when it comes to current science and to the debates surrounding the plausibility of scientific naturalism, panentheism seems to be more in line with both than other models of God.  Although both classical theism and open theism can account for divine action in the world (since it is questionable whether the methodological principle of causal closure is at once an ontological principle excluding special divine action in the world, and since it is questionable whether science actually presupposes causal closure)[3] panentheism seems to be consistent with both the methodological and the ontological version of causal closure while at the same time can account for divine action in terms of final causes. At least from the point of view of ontological thrift, panentheism seems worth exploring.[4]

The anthology Vaiṣṇava Concepts of God: Philosophical Perspectives (Silvestre; Herbert; Göcke 2023) comprises what is seemingly the only recent effort to present a relatively comprehensive view of Indian concepts of God. It addresses the first set of questions posed above in the Introduction. A more comprehensive account of Indian concepts of God will appear in a forthcoming special issue of the journal Sophia: International Journal of Philosophy and Traditions to be published in 2024 and co-edited by Ricardo Silvestre, Alan Herbert and Purushottama Bilimoria.

As mentioned, panpsychism has seen a revival in the past few decades. This resurgence originates in Thomas Nagel’s suggestion that panpsychism might be a better way to approach the nature of consciousness than reductive physicalism or substance dualism (Nagel 1974) (Nagel 1979, pp. 181-195).[5] Hence, its revival has been spurred by the deficiencies of physicalism as an explanation for consciousness. Up to now, there has been no successful physicalist theory of consciousness. Every attempt at ontologically reducing the mental to the physical has been severely flawed. Moreover, mental properties also cannot be reduced to a certain type of function, so functionalism is similarly regarded as futile. Instead, we have to take the phenomenal quality of mental states (the hard problem of consciousness) as properties that are both fundamental and categorial, which cannot be reduced to dispositional physical properties. This particular strategy has also caused a revival in the interest of dualistic approaches. Richard Swinburne (2019), for example, argues that we have to assume that each one of us has a specific immaterial soul that accounts for our synchronic and diachronic identity.[6]

As mentioned, panentheism is traditionally associated with panpsychism. This association is explored, for example, in the volume Panentheism and Panpsychism: Philosophy of Religion meets Philosophy of Mind, co-edited by Godehard Brüntrup, Benedikt Paul Göcke and Ludwig Jaskolla (2020). The volume contains contributions that explore the philosophical and theological sides of this connection. The way in which panentheism is connected with panpsychism largely depends on how panentheism and panpsychism are defined. For example, although panpsychism in and of itself, which often assumes an atheistic stance, does not entail panentheism, panentheism arguably entails panpsychism. This is because, if all of finite reality is contained in God, and if God as the ultimate infinite and unconditioned whole of reality has both mental and physical aspects, then we should expect that everything that is in God is also determined by both mental and physical aspects; otherwise, the categorical unity of the divine being would be contradicted.

The relation between panentheism and pansychism also depends on how one sees the connection that exists between pansychism and cosmopsychism. Forms of cosmopsychism have been proposed, for example, in (Mathews 2011), (Jaskolla; Buck 2012), (Shani 2015), (Nagasawa; Wager 2017) and (Goff 2017).[7] For Yujin Nagasawa and Khai Wager (2017), for example, despite being strongly related, neither cosmopsychism nor pansychism entail each other. On the other hand, Philip Goff (2017) and Joanna Leidenhag (2020) see cosmopsychism as a kind of pansychism. If we define pansychism as the thesis that consciousness is fundamental and ubiquitous in the natural world (Goff 2017), then depending on where one places fundamentality (whether on the micro-level or on the cosmic-level) there will be two types of pansychism: micropsychism and cosmopsychism. Whereas micropsychism places fundamentality at the micro-level, cosmopsychism places fundamentality at the cosmic level.[8]

If we agree on this taxonomy and define the cosmos as all that is, then if we embrace a panentheistic view which contains the idea of God as the ontologically fundamental conscious entity, then panentheism entails a specific form of pansychism (that is to say, cosmopsychism). As a consequence of that, panentheism will be considered a kind of cosmopsychism, and consequently a kind of pansychism. We might term this theistic cosmopsychism.

This idea of theistic cosmopsychism has its precedents. On Yujin Nagasawa’s (2020) view that pantheism entails cosmopsychism, pantheism could be considered as a form of theistic cosmopsychism. David Chalmers (2020) considers that the cosmic entity associated with cosmopsychism might be “a god”; he uses the expression “divine forms of cosmopsychism”. And if we accept Chalmers (2020) taxonomy (that asserts that idealism is a form of cosmopsychism), classical forms of idealism such as Berkeley’s, Schelling’s, Hegel’s could also be seen as theistic versions of cosmopsychism.[9] 

Despite all this, recent interest within analytic philosophy on the connections between Indian traditions and panpsychism seems to be mostly focused on atheistic traditions, such as Advaita Vedānta and Buddhism.[10] For instance, Douglas Duckworth (2017) investigates panpsychism in relation to Yogācāra Buddhism; Luca Gasparri (2017) and Miri Albahari (2020) explore Advaita Vedānta in relation to cosmopsychism. The special issue of the journal The Monist dedicated to cosmopsychism and Indian philosophy (Ganeri; Shani 2022) almost exclusively analyses atheistic Indian traditions, though it does contain one paper by Anand Vaidya (2022) that associates Rāmānuja’s Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta with cosmopsychism, and another paper by Swami Medhananda (2022) that examines the views of Aurobindo. Another exception is Anand Vaidya’s (2020) paper in the Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Vedānta that comparatively examines analytic panpsychism in relation to both Advaita Vedānta and Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta.

The atheistic approaches to cosmopsychism might be a reflection of the naturalistic and non-theistic framework within which most of the contemporary debates on consciousness take place. This is evidenced by that fact that even theories that go against or are inconsistent with physicalism such as panpsychism are also mostly seen as materialistic. Talking about Russellian panpsychism, Chalmers (2002) for example states that “[Russellian panpsychism] can be seen as a sort of materialism. If one holds that physical terms refer not to dispositional properties but the underlying intrinsic properties, then the protophenomenal properties can be seen as physical properties, thus preserving a sort of materialism.” [11] Philip Goff (2007) also defends the idea that Russellian versions of cosmopsychism are materialistic: “Some might be tempted to describe cosmopsychism as ‘idealism.’ But if we can conceive of it as a form of constitutive Russellian monism, then we can equally describe it as a form of materialism.” Even contemporary dualistic approaches to consciousness tend to follow a naturalistic standpoint. Brie Gertler (2020), for example, states: “[…] most contemporary philosophical arguments for dualism are entirely naturalistic. And they do not aim to establish the existence of immaterial substances such as souls; rather, they aim to show that the qualitative properties of conscious experience are non-physical.”

This all supports the relevance of our approach, which is to investigate the philosophical prospects of a theistic theory of consciousness from the standpoint of a set of Indian religious traditions that ontologically (but in many cases pre-philosophically) connect God with the consciousness we witness in humans and other animals. Or, from the standpoint of our second set of questions: What views on consciousness might be implied by Indian concepts of God? How can these views be philosophically articulated? What are the advantages and difficulties peculiar to them? Are they compatible with the worldview given to us by modern science? Can (the concept of) God contribute to a scientifically-consistent theory of consciousness?

Our interest in Indian traditions as possible sources of insights for dealing with the problem of consciousness extends far beyond the debates on panpsychism. Among the works that relate Indian traditions to various issues regarding consciousness are: (Sinha 1983), (Schweizer 1993), (Wood 1994), (Zao 2005) and (Timalsina 2008). Our emphasis on a panentheistic cosmopsychism is partially motivated by the prospects for this view to provide a positive correlation between theology and science. This mainly corresponds to our narrower goal. Regarding our general goal, we are also interested in theistic approaches to consciousness other than cosmopsychism. In both cases, however, our goal is ‘God-centered’: it aims at theories of consciousness that arise from and depend upon the nuances that revolve around specific concepts of God. We hope that our efforts to philosophically reconstruct specific concepts of God can shed some light on key issues in the contemporary debate on consciousness.


[1] It might be worth mentioning that (Hartshorne; Reese 1953) do cover the views on God of śankara and Rāmānuja, for example, as well as of Buddhism.    

[2] See (Göcke 2019).    

[3] See (Cartwright 2019), (Dimitrijević 2020) and (Zhong 2020), for example.

[4] For more on this see (Oord 2019), (Göcke 2012), (Göcke 2015a) and (Göcke 2015b).    

[5] See (Skrbina 2007) for a history of pansychism in the West.      

[6] See also (Göcke 2012).      

[7] It should be said that a strong motivation for defending cosmopsychism has been the claim that it is most defensible than micropsychistic versions of pansychism (Nagasawa; Wager 2017) (Goff 2017).

[8] Nagasawa and Wager (2017), and many others, restrict pansychism to micropsychism. That is why they do not see cosmopsychism as a kind of pansychism. But this is a terminological issue.

[9] See (Meixner 2016).

[10] We use the term “atheistic tradition” to refer to those traditions which do not accept the ontological existence of a personal God.

[11] Russellian pansychism is a version of (what we are calling here) micropsychism inspired in Bertrand Russell’s discussion of physics in his The Analysis of Matter. Chalmers (2002) calls it “type-F monism.”



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