The Sublime as Sacred

Reading Schopenhauer as a religious naturalist

Authored by: Abigail T. Wernicki

The Routledge Handbook of Religious Naturalism

Print publication date:  February  2018
Online publication date:  February  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138292079
eBook ISBN: 9781315228907
Adobe ISBN:


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In Religious Naturalism Today: The Rebirth of a Forgotten Alternative, Jerome Stone proposes a typology of religious naturalism that organizes its various iterations into three broadly construed groups. The first two incorporate a concept of God but in distinct ways: one as creative process (I view this as a kind of panentheism) and the other as equivalent to the whole of nature (I view this as pantheism). Naturalisms belonging to the third type do not employ a concept of God but are characterized as religious for one reason or another. To be sure, there is plenty of variation and discord among the philosophical perspectives that fall within this third group, which includes a broad range of thinkers from Donald Crosby to Ursula Goodenough to Stone himself. Some who fall into this category assign special value and meaning to the whole of nature itself. Crosby, for example, argues that nature is “religiously ultimate” (Crosby 2002). Others avoid ascribing ultimate value to nature, but instead identify certain processes or experiences within nature that contain religious traits such as sacredness or grace. I propose that Arthur Schopenhauer’s philosophical perspective belongs within the latter niche. While Schopenhauer does not profess an explicit theory of religious naturalism, his metaphysical outlook combined with his theory of aesthetic value form something like a nascent version of religious naturalism. The initial aim of this essay is therefore to expose Schopenhauer’s worldview as wholly naturalistic through an analysis of his metaphysics of will. I will then establish the religious aspects of Schopenhauer’s system by offering a critical reading of his aesthetic theory. The latter will include a consideration of Schopenhauer’s concepts of aesthetic contemplation and the sublime through the lens of Donald Crosby’s theoretical criteria for religious ultimacy.

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