I earned my PhD in Philosophy and Religion with a concentration in Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness from California Institute of Integral Studies in 2020. My dissertation is titled “Acting a Part in the Ecstatic Love of the Divine.” Watch the defense or read the entire work here.
Beginning with Plato and reaching a climax in Maximus the Confessor, the doctrine of participation describes the relationship between the world and its source, in both its ontological and existential dimensions. Participation offers an account of the relation between the Many and the One, both in terms of a vertical hierarchy of being, as well as a horizontal evolution through time. Embedded participation designates the manner in which creatures unconsciously participate by nature in divine perfections and in existence itself, while enactive participation designates a consciously willed cooperation with the divine, which is ultimately a communion with the world as well. The related concepts of energeia (activity) and person (hupostasis or prosopon)are crucial both for describing these vectors of participation, and for resolving the problems they raise.
Remarkably, these primordial philosophical questions are as existentially and theoretically salient today as they were 2500 years ago. The work of Richard Kearney connects this study to the theological turn in French phenomenology (including Emmanuel Levinas, Jacques Derrida, and Jean-Luc Marion) and to one of the ongoing continental debates on alterity (exemplified by John Caputo and Kearney). The perennial question of the one and the many is a question about similitude and difference, about what unites and what distinguishes things. As an account of the relation between these two poles, participation has relevance for this current conversation on otherness, specifically whether the alterity of the other is radical (Caputo) or in some way mitigated (Kearney). While honoring and incorporating the lessons of the former, I argue for the latter, suggesting that my creative retrieval of participation supports a chiastic-hermeneutic model of relative otherness—to use Brian Treanor’s term—as against models of absolute otherness (Levinas, Derrida, Caputo). Moreover, Eastern Orthodox concepts like prosopon are directly taken up in Kearney’s work on micro-eschatology and epiphanies of the everyday, creating a rich nexus of conversation between Maximus, phenomenology, hermeneutics, and deep incarnation. As hermeneutic retrieval, this project seeks resources in the rich legacy of participation to address pressing contemporary concerns around social justice, ethics, the ecological crisis, and the divine’s place in it all.