Worldviews 16 (2012) 239–262

Disenchantment and the Environmental Crisis: Lynn White Jr., Max Weber, and Muhammad Iqbal
Ahmed Afzaal
Assistant Professor, Religion Department, Concordia College 901 8th St S, Moorhead MN 56562, USA

Abstract “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis” by Lynn White Jr. poses specific challenges to Islamic metaphysics and theology that have yet to be adequately addressed by Muslim scholars. I argue that the transition from a panentheistic view of God to an increasingly supernaturalist one is indicative of a larger shift in worldview that White had failed to emphasize. Reading White’s essay in light of Weber and Iqbal, I argue that a worldview dominated by rational thought is consistent with supernatural theism. The challenges posed by White’s essay can be met through Iqbal’s postmodern reconstruction of Islamic theology in panentheistic terms. Keywords Lynn White Jr., Max Weber, Muhammad Iqbal, Islam, ecology, disenchantment

1. Introduction: Islamic Tradition and the Ecological Crisis1

The purpose of my paper is to present the outlines of an Islamic response to the ecological crisis by engaging the works of Lynn White Jr., Max Weber, and Muhammad Iqbal. I begin by reinterpreting White’s essay on “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis” with the aim of highlighting the role of worldviews in determining the plausibility and significance of beliefs, pointing out that the transition from a panentheistic view of God to
1) I am grateful to Dr. David Johnston, whose probing questions compelled me to develop a clearer articulation of my views; and to my colleagues in the Religion department at Concordia College for the insightful comments they offered on an earlier draft of this paper. I would also like to thank Dr. Laurel Kearns (Drew University), whose course on “Religion and the Earth” in the fall of 1999 was the context for my original encounter with Lynn White Jr. This paper would not have been written without her persistent support and encouragement.
© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2012 DOI 10.1163/15685357-01603004


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an increasingly supernaturalist view signifies the more general shift from the traditional to the modern worldview. Drawing upon the insights of Max Weber and Muhammad Iqbal, I argue that a close relationship exists between these two theological models and the human experiences of enchantment and disenchantment, respectively. With reference to Iqbal’s postmodern reconstruction of the Qur’anic deity in panentheistic terms, I suggest that this can form the basis of an effective Islamic response to the metaphysical and theological challenges that White’s essay poses for the Islamic tradition. Partly because White’s 1967 essay focuses on Christianity, most of the religious responses to his critique have come from Christian theologians and ethicists. Yet, the particular beliefs that White finds ecologically problematic are not unique to Christianity; insofar as similar beliefs are found in the Islamic tradition, his thesis can be applied to Islam as well.2 Despite the obvious Islamic relevance of White’s critique, however, there has been relatively little effort on the part of Muslim scholars to face the specific challenges that his critique poses vis-à-vis Islamic theology and metaphysics.3
2) Even though White does not mention Islam as being responsible for creating the modern world and for contributing to the ecological crisis, it does not take too big a leap to make that connection. Islamic monotheism has come to dominate in the Middle East and large areas of Africa and Asia, and this has frequently come about at the expense of various animistic forms of indigenous traditions. Furthermore, Islamic cultures have typically developed in close association with Jewish and Christian traditions, and all three of them have been thoroughly soaked in the Greek heritage. An Islamicist notes: “Islam cannot deny its own foundations and live; and in its foundations we have seen that Islam belongs to and is an integral part of the larger Western society. It is the complement and counterbalance to European civilization, nourished at the same springs, breathing the same air” (Gibb 1932: 376). Only a few years after White’s essay, Arnold Toynbee published a similar critique of monotheism, entitled “The Religious Background of the Present Environmental Crisis” (1971). Toynbee notes that Judaism and Islam are considerably more uncompromising in their stress on monotheism than Christianity, for the latter is alone in diluting “its monotheism by giving God the Father two associates and equals in God the Son and God the Holy Spirit” (Toynbee 1971: 144). If this analysis is to be accepted, the greater stress on God’s unity in the Islamic tradition makes it more, rather than less, susceptible to White and Toynbee’s ecological critique. 3) By saying this, I am not suggesting that contemporary Muslim scholars have been indifferent to the ecological crisis. There is a growing body of both scholarly and popular writings that emphasizes Islam’s eco-friendly heritage and offer creative ways of putting that heritage into practice; cf., Nasr 1968; Pervez 1984; Haq 2001; Foltz, Denny, & Baharuddin 2003; AbdulMatin 2010; etc. There is no doubt, however, that there is an urgent need to expand the discussion on the ecological relevance of Islamic teachings. Contemporary attitudes toward science and technology in countries with sizeable Muslim populations are hardly distinguishable from ecologically destructive attitudes found in the more industrialized, Western nations. While concerns about the negative influence of secular modernity and

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Instead of a self-critical engagement with White’s critique, much of the Muslim contribution to the religion and ecology discussion has taken the form of reproducing relevant religious doctrines and reasserting juristic and ethical imperatives. While this work is not without value, its credibility and reach are limited by its apologetic tone as well as by its reluctance to take seriously the discoveries of modern science and philosophy. Ultimately, this approach is ineffective on a wider scale primarily for one reason―it fails to recognize the uniqueness of the modern condition.4 In any religious tradition, practical attitudes are closely intertwined with beliefs, and both of these are inevitably expressed within the linguistic and cognitive frameworks that the reigning worldview allows. By “worldview,” I mean the subconscious matrix of unacknowledged presuppositions that permeate an entire society or epoch at any given point in history.5 Part of the reason that traditional morality does not function organically in modern societies is that the worldview associated with that morality has lost much of its taken-for-granted quality. The same phenomenon also generates a serious predicament for religious faith. Within the linguistic and cognitive frameworks that the modern worldview allows, many of the traditional channels of faith―beliefs, symbols, and metaphors―are no longer experienced with the same lucidity and persuasive force as they once did. For this reason, a simple reiteration of religious teachings in their
Westernization frequently occur in Islamic discourse, there is relatively little cognizance of the abuses and excesses of modern science and technology, let alone of any problems that might be inherent in these practices. 4) I use the phrase “modern condition” to denote in a general way the long-range impact of the Enlightenment on human societies, with particular reference to rationalization and disenchantment. I realize that the “modern condition” is neither a monolithic nor a static phenomenon, though a detailed exposition of its various facets is beyond the scope of my paper. See note 13, below. 5) The nature of worldview has been discussed at least since Immanuel Kant (cf. Naugle 2002). As expected, there is no single, agreed upon definition. Some understandings of worldview overlap with those of myth, ideology, and culture, thereby adding to the semantic confusion. In the present paper, I am using the term “worldview” to denote the sum total of our pre-cognitive dispositions or commitments, as opposed to “beliefs” which are more or less consciously held cognitive commitments or convictions. Specifically, I take worldview to be a set of assumptions without which we cannot think or believe as we do, assumptions that most people in a given society or epoch take for granted, simply because they live in a particular time and place. For the vast majority of people, such assumptions remain at a subconscious level, almost never taking a verbal or propositional form. As soon as one of these assumptions rises to conscious awareness in a given society or epoch and becomes an issue of debate and inquiry, it can no longer be presumed and must be either “believed” or “disbelieved.” I am indebted to Wilfred Cantwell Smith for my understanding of the relationship between beliefs and worldviews (cf. Smith, 1979/1998).


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traditional form cannot produce the same impact as it did in the premodern period. Given this background, no Islamic response to the ecological crisis can be effective on a wider scale unless the following realities are taken into account. First, the issue of the relationship between religion and ecology does not exist in a vacuum; as such, abstracting it from the particular sociohistorical milieu in which it has emerged―i.e. the modern condition― only renders the genesis of the crisis incomprehensible and therefore unconquerable. Second, the classical and medieval articulations of Islamic belief and practice were necessarily constructed within the linguistic and cognitive frameworks that the traditional worldview allowed. With the decline in the human capacity to take the traditional worldview for granted, a substantial portion of this Islamic heritage is not able to “possess” the modern Muslim’s religious imagination as it did in premodern times.6 Third, modern Muslim scholars cannot afford to remain secluded behind the walls of their religious tradition; in order to maintain the vitality of Islamic thought, constant engagement is necessary with the collective stock of human knowledge as well as with the experiences and insights of other religious traditions. The ecological crisis is not an isolated problem in an otherwise perfect world. The modern worldview has produced an alienating effect in virtually all dimensions of human experience, and the ecological crisis is only one among its myriad manifestations. Consequently, an Islamic response to the ecological crisis can be effective only if it is part of a comprehensive enterprise that seeks, from an Islamic perspective, to understand and redress the problematic aspects of the modern worldview.7 Such an enterprise cannot

6) This situation, of course, is not at all unique to Islam. In his analysis of the religious climate in Indonesia and Morocco in the 1960s, Clifford Geertz describes what must be a typical phenomenon in any religious community that first experiences the shock of the modern worldview: “What is believed to be true has not changed for these peoples, or not changed very much. What has changed is the way in which it is believed. Where there once was faith, there now are reasons, and not very convincing ones; what once were deliverances are now hypotheses, and rather strained ones. There is not much outright skepticism around, or even much conscious hypocrisy, but there is a great deal of solemn self-deception” (Geertz 1968: 17). 7) Perhaps no Muslim intellectual in the last one hundred years has shown greater awareness of these challenges to religion than the South Asian poet, philosopher, and theologian  Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938). In the preface to his major philosophical statement, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, Iqbal argues that religious life is ultimately based on religious faith, which, in turn, rests on a “special type of inner experience.” Since modernity has rendered obsolete many of the traditional methods for cultivating such

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be substituted by a one-sided diatribe against modernity, since it is impossible to turn the clock backwards and bring back some idealized condition of past perfection; rather, it must involve wide-ranging reconstruction in the areas of Islamic metaphysics and theology. This requires, among other things, enlisting the help of relevant discoveries in modern science and philosophy.8 2. Revisiting the Lynn White Thesis White’s essay is too well-known to require a summary.9 In essence, his critique of Christianity revolves around three main points: (1) anthropocentrism, or the tendency to view human beings as the center of empirical

experiences, fresh methods appropriate to the modern “cultural outlook” are needed to inspire and sustain religious faith. Consequently, the younger generation’s “demand for a scientific form of religious knowledge is only natural” (Iqbal 1996: xxi). It is important to note that Iqbal’s agenda was far from parochial. By making a major contribution to this project, Iqbal was aiming not only to help meet the religious needs of modern Muslims but also to rectify the serious flaws that he found in modern ways of thinking. Iqbal viewed these flaws as representing not simply a Muslim problem but a human problem―as obstructions in humanity’s spiritual evolution and moral progress (Iqbal 1996: 142). 8) While modern Muslim intellectuals, including those in the Western academia, often focus on juristic reforms, I am suggesting that metaphysics and theology ought to be the first order of business. This is because the problems we are encountering at the level of beliefs and behaviors (such as those associated with the ecological crisis) are symptoms of a deeper problem that exists at the level of worldview. Even though Iqbal concerned himself with numerous issues relating to Islamic law and jurisprudence, his main project was ultimately philosophical. He writes: “With the reawakening of Islam . . . it is necessary to examine, in an independent spirit, what Europe has thought and how far the conclusions reached by her can help us in the revision and, if necessary, reconstruction, of theological thought in Islam” (Iqbal 1996: 6). Recognizing the enormity of the goal, Iqbal emphasizes the inevitability of innovative thinking: “The task before the modern Muslim is, therefore, immense. He has to rethink the whole system of Islam without completely breaking with the past. . . . The only course open to us is to approach modern knowledge with a respectful but independent attitude and to appreciate the teachings of Islam in the light of that knowledge, even though we may be led to differ from those who have gone before us” (Iqbal 1996: 78). 9) In a nutshell, White’s argument consists of the following steps: He begins by contending that the origins of the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions can be traced back to the advancements of science and technology that began in Western Europe in the eleventh century, and that these, in turn, were made possible by the slightly earlier “victory of Christianity over paganism” (White 1967: 1205) that replaced the indigenous “pagan” beliefs with Christian ones. The latter included the idea that God has planned everything for “man’s benefit and rule” and that nature exists solely “to serve man’s purposes” (White 1967: 1205). White notes that “Christianity . . . not only established a dualism of man and nature but also insisted that it is God’s will that man exploit nature for his proper ends” (White 1967: 1205).


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reality, or as having greater value than all other life forms; (2) the dualism between human beings and nature, or the notion that humanity is not part of the natural world; and (3) the divine mandate allowing humanity to control and dominate nature.10 Notice that all three components of White’s critique operate at the level of beliefs. This is problematic because beliefs do not motivate action in a social and historical vacuum; the efficacy of beliefs to shape human behavior depends upon the degree of their plausibility within a particular socio-historical context as well as the meanings they generate in the minds of particular groups of people. In turn, the plausibility and significance of specific beliefs depend upon the believers’ subconscious assumptions that, when taken together, constitute their worldview. This means that the impact of beliefs on human behavior cannot be analyzed or predicted in an ahistorical fashion, and that part of the historicizing process is to take into account the reigning worldview.11
Since Western science and technology “got their start” and “acquired their character” during the European Middle Ages (White 1967: 1204), these particular Christian beliefs became the fundamental principles guiding the practice of all science and technology. White concludes that “Christianity bears a huge burden of guilt” (White 1967: 1206) for contributing to the ecological crisis. While being critical of the Christian tradition, White is also optimistic that Christianity can become ecologically friendly by recalling some of its own forgotten or suppressed teachings. In fact, White argues that “[s]ince the roots of our troubles are so largely religious, the remedy must also be essentially religious . . . .” In order to redress the crisis, White suggests that “we” (i.e. Western Christians) must “find a new religion, or rethink our old one” (White 1967: 1207). The final section of his essay discusses the legacy of St. Francis as one way of rethinking Christianity. 10) In the following quote on Islam’s possible guilt in the ecological crisis, one can hear the echoes of White’s original thesis: “The awakening of ecological consciousness since the 1960’s has had an immediate effect on Islamic theology . . . . The criticism begins from the argument that Islam, much like other monotheistic religions, is anthropocentric, and concludes that the pursuit of an ecologically-minded theology must necessarily transcend these religions in search of alternative traditions and belief systems. According to this line of criticism, Islam is anthropocentric because it takes human value and importance as its starting point; man is given dominion over nature and its other creatures and these have value only in their use to human beings who are bestowed with stewardship (khilafah) by the Almighty. What is criticized here are the Qur’anic ideas of nature as a tool, resource, favor, or even a trust (amanah), and its doctrine of creation which mandates the human subduing of the earth. Deemed as entirely utilitarianist, these ideas are traced to the theological dualism of man and nature, and to the corollary axiom that nature as God’s artifact has no purpose save to serve man” (Afrasiabi 1995: 33). 11) In the passage from Afrasiabi quoted in the footnote above, the author is applying the three most obvious components of White’s critique to the Islamic tradition, viz., anthropocentrism, the dualism of humanity and nature, and the human privilege of dominion. What is missing from Afrasiabi’s analysis is the less obvious but no less important question of the worldview that determines the plausibility and significance of the beliefs in question and therefore the direction of their impact.

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Throughout his essay, White focuses on the problematic beliefs and does not seem to take the underlying worldview into consideration.12 However, in the same essay White points out the Christian teaching that “although man’s body is made of clay, he is not simply part of nature: he is made in God’s image,” before going on to contend that “Man shares, in great measure, God’s transcendence of nature” (White 1967: 1205, my emphasis). Here, White appears to be suggesting that the belief in humankind’s transcendence of nature is a conclusion drawn from two premises: first, God transcends nature, and second, humanity shares certain characteristics with God. On this issue, I would suggest that while the latter is an important belief in both the Christian and Islamic traditions, the former has more often been a subconscious presupposition rather than an explicit belief. Consequently, the efficacy of a belief in the “dualism of man and nature” (as White understands it) requires a worldview that includes a similar dualism between God and the natural world. One of the fundamental characteristics of such a worldview would be God’s own transcendence vis-à-vis nature―the presumption that God is separate from, as well as above and beyond, the empirical reality. White’s critique, therefore, is best appreciated in terms of two processes that evidently take place at a subconscious level: first, the presumption of an essential separation between God and the natural world; and second, the projection of that separation on to the relationship between humanity and nature. In other words, while the ecologically problematic beliefs may be consciously held, they must derive their plausibility and significance from the following reasoning that occurs subconsciously, at the level of worldview: Just as God’s transcendence of nature is reflected in humanity’s transcendence of nature, God’s power over nature is reflected in the human privilege to dominate nature. In this way, a close reading of White’s essay can reveal that while it explicitly argues for a causal link between particular religious beliefs and the ecological crisis, part of the essay implies that the plausibility and significance of these beliefs are themselves dependent upon a particular assumption that most often exists only at a subconscious level. Yet, there is a tension in White’s essay between what he argues explicitly and what he

12) White does mention at one point that “[o]ur daily habits of actions . . . are dominated by an implicit faith in perpetual progress” which comes from “Judeo-Christian teleology” (White 1967: 1205). His reference to an “implicit faith” that determines our everyday actions without our conscious awareness accurately captures the sense in which I am using the term “worldview.” The idea of progress and its alleged relation to Biblical religion is beyond the scope of this paper, but see my discussion of rationalization and disenchantment below.


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only suggests in an implicit (and perhaps inadvertent) manner. The kind of historical evidence that White offers in defense of his thesis indicates that he is convinced of an unbroken continuity in the ecological impact of religious beliefs across an entire millennium. In other words, the evidence is designed to suggest that the problematic Christian beliefs had the same impact on human attitudes in the early middle ages as they were having in the late 1960s. In light of the dependence of beliefs upon worldview, however, this kind of continuity is untenable; the dominant worldview in the early middle ages was vastly different from the one that reigned during the second half of the twentieth century. Indeed, the rise of the modern worldview is one of the most revolutionary transformations in human history, of the same magnitude as the beginning of agriculture or invention of the alphabet.13 White, however, does not seem to appreciate the relevance of this transformation for his ecological critique. There is, however, at least one indication in White’s essay that he is not completely unmindful of the rupture caused by the advent of modernity, even though he does not push that observation to its logical conclusion.14 White notices the apparent paradox that the ecologically problematic Christian beliefs are continuing to thrive even in an age that many are calling “post-Christian” (White 1967: 1205). He goes on to note that “Despite Copernicus, all the cosmos rotates around our little globe. Despite Darwin, we are not, in our hearts, part of the natural process” (White 1967: 1206). Given what we know about the enormous shift from the traditional to the modern worldview, it is indeed remarkable that these particular beliefs should withstand the otherwise sweeping impact of secularization,
13) Marshall Hodgson has used the term “The Great Western Transmutation” to denote the unprecedented economic, intellectual, and social changes that took place in Western Europe between 1600 and 1800. The scale and scope of these changes were so enormous that the five thousand years old agrarinate culture of the Afro-Eurasian Oikoumene gave way to an entirely new arrangement, consisting of the “technicalist age” and worldwide European hegemony (Hodgson 1993). While this “Transmutation” was underway, another massive and equally unprecedented shift was taking place in humanity’s worldview — the traditional worldview that had dominated all premodern societies in one form or another for almost five thousand years was losing its unquestioned authority as it was gradually replaced by the modern worldview, initially in Western Europe but increasingly in the rest of the world. Numerous authors have documented this shift in worldview from a variety of angles, e.g. Berger 1967 & 1979, Merchant 1980, Tarnas 1991, Dupré 1993, Spretnak 1997, Smith 2003, and Appleyard 2004. 14) The terms “modern worldview” and “modernity” are far from synonymous; I am using them interchangeably because the distinction is not crucial for the purposes of this paper. Historically speaking, “modernism” and “modernity” have emerged more or less simultaneously as interdependent phenomena.

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emerging unscathed from the cumulative shock of the Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution, and the Social Scientific critiques of religion. This curious fact cannot be left unexplained, nor can it be explained away by the essentialist answer that “[o]ur science and technology have grown out of Christian attitudes toward man’s relation to nature” (White 1967: 1206), for that would render science and technology permanently inseparable from ecologically destructive attitudes. I would like to suggest that these beliefs have survived mainly at a verbal level, while their meanings and implications have undergone a massive transformation. Their significance today is not the same significance they had a thousand years ago. This is because a change in worldview does not necessarily mean that all our beliefs will be replaced by entirely new ones. As our worldview shifts, many of our existing beliefs do not die off but begin to acquire new significance. The creeds and doctrines may remain the same, but their import and implications―mediated through the particular “moods and motivations” they evoke in us―can be entirely novel.15 Consequently, if certain beliefs are found to be ecologically problematic in the context of the modern worldview, this tells us very little about their meanings and implications―and therefore their impact―in the context of the traditional worldview. 3. Imagining God: Supernatural Theism versus Panentheism Since White posits a continuity in the impact of particular religious beliefs across one thousand years, he must assume that these beliefs were more or less normative (and therefore influential) throughout this period. Since the plausibility and significance of beliefs are closely tied to the reigning worldview, White’s thesis implies that a single worldview has also remained dominant during the entire millennium. In other words, the presupposition of a sharp dualism between God and nature―or the assumption of absolute divine transcendence―must have been an invariable feature of Western Christianity, starting at least from the early middle ages and continuing all the way to the twentieth century. In reality, however, Western Christianity has produced a wide range of theological views, and the vast majority of these views do not presuppose divine transcendence in any absolute sense. The same is true of the Islamic tradition.

15) Here, I am obviously drawing upon Clifford Geertz’ definition of religion (Geertz 1973).


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To keep the discussion within manageable limits, I propose to reduce the theological question to a relatively simple scheme. In general, we may speak of two contrasting models of the divine that have been common to both Christianity and Islam, each of them representing a particular way of imagining the relationship between God and the empirical reality.16 In the first model, God is imagined as absolutely transcendent, i.e. as distinct and separate from the empirical reality; in the second model, God is imagined as both transcending the empirical reality and as fully immanent within it.17 In the former case, sometimes called supernatural theism, God is above and beyond the empirical world but may intervene in it from the outside, as it were, either occasionally or regularly. An unbridgeable gap exists between God and the empirical reality, so that God can neither be experienced under normal circumstances nor known directly. In the latter case, often called panentheism, the empirical reality is “in” God, just as God is “in” each and every part of the empirical reality. God’s transcendence is always affirmed, but its alienating effect is diminished through a simultaneous emphasis on divine immanence; this ensures that the experience and knowledge of God is potentially available at all times.18 At this point in our inquiry, it can be seen that White’s ecological critique applies to supernatural theism but not to panentheism. In order to establish that particular religious beliefs in either Christianity or Islam have
16) I take these models not as actual belief systems or theological outlooks but only as idealtypes, in the strictly Weberian sense of the term. For this reason, I do not expect to find these models in their pure form in the history of theological reflections. Any actually existing belief system or theological outlook is likely to fall somewhere between these two conceptual extremes, perhaps closer to one end of the spectrum than the other. In addition, for a tiny intellectual minority, i.e. theologians, these models may operate as consciously held beliefs; but for the vast majority of adherents, they are much more likely to remain subconscious assumptions at the level of worldview. 17) There is a third possible model, pantheism, in which divine transcendence is completely or partially denied. God is immanent within the empirical reality or is identical with it. This model is unusual for either Christianity or Islam. 18) My choice of these two models is not arbitrary, for the polarity of divine transcendence and immanence is a theme that can be traced all the way to the Scriptures of the Christian and Islamic traditions―the Bible and the Qur’an. Historically, one of the main tasks of theology in these traditions has been to articulate the proper balance between these two poles. Indeed, supernatural theism may be understood as a theological position that privileges divine transcendence while diminishing or disregarding the significance of divine immanence; on the other hand, panentheism can be understood as a theological position that seeks to embrace the implications of both divine transcendence and divine immanence. Panentheism, of course, comes in many different forms. I am using the word in its most generic sense. Cf., Hartshorne & Reese (1953), Clayton & Peacocke (2004), Cooper (2006), etc.

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contributed to our ecological crisis, it must first be shown that supernatural theism has been the normative belief system in that tradition, which entails the presumption of absolute divine transcendence. Historically, neither of these has been the case. In the premodern past, even though Christian and Muslim theologians frequently wrestled with the divine polarity of transcendence and immanence, they never decisively privileged one pole over the other; more importantly, they never went so far as to completely deny the empirical reality any share of divine significance and sacred value. In general, theological outlooks in both traditions have tended to be considerably closer to panentheism than to supernatural theism.19 It could not have been otherwise, since the traditional worldview that reigned in all premodern societies―and was presumed by both theologians and ordinary believers―lacked any absolute or radical separation between the Sacred and the Profane. Historically, supernatural theism did not acquire its current influence in either tradition until very recently; it is a peculiarly modern development that exists in considerable tension with more traditional approaches. Given that White’s critique does not apply to panentheism, and that panentheism has been the preferred model in both Christianity and Islam, it appears that White’s critique is off the mark. What, then, is the value of his thesis? To answer this question, we must examine the contemporary influence of supernatural theism in both Christianity and Islam and then ask the following question: If supernatural theism is not supported by the classical heritage of these religious traditions, what has made this model of God so appealing to modern Christians and Muslims? At this point, White’s thesis becomes relevant once again. Instead of an indictment of Western Christianity, or indirectly of Islam, White’s thesis can be read as a critique of the conditions that have brought about the decline of panentheism and the rise of supernatural theism. Given that White’s critique does apply to supernatural theism, and that supernatural theism is a modern phenomenon, his thesis can be interpreted as a subtle critique of the modern worldview.
19) While a comprehensive treatment of this issue would require a book length study, one important piece of evidence is immediately available to us. It has been widely accepted in both the Christian and Islamic traditions that an authentic religious experience can, indeed, allow a person to have a direct encounter with the divine. The presence of a rich and diverse mystical dimension provides the most straightforward argument against the prevalence of supernatural theism in either of these traditions. With this background in mind, it is interesting to note that many contemporary adherents of supernatural theism are skeptical of the entire mystical dimension, towards which they often adopt a negative and denigrating attitude. This modern opposition to mysticism has most likely been the result of a hostility towards divine immanence within the empirical reality.


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4. Max Weber and the “Disenchantment of the World” We must dig deeper than the level at which White has found the historical roots of the ecological crisis; for our aim now is to uncover the historical  roots of the worldview that has made the particular religious beliefs ecologically destructive in the first place. The critique of the modern worldview implicit in White’s essay can be made explicit by placing his thesis in the context of the modern predicament of meaning and religious faith. I propose to do so by drawing upon the work of Max Weber. For Weber, the modern experience is characterized by “disenchantment of the world,” which, in turn, is a product of the historical process of rationalization. An understanding of rationalization can help us analyze the evolution of human civilization, as well as that of any particular society, in terms of a gradual increase in the level of its overall rationality. Weber shows that there are at least four different types of rationality―practical, theoretical, substantive, and formal―the growth of which is far from uniform across societies or life-spheres.20 All societies undergo rationalization, but at different rates and in different directions. Weber argues that the modern Western society has significantly surpassed all other human groups in the successful rationalization of its various life-spheres. In this development, practical, theoretical, and formal types of rationality have come to dominate substantive rationality. Overall, there has been a rapid progress in the systematic mastery of life processes and an increase in their coherent understanding by means of abstract concepts; at the same time, the ability of values to order the world has declined.

20) Stephen Kaalberg, one of the foremost Weber scholars, provides a detailed examination of the four types of rationality. The first type, practical rationality, has to do with aligning means and ends with the aim of maximizing one’s pragmatic and everyday interests. This kind of rationality “accepts given realities and calculates the most expedient means of dealing with the difficulties they present” (Kalberg 1980: 1152). The second type, theoretical rationality, “involves a conscious mastery of reality through the construction of increasingly precise abstract concepts.” The third type, substantive rationality, is concerned with the ordering of action into regular patterns on the basis of “value postulates” or clusters of values (Kalberg 1980: 1155). For Weber, the choice of a particular value postulate is not subject to rational determination but depends on one’s “ultimate point of view.” The fourth type, formal rationality, involves the ordering of actions on the basis of a means-ends rational calculation that is similar to practical rationality, but differs from it in its legitimization through appeals to universally applicable rules and laws (Kalberg 1980: 1158). According to Weber, formal rationality is seen most clearly in the functioning of modern businesses and bureaucracies.

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For Weber, science is the most important form in which theoretical rationality has manifested in recent history. This type of rationality involves the ability of human beings to gain control over their environment, which is achieved by rendering the empirical reality increasingly comprehensible through abstract concepts. Weber believes that the advancement of science constitutes the most significant aspect of theoretical (or intellectual) rationalization. In his essay “Science as a Vocation,” Weber notes that “Scientific progress is a small part, albeit the most important part, of that process of intellectualization to which we have been subject for thousands of years . . .” (Weber 2008: 35). He explains the meaning of this process as follows:
Let us first of all be clear about what precisely this intellectual rationalization through science and scientifically oriented technology means in practice. Does it mean that we today―everyone, for example, sitting here in this hall― has a greater knowledge of the conditions of life under which he exists than an Indian or a Hottentot? Hardly. . . . Thus, increasing intellectualization and rationalization does not mean increasing general knowledge of the conditions under which we live our lives. It means something else. It means the knowledge or belief that if we only wanted to we could learn at any time; that there are, in principle, no mysterious unpredictable forces in play, but that all things―in principle―can be controlled through calculation. This, however, means the disenchantment of the world. No longer, like the savage, who believed that such forces existed, do we have to resort to magical means to gain control over or pray to the spirits. Technical means and calculations work for us instead. This, above all, is what intellectualization actually means (Weber 2008: 35).

For Weber, disenchantment has resulted from the tremendous acceleration of theoretical rationalization that has occurred in recent centuries. In effect, the same phenomenon that has helped usher in the age of scientific progress has also brought about the foremost cultural discontent of our times. Disenchantment does not imply that human beings have, in fact, achieved a complete understanding of how empirical reality functions; it only means that a faith has developed in modern societies that, given sufficient time and resources, scientists can figure out virtually anything. At the same time, a strong trust has emerged in the ability of modern technology to endlessly enlarge humankind’s power vis-à-vis the natural world, and to eventually solve all present and future problems.21 According to Weber, humankind’s recent progress in theoretical rationality has caused the shrinking, and often disappearance, of those aspects
21) It is important to note that these attitudes are not necessarily warranted by any empirical evidence.


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or dimensions of empirical reality that were previously viewed as “mysterious”―i.e. unknowable in principle. This has led to a gradual loss of the very possibility of experiencing genuine wonder, which, in turn, implies a serious blow to the human capacity for constructing and attributing meaning to the world. Disenchantment then comes to represent the predicament of having to live in a world that lacks any intrinsic meaning or purpose, even as it becomes increasingly intelligible in scientific terms. In this context, I suggest that the tendency towards dividing the empirical reality by means of increasingly precise concepts is the core of what I have been calling the modern worldview (with meaninglessness as its most egregious consequence). If rationalization is a historical process, as Weber argues, we can imagine that it must have started at a certain point in time, prior to which humanity lived in a completely enchanted world. Presumably, in such a world the human condition was marked by harmony and contentment, for human beings encountered nature as a never ending source of mystery, wonder, joy, and meaning. They experienced the world as an organic whole that enveloped them from all sides in a warm, safe cocoon. The very thought of comprehending their environment―let alone modifying it in any way― could never have crossed the minds of these enchanted people.22 5. Muhammad Iqbal and the Reason/Intuition Divide In the previous section, I used a diachronic approach to present the relationship between the enchanted and disenchanted worlds; I presented the two as being separated by a period of countless millennia, and therefore as mutually exclusive. This approach, while fairly common, is challenged by a

22) Describing Weber’s sense of an earlier, enchanted time, Alkis Kontos writes: “The world was a place of mystery and wonderment; human activity and calculation, creativity and energy, knowledge and practice could not, nor were they presumed able to, either prevail over the world or exhaust its mystery. The world, Nature, stood before the mortals as inexhaustible, mysterious, imbued with spirits, unconquerable” (Kontos 1994: 224). Interpreting Weber’s view of the relationship between humanity and the nonhuman nature within this enchanted world, the same author notes: “The enchanted world . . . is treated by Weber as one in which a symbiosis, an organic unity, is struck between humans and Nature. In an enchanted world, Nature provides a meaningful, stabilizing foundation to existence; it moderates and gives orientation to life activity; it secures existential satisfaction. Mental and psychological anxiety does not prevail. Satiation, and, above all, meaning reign supreme” (Kontos 1994:228). The history of civilization can therefore be seen as the history of humanity’s movement out of, and away from, the primordial experience of enchantment.

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mountain of empirical evidence, since large numbers of people in the modern world, including those living in technologically sophisticated societies, have continued to experience enchantment in a wide variety of ways. It seems as if the enchanted world of our distant past is repeatedly intruding into our present, supposedly disenchanted, world.23 This difficulty suggests the need for a different approach, one that takes into account the simultaneous presence of enchantment and disenchantment in the same socio-historical context and even in the same individual. Such a synchronic approach would describe the enchanted and disenchanted worlds not as distinct periods in human history but as alternative modes of human experience, i.e. as two distinct ways of knowing, of constructing reality, and of being in the world. This would mean that even though particular epochs and/or cultures may favor one or the other, both modes are potentially available to all of us, all the time. Weber’s work powerfully demonstrates that our social and cultural conditions play a significant role in determining the proportion of enchantment and disenchantment in our experience. At the same time, I think it would be a mistake to assume that these conditions operate from the outside, as it were, on a human psyche that is essentially a blank slate, a passive recipient of external influences. In other words, there must be innate psychological mechanisms that actively mediate these two modes of experiencing reality. I am therefore inclined to think that if Weber’s sociological approach could be wedded to a psychological understanding of the same phenomena, we can have a more relational (and therefore more accurate) view of enchantment and disenchantment. Towards that end, I suggest that Muhammad Iqbal’s work can be of immense value. More specifically, we can identify the relevant psychological mechanisms by taking into account Iqbal’s description of two fundamental human faculties―reason and intuition―and their respective functions. It may be noted that Iqbal employs several different terms when referring to these faculties, including “reason,” “thought,” “intellect,” and “logical understanding” on the one hand, and “intuition,” “heart,” “insight,” and “love” on the other. In the following paragraphs, I discuss Iqbal’s understanding of these two faculties and relate them to Weber’s views on enchantment and disenchantment.

23) The recognition that theoretical rationalization does not eradicate all possibilities of enchantment has stimulated new scholarship on Weber, e.g. Jenkins 2000, Green 2005, and Koshul 2005; as well as on alternative forms of enchantment, e.g. Griffin 1988 & 2001, Bennett 2001, Saler 2006, Landy & Saler 2009, and Sherry 2000.


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In the following quote from The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, Iqbal defines intuition as an instrument of knowledge that is independent of ordinary sense perception.
The “heart” is a kind of inner intuition or insight which, in the beautiful words of Rumi, feeds on the rays of the sun and brings us into contact with aspects of Reality other than those open to sense-perception. It is, according to the Qur’an, something which “sees,” and its reports, if properly interpreted, are never false. We must not, however, regard it as a mysterious special faculty; it is rather a mode of dealing with Reality in which sensation, in the physiological sense of the word, does not play any part. Yet the vista of experience thus opened to us is as real and concrete as any other experience. To describe it as psychic, mystical, or super-natural does not detract from its value as experience. To the primitive man all experience was supernatural. Prompted by the immediate necessities of life he was driven to interpret his experience, and out of this interpretation gradually emerged “Nature” in our sense of the word (Iqbal 1996: 13).

For Iqbal, the faculty of intuition is just as natural and as reliable as the faculty of rational thought. Both are based on experience and interpretation, and both serve to bring us into contact with reality―though intuition is more fundamental of the two. Iqbal views the faculty of rational thought as a distinctive human achievement that made its first appearance only when the necessities of life made conceptual distinctions inevitable. Prior to that, human beings perceived everything around them as “supernatural,” i.e. mysterious, wonderful, and sacred. Strictly speaking, of course, they had not yet made the conceptual distinction between “natural” and “supernatural,” or between “profane” and “sacred.” Indeed, they did not even perceive “nature” as something distinct from themselves. But as the faculty of rational thought developed, humanity gradually emerged out of its dreamlike innocence into a state of increasing self-awareness. Among other things, this involved a sense of separation from what subsequently came to be known as “nature.” Elsewhere, Iqbal argues that the Qur’anic narrative of Adam’s creation is a description of this very phenomenon:
. . . the Qur’anic legend of the Fall has nothing to do with the first appearance of man on this planet. Its purpose is rather to indicate man’s rise from a primitive state of instinctive appetite to the conscious possession of a free self, capable of doubt and disobedience. The Fall does not mean any moral depravity; it is man’s transition from simple consciousness to the first flash of self-consciousness, a kind of waking from the dream of nature with a throb of personal causality in one’s own being (Iqbal 1996: 67-68).

It appears that Iqbal’s reference to a “primitive state of instinctive appetite” is meant to capture essentially the same concept as Weber’s view of an enchanted world. For Iqbal, humanity stepped out of this primordial

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“dream of nature” because the pressure for survival in a changing and challenging environment demanded human initiative, which, in turn, required the ability to interpret the flow of experience. The beginning of “selfconsciousness” and the recognition of “personal causality” were closely associated with the emerging ability to make increasingly precise distinctions and to construct abstract concepts. The Qur’an states that God “taught Adam the names of all things” (Qur’an 2:31), a verse that Iqbal interprets as pointing out the fact “that man is endowed with the faculty of naming things, that is to say, forming concepts of them, and forming concepts of them is capturing them” (Iqbal 1996: 10). It can be seen that Weber’s conception of theoretical rationality is not too far from Iqbal’s view of thought or logical understanding. Both notions refer to a human faculty that (1) makes distinctions in the flow of experience, (2) is conceptual in nature, (3) relies on the use of language, and (4) confers the power to control one’s environment. In the following quote, Iqbal compares the epistemological functions of thought and intuition, arguing that they represent different but complementary approaches to knowledge:
Nor is there any reason to suppose that thought and intuition are essentially opposed to each other. They spring up from the same root and complement each other. The one grasps Reality piecemeal, the other grasps it in its wholeness. The one fixes its gaze on the eternal, the other on the temporal aspect of Reality. The one is present enjoyment of the whole of Reality; the other aims at traversing the whole by slowly specifying and closing up the various regions of the whole for exclusive observation. Both are in need of each other for mutual rejuvenation. Both seek vision of the same Reality which reveals itself to them in accordance with their function in life. In fact, intuition, as Bergson rightly says, is only a higher kind of intellect (Iqbal 1996: 2).

For Iqbal, reality is one and indivisible. We approach it, however, from two different directions: intuition is biased towards synthesis while thought is biased towards analysis. As such, intuition is the ability to know the empirical reality as a unified whole, while rational thought is the ability to know the same reality as consisting of discrete and identifiable parts or sections. Like the inside and outside of a Möbius strip, reality perceived as a unified whole is continuous with reality perceived as discrete fragments; for there is no break or interruption in reality. The same holds true for the faculties of intuition and rational thought.24

24) This is a key philosophical move, for it allows Iqbal to overcome not only the dichotomy between reason and intuition, but also the one between matter and spirit more generally:


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Bringing together the insights of Weber and Iqbal, we can notice an intimate relationship between intuition and enchantment on the one hand, and between rational thought and disenchantment on the other. It also appears that these modes of knowing and experiencing tend to function without our conscious awareness; they operate, in other words, at the level of worldview. I think it is possible to propose two types of worldviews based on the above scheme: a worldview dominated by rational thought that produces an increasingly disenchanted world, and a worldview dominated by intuition that generates an increasingly enchanted world.25 6. Towards a Postmodern Panentheism It is my contention in this paper that the ecological critique of religion by Lynn White Jr. points in the right direction but does not go all the way. White traces the ecological crisis to particular religious beliefs; in response, I have argued that his critique convincingly indicts a particular theological model―supernatural theism―but that it does not lead to an indictment of either Western Christianity or Islam in their traditional manifestations. White’s critique is incomplete because it does not take into account the pervasive influence of the reigning worldview on the plausibility and significance, and therefore the impact, of particular religious beliefs. As I try to fill this gap in White’s analysis, his critique of religion increasingly appears as a critique of the modern worldview. Bringing together the insights of Weber and Iqbal, it is clear that the modern worldview is characterized by an emphasis on rational thought and a corresponding marginalization of intuition. In other words, the essence of the modern worldview is the “analytical imperative,” i.e. the tendency to continuously divide the empirical reality through increasingly precise abstractions. With such a worldview in ascendancy, disenchantment results from the loss in our capacity to experience reality as a unified whole. When it comes to religion, the modern worldview may encourage an
“The unity called man is body when you look at it as acting in regard to what we call the external world; it is mind or soul when you look at it as acting in regard to the ultimate aim and ideal of such acting” (Iqbal 1996:122). Given that Cartesian dualism has also been implicated in our ecologically destructive beliefs and behaviors, this aspect of Iqbal’s work is also relevant for the problem of religion and ecology. 25) Once again, I am using these concepts strictly as ideal-types. In reality, any given worldview must include both ways of knowing and experiencing, since both tendencies are inherent in our psychological makeup.

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overt atheism, but it is equally capable of accommodating a theological model in which God only exists outside the empirical reality and is essentially unrelated to it. Since the analytical imperative requires an increasing separation between God and not-God, supernatural theism can be viewed as an intermediate stage in the same line of reasoning that leads to deism and subsequently to atheism. The reason supernatural theism continues to exist in both the Christian and Islamic traditions is because it offers a distinct “advantage.” It allows a person to fully embrace an empirical reality that has been de-divinized and desacralized by the modern worldview, without having to give up his or her “belief” in God. In this context, the relevance of Iqbal’s work stems from his recognition that the traditional worldview has collapsed and the modern worldview does not satisfy. For theology, this means that even though supernatural theism is not an acceptable option, Christians and Muslims cannot simply return to traditional forms of panentheism. Iqbal recognizes that the modern predicament of meaning and religious faith has resulted from a worldview that privileges rational thought; yet, his project does not call for a counter-privileging of intuition as a response to that predicament. While dissatisfied with disenchantment, he does not advocate the impossible option of returning to an earlier, enchanted world. For Iqbal, our perception of reality as consisting of discrete parts is the very basis of science; this perception is relative, but it is not invalid. Nor does he favor abandoning all distinctions between God and not-God. What he seeks, instead, is the ideal balance between the two faculties of intuition and rational thought, in order to allow appropriate freedom to both the enchanting and disenchanting tendencies that are inherent in the human psyche. One of Iqbal’s major contributions to Islamic theology is an interpretation of the Qur’anic deity in ways that I would describe as both “postmodern” and “panentheist,” even though Iqbal himself does not employ either of these terms. The word “postmodern” is justified because Iqbal embraces the positive achievements of the modern worldview while also seeking to transcend its limitations.26 The word “panentheist” is justified because Iqbal emphasizes the immanence of God within empirical reality while categorically rejecting the notion of pantheism.27

26) In my view, the term “postmodern” is applicable to Iqbal’s work in the same sense in which it has been applied to the works of Charles Sanders Peirce, Alfred North Whitehead, and others (Griffin 1993). 27) While a panentheistic understanding of God is by no means a novelty in the Islamic tradition, Iqbal’s contribution stands out for a number of reasons; not the least of which is


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A significant piece of what may be taken as Iqbal’s critique of supernatural theism appears in his discussion of the divine attribute of “creation.” Iqbal asks the question―“Does the universe confront God as His ‘other,’ with space intervening between Him and it?”―and then responds with an emphatic “no.” For Iqbal, a finite mind tends to “regard the act of creation as a specific past event,” which is why it regards nature “as a confronting ‘other’ existing per se, which the mind knows but does not make.” The same impression is then projected onto God, as a result of which the finite mind approaches nature as if it were “a manufactured article, which has no organic relationship to the life of its maker, and of which the maker is nothing more than a mere spectator” (Iqbal 1996: 52). The presumption that God is separate from the empirical world in an almost physico-spatial sense is sustained by a worldview that privileges rational thought over intuition. In contrast, the view of reality generated by our intuitive experience reveals to us the immanence of God within creation.28 For Iqbal, divine immanence can be recognized intuitively with the help of an empirical insight into the nature of time. Occasionally, during moments of “profound meditation,” Iqbal writes, “we sink into our deeper
his ability to bring the Qur’an and other classical Islamic sources in a fertile dialogue with twentieth century science and philosophy. The panentheistic quality of Iqbal’s view of God has been recognized as such by at least two Western scholars. Charles Hartshorne included a selection from Iqbal in the volume he edited with William Reese, titled Philosophers Speak of God. In this anthology, Iqbal appears in the section on “Modern Panentheism” along with Charles Sanders Peirce, Alfred North Whitehead, and Martin Buber. In their introductory note, the editors mentioned Iqbal’s significance as a modern Muslim panentheist: “It is a pleasure to be able to include a modern Mohammedan among our panentheists. True, there is a strong and fully acknowledged influence of Bergson and other Western European authors upon this writer; but the eloquence and sincerity of the numerous references to Muslem sources are no less striking” (Hartshorne and Reese 1955: 294). Similarly, Robert Whittemore published an important paper on “Iqbal’s Panentheism” (1956), in which he emphasized Iqbal’s relevance beyond the Muslim world and called for an appreciation of his place within the Western intellectual tradition: “That God (whatever his nature) is One, that this universe is animated (for better or worse) by purpose, and that it has a positive character and value, that this value is evidenced by the testimony of God to man in Scripture―in these convictions Islam and the religions of the West find common ground. To ascribe, therefore, an extra-Islamic significance to Iqbal’s thought is to claim that his viewpoint contributes in important measure to the clarification and understanding of these common convictions, not only as regards their internal coherence but as regards their harmonization with secular knowledge as well” (Whittemore 1956: 698). 28) We may recall White’s view that the dualism between God and nature is reflected in the dualism between human beings and nature. Iqbal is clearly making the opposite case. Both White and Iqbal are assuming a worldview in which knowing is primarily a matter of distinguishing, differentiating, and separating, but according to Iqbal it is our own experience of being distinct from nature that suggests to us the notion of God being separate from nature, and not the other way around.

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self and reach the inner centre of experience” (Iqbal 1996: 38). As “the states of consciousness melt into each other,” we find ourselves in a single and eternal “now” (Iqbal 1996: 39). This experience of “timelessness” allows us to realize that even though clock time is a succession of moments, real time lacks the usual divisions of past, present, and future. To paraphrase Iqbal, we may say that the analytical imperative of rational thought “pulverizes” real time into a series of successive moments, thereby making it virtually indistinguishable from space; yet, intuition can still allow us to experience “pure duration unadulterated by space” (Iqbal 1996: 38-39). Thus, our intuitive experience of time as a single and eternal “now,” rare as it may be, suggests that time conceived as a straight line is nothing more than a useful fiction constructed by the faculty of rational thought, only because it helps us in comprehending and mastering our environment. If God is in pure duration, as Iqbal argues, then our categories of past, present, and future, and those of before and after, can have no relevance to divine life. From the viewpoint of God, “there is no creation in the sense of a specific event having a ‘before’ and an ‘after’” (Iqbal 1996: 52). Thus, in light of our experience of the indivisibility of “now,” the claim of supernatural theism that God and empirical reality are two separate entities―perhaps confronting each other “in the empty receptacle of an infinite space”―becomes entirely untenable. Supernatural theism requires that the empirical world be viewed as a self-sufficient reality that exists not only apart from but also independent of God. This Iqbal finds unacceptable, arguing that time, space, and matter are only “interpretations” that a finite mind places on God’s creative energy; alternatively, they are “intellectual modes of apprehending the life of God” (Iqbal 1996: 53). In the final analysis, “the universe cannot be regarded as an independent reality standing in opposition to Him” (Iqbal 1996: 52-53). Iqbal’s panentheism has far-reaching consequences for our view of nature. According to Iqbal, to encounter nature is not to encounter a static entity that is separate or discontinuous either from the observing subject or from God, but to encounter “the perpetual flow of Divine life” in which the tiniest particle is itself an ego; this is because “from the Ultimate Ego only egos proceed” (Iqbal 1996: 57). From the viewpoint of God, nature does not exist as a self-subsisting “other,” but as “a fleeting moment” in God’s creative life (Iqbal 1996: 45). The same applies to the countless egos that together constitute “nature,” as we have come to call what is better described as a “moment” in the eternal flow of divine energy.29 “Beyond Him and apart
29) Iqbal insists that his view does not require sacrificing the individual’s aspiration for eternal life as a unique, self-conscious being. Rejecting the ancient symbolism of a drop of water


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from his creative activity,” Iqbal contends, “there is neither time nor space to close Him off in reference to other egos” (Iqbal 1996: 52). In this view of God, nature acquires an intensity of sacredness and inherent value that is impossible to imagine within the narrow confines of supernatural theism. Since the empirical world “in all its details” is nothing other than “the selfrevelation” of God (Iqbal 1996: 57), and since a “self” cannot be conceived without definite and uniform behavior, Iqbal suggests that nature is best understood as the very “character” of God.
Nature . . . is not a mass of pure materiality occupying a void. It is a structure of events, a systematic mode of behaviour, and as such organic to the Ultimate Self. Nature is to the Divine Self as character is to the human self. In the picturesque phrase of the Qur’an it is the habit of Allah. From the human point of view it is an interpretation which, in our present situation, we put on the creative activity of the Absolute Ego. . . . Nature, then, must be understood as a living, ever-growing organism whose growth has no final external limits. Its only limit is internal, i.e. the immanent self which animates and sustain the whole. . . . The knowledge of Nature is the knowledge of God’s behaviour. In our observation of Nature we are virtually seeking a kind of intimacy with the Absolute Ego; and this is only another form of worship (Iqbal 1996: 45).

Iqbal’s postmodern panentheism does not allow nature to be objectified. Nature is not a “thing,” but a dynamic process, “a living, ever-growing organism” that is animated and sustained by the immanent divine. It is not simply the case that nature “tells” us about an otherwise distant God; rather, the countless phenomena of nature are the very “habits” of God. For this reason, our observation of nature is a form of worship through which we aspire to develop an ever increasing intimacy with reality, which is another name for God.30 According to Iqbal, nature is not what God created in the past; nature is what God does, now. If the logic of Iqbal’s panentheism is followed, the dualism of humanity and nature is relativized as being the result of a valid but limited perspective created by the faculty of rational thought. Similarly, the Biblical and Qur’anic mandate of human dominion over nature becomes the exciting
merging with the ocean, Iqbal uses the metaphor of a “pearl” to express the Islamic hope of a distinct selfhood for the human individual that continues beyond death. Amending a famous New Testament verse (Acts 17:28), Iqbal writes: “Like pearls do we live and move and have our being in the perpetual flow of Divine life” (Iqbal 1996: 57-58). 30) Iqbal’s view of nature goes far beyond the central assumption of natural theology. Since any creative work reveals the mind of its creator, to say that the empirical world reveals the mind of God is merely to state the obvious. The value of Iqbal’s work lies in the fact that he has something important to say about the relationship between the Creator and the creation.

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possibility for human beings and God to act as “co-workers” (Iqbal 1996: 10). Humanity is fated to exercise power vis-à-vis the natural world, but―as Iqbal repeatedly points out―this privilege comes with a tremendous responsibility. We are not “free” to use our power in any way we want, for there are definite consequences for the choices we make. According to Iqbal, human beings are called to exercise their power, not “in the interest of unrighteous desire for domination, but in the nobler interest of a free upward movement of spiritual life” (Iqbal, 1996: 12). The signs that indicate a continuous worsening in the balance of nature are no less than warnings from God, informing us in a loud and clear voice that we have been making the wrong choices. For Iqbal, there is nothing unusual in the claim that God speaks. The question, rather, is whether or not we are prepared to listen. References
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