Immanence Explained

Immanence, derived from the Latin in manere "to remain within", refers to philosophical and metaphysical theories of the divine as existing and acting within the mind or the world. This concept generally contrasts or coexists with the idea of transcendence.

Immanence in religion

In worship, a believer in immanence might say that one can find God wherever one seeks. This understanding is often used in Hinduism to describe the relationship of Brahman, or the Supreme Being, to the material world (i.e., monotheistic theism). Hinduism posits Brahman as both transcendent and immanent — varying emphasis on either quality is made by the different philosophies/denominations within the religion. Immanence is one of the five key concepts in Druze, and is represented by the color white. Scholars such as Henry David Thoreau, who popularized the concept of immanence, were influenced by Hindu views.

Belief in the immanence of the transcendent God is a distinguishing characteristic of both Christianity and Judaism. It is common for both Jews and Christians to refer to God as "My God," a phraseology seen as inappropriate by Muslims, or Hindus. Jesus’ use of “Abba, Pater” - a combination of the Aramaic and the Greek forms of “Father” - in prayer shows a filial intimacy with God (Mark 14:36); Paul furthers this filial connection with God to all Christians in Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6.


The only transcendent, almighty, and holy God, who cannot be approached or seen in essence or being, becomes immanent primarily in the God-man Jesus the Christ, who is the incarnate Second Person of the Trinity. In Eastern Orthodox theology the immanence of God is expressed as the hypostasises and or energies of God. God who in his essence is incomprehensible and transcendent.

This is most famously expressed in St Paul's letter to the Philippians, where he writes:

"Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. [1] The Holy Spirit is also expressed as an immanence of God.

and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."[2]

The immanence of the triune God is celebrated in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodoxy during the liturgical calendar feast as the Theophany of God (see Feast of Theophany).

Pope Pius X wrote at length about philosophical-theological controversies over immanence in his encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis.

In the theology of Karl Rahner, it is said that that "the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity, and the immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity." That is to say, God communicates Himself to humanity ("economic" Trinity) as He really is in the divine Life ("immanent" Trinity).


According to LDS theology all of the material creation we see is filled with and indeed empowered by an immanence known as the "Light of Christ". This same immanence is responsible for the intuitive conscience born into man. It maintains and sustains the physical universe. This belief is in addition to the more commonly discussed belief in Mormon theology that God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost are three distinct beings (and probably most accurately described as "transcendent").

Judaism and the Kabbalah

See main article: Tzimtzum. Traditional Jewish religious thought can be divided into "Nigleh"(Revealed) and "Nistar"(Hidden) dimensions. Hebrew Scripture is traditionally explained using the four level exegesis method of Pardes. In this system, the first three approaches of the Simple, Hinted and Homiletical interpretations, characterise the revealed aspects. The fourth approach of the Secret meaning, characterises a hidden aspect. Among the classic texts of Jewish tradition, some Bible Jewish commentators, the Midrash, the Talmud, and mainstream Jewish Philosophy utilise revealed approaches. Other Bible commentators, the Kabbalah, and Hasidic Philosophy, utilise hidden approaches. Both dimensions are traditionally seen as united and complimentary. In this way, ideas in Jewish thought are given a variety of ascending meanings. Explanations of a concept in Nigleh, are given inherent, inner, mystical contexts from Nistar.

Descriptions of Divine immanence are found in Nigleh, from the Bible to Rabbinic Judaism. In Genesis, God makes a personal covenant with the forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Daily Jewish prayers refer to this inherited closeness and personal relationship with the Divine, for their descendants, as "the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob". To Moses, God reveals his Tetragramaton name, that more fully captures Divine descriptions of transcendence. Each of the Biblical names for God, describe different Divine manifestations. The most important prayer in Judaism, that forms part of Scriptural narrative to Moses, says "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One". This declaration combines different Divine names, and themes of immanence and transcendence. Perhaps the most personal example of a Jewish prayer that combines both themes is the invocation repeatedly voiced during the time in the Jewish calendar devoted to Teshuva(Return, inaccurately translated as Repentance), "Our Father, Our King..". Much of later Hebrew Biblical narrative, recounts the reciprocal relationship and national drama, of the unfolding of themes of immanence and transcendence. Mainstream Jewish thought and philosophy, further describes and articulates these interconnected aspects, of the Divine - human relationship.

Jewish Mysticism gives explanations of greater depth and spirituality, to the interconnected aspects of God's immanence and transcendence. The main expression of mysticism, the Kabbalah, began to be taught in 12th Century Europe, and reached a new systemisation in 16th Century Israel. The Kabbalah gives the full, subtle, traditional system of Jewish metaphysics. In the Medieval Kabbalah, new doctrines described the 10 Sefirot(Divine emanations) through which the Infinite, unknowable Divine essence reveals, emanates, and continuously creates existence. The Kabbalists identified the final, feminine Sefirah with the earlier, traditional Jewish concept of the "Shechina"(immanent Divine Presence). This gave great spirituality to earlier ideas in Jewish thought, such as the theological explanations of suffering (theodicy). In this example, the Kabbalists described the Shechina accompanying the children of Israel in their exile, being exiled alongside them, and yearning for Her redemption. Such a concept derives from the Kabbalistic theology, that the physical World, and also the Upper spiritual Worlds, are continuosly recreated from nothing by the Shefa(flow) of Divine will, that emanates through the Sefirot. As a result, within all creations are Divine sparks of vitality that sustain them. Medieval Kabbalah describes two forms of Divine emanation, a "light that fills all worlds", representing this immanent Divine creative power, and a "light that surrounds all worlds", representing transcendent expressions of Divinity.

The new doctrines of Isaac Luria in the 16th Century, completed the Kabbalistic system of explanation. Lurianic Kabbalah describes the process of "Tzimtzum"(צמצום meaning Contraction or Constriction) in the Kabbalistic theory of creation, where God "contracted" his infinite essence in order to allow for a "conceptual space" in which a finite, independent world could exist. This has received different later interpretations in Jewish mysticism, from the literal to the metaphorical. In this process, creation unfolds within the Divine reality. Luria offered a daring cosmic theology that explained the reasons for the Tzimtzum, the primordial catastrophe of "Shevirat Hakelim"(the "Breaking of the Vessels" of the Sefirot in the first existence), and the messianic "Tikkun"(Fixing) of this by every individual through their sanctification of physicality. The concept of Tzimtzum contains a built-in paradox, as it requires that God be simultaneously transcendent and immanent:


Tantric Buddhism and Dzogchen posit a non-dual basis for both experience and reality that could be considered an exposition of a philosophy of immanence that has a history on the subcontinent of India from the early common era to the present. A paradoxical non-dual awareness or rigpa (Tibetanvidya in Sanskrit) — is said to be the 'self perfected state' of all beings. Scholarly works differentiate these traditions from monism. The non-dual is said to be not immanent and not transcendent, not neither, nor both. One classical exposition is the Madhyamaka refutation of extremes that the philosopher-adept Nagarjuna propounded.

Exponents of this non-dual tradition emphasize the importance of a direct experience of non-duality through both meditative practice and philosophical investigation. In one version, one maintains awareness as thoughts arise and dissolve within the 'field' of mind, one does not accept or reject them, rather one lets the mind wander as it will until a subtle sense of immanence dawns. Vipassana or insight is the integration of one's 'presence of awareness' with that which arises in mind. Non-duality or rigpa is said to be the recognition that both the quiet, calm abiding state as found in samatha and the movement or arising of phenomena as found in vipassana are not separate. In this way it could be stated that Dzogchen is a method for the recognition of a 'pure immanence' analogous to what Deleuze theorized about.

Pagan Philosophy

Another meaning of immanence is the quality of being contained within, or remains within the boundaries of a person, of the world, or of the mind. This meaning is more common within Christian and other monotheist theology, in which the one God is considered to transcend his creation.

Pythagoreanism says that the nous is an intelligent principle of the world acting with a specific intention. This is the divine reason regarded in Neoplatonism as the first emanation of the Divine. [3] Noetic (from Greek nous) is usually translated as "mind", "understanding", "intellect", or "reason". From the nous emerges the world soul, which gives rise to the manifest realm. Pythagoreanism goes on to say the Godhead is the Father, Mother, and Son (Zeus). In the mind of Zeus, the ideas are distinctly articulated and become the Logos by which he creates the world. These ideas become active in the Mind (nous) of Zeus. With him is the Power and from him is the nous [4] . This theology further explains that Zeus is called Demiurge (Dêmiourgos, Creator), Maker (Poiêtês), and Craftsman (Technitês)[5] . The nous of the demiurge proceeds outward into manifestation becoming living ideas. They give rise to a lineage of mortal human souls[6] . The components of the soul are:[7] 1) the higher soul, seat of the intuitive mind (divine nous); 2) the rational soul (logistikon) (seat of discursive reason / dianoia); 3) the nonrational soul (alogia), responsible for the senses, appetites, and motion. Zeus thinks the articulated ideas (Logos). The idea of ideas (Eidos - Eidôn), provides a model of the Paradigm of the Universe, which the Demiurge contemplates in his articulation of the ideas and his creation of the world according to the Logos.[8]

Immanence in Continental philosophy

The term "immanence" is usually understood to mean that the divine force, or the divine being, pervades through all things that exist, and is able to influence them. Such a meaning is common in pantheism and panpsychism, and it implies that divinity is inseparably present in all things. In this meaning immanence is distinct from transcendence, the latter being understood as the divinity being set apart from or transcending the World (an exception being Giovanni Gentile's "Actual Idealism" wherein immanence of subject is considered identified with transcendence over the material world). Giordano Bruno, Baruch Spinoza and, it may be argued, Hegel's philosophy were philosophies of immanence, as well as stoicism, versus philosophies of transcendence such as thomism or Aristotelian tradition. While risking oversimplification, Kant's "transcendent" critique, for example, can be contrasted to Hegel's "immanent," dialectical idealist critique. Gilles Deleuze qualified Spinoza as the "prince of philosophers" for his theory of immanence, which Spinoza resumed by "Deus sive Natura" ("God or Nature"). Such a theory considers that there is no transcendent principle or external cause to the world, and that the process of life production is contained in life itself. [9] When compounded with Idealism, the immanence theory qualifies itself away from "the world" to there being no external cause to one's mind.

In the context of Kant's theory of knowledge Immanence means to remain in the boundaries of possible experience.

The French 20th century philosopher Gilles Deleuze used the term immanence to refer to his "empiricist philosophy", which was obliged to create action and results rather than establish transcendentals. His final text was titled Immanence: a life..., spoke of a plane of immanence. Similarly, Giorgio Agamben writes in The Coming Community (1993): "There is in effect something that humans are and have to be, but this is not an essence nor properly a thing: It is the simple fact of one's own existence as possibility or potentiality".

In a similar vein, the term has been used by the Kennesaw School to show the emergent nature of communal relationality and the potential for becoming within an Age of Globalization.

Furthermore, the Russian Formalist film theorists perceived immanence as a specific method of discussing the limits of ability for a technological object. Specifically, this is the scope of potential uses of an object outside of the limits proscribed by culture or convention, and is instead simply the empirical spectrum of function for a technological artifact.[10]


  1. The Bible, Philippians 2:6–8, (KJV)"
  2. Luke 3:22
  3. Divine Reason
  4. Demiurge Creation
  5. Craftsman
  6. Basic Principles
  7. Components of the Soul
  8. Self Contemplating Nous
  9. See Antonio Negri, The Savage Anomaly: The Power of Spinoza's Metaphysics and Politics (transl. 1991, Minnesota Univ. Press)
  10. Robert Stam, Film Theory, 2006 p.48

See also

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