Sheri Ritchlin, PhD – “Being Cosmos: The Human Relationship to Cosmos in Thomas Berry and Confucius”

Friday, Feb. 13th at 6:30pm in room 304. TB_Desk2_Aug03

In 1948, Thomas Berry traveled to China to teach and to study Chinese language and culture. His trip was cut short in 1949 by the Maoist revolution and he returned to study Chinese language at Seton Hall University, which opened up deeper layers of meaning in the classic Confucian texts. Berry found in Confucian thought an integral view of the Cosmos, the Earth and the human that touched on his own deepening concerns about contemporary trends that violated this relationship. In a 1968 article, Thomas offered this description of the “profound intercommunion of Heaven, Earth and Human” that he found there: “The cosmos is encompassed in the human and the human in the cosmos…. The highest ontological attraction of things to each other in the Confucian tradition can be indicated quite simply by the word ‘communion.’” This statement foreshadows his primary cosmological concept that the universe is not a collection of objects but a communion of subjects.

In the Confucian model, the human forms a ternion with Heaven and Earth and thus shares co-responsibility in the nature of this unfolding. The question we will ask of Thomas Berry’s work and of ourselves is this: “In our own times, how does the individual human come into such a relationship with the Cosmos of Heaven and Earth to perform that role?  The answer to that has moral as well as psychological, ecological and spiritual implications.


Sheri Ritchlin received her Ph.D. from the California Institute of Integral Studies for her dissertation study on “The Return of the Sage: A New Cosmology Meets the Way of Heaven and Earth in the I Ching” under the guidance of professors Yi Wu, Brian Swimme and Richard Tarnas. She is the author of One-ing, Dream to Waken, chapters in The Epic of Evolution: Science’s Story and Humanity’s Response; Science, Wisdom and the Future; and The Spirit of a Woman: Stories to Empower and Inspire by Terry Lazlo-Gopadze. She has also published articles in Parabola Magazine, ReVision and the Noetic Sciences Review (Shift). She has lectured widely in the United States and England. In 2014, she was invited as a Douglass Hunt Lecturer to give a keynote address at a Thomas Berry Colloquium at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.


The Mysticism and Cosmology of the American Genius Howard Thurman

Last night I had the privilage of attending a lecture by Brian Swimme and Bonnie and Kashka Wills on the thought of Howard Thurman. Brian is a mathematical cosmologist who teaches at CIIS here in San Francisco. Bonnie is a Restorative Justice Facilitator in Oakland. Her brother Kashka is a former literature professor turned poet. They focused both on the ethical and cosmological dimensions of Thurman’s work, which I will attempt to summarize below.

Though he was a Christian pastor, Thurman was critical of Christianity because of the extent to which it had strayed from the religion of Jesus. Jesus’ religion might be summed up in one word: Love. Thurman saw Love as the source of cosmic kinship–a stern yet kind intelligence that functions to maintain the Life of the universe. He thought American Christianity in general had become narrowly focused on personalistic, as opposed to cosmic love. Love lacks a cosmological dimension when it fails to deal honestly with the adversaries of hatred, fear, and deception. Rather than resorting to sentimentalism in regard to these matters (“be a good person!”), Thurman plunged right into the deeper nature of hatred. While acknowledging that vengefulness can bring one down to the level of their enemy, Thurman also recognized the great power that sometimes comes from meeting adversity. He thought hatred may sometimes be necessary to overcome the sense of worthlessness instilled in the oppressed by their oppressors. It produces one with the surplus energy needed to speak truth to power despite fears of breaking long established taboos of racism, sexism, etc. In the end, however, if hatred cannot be released, it dries up the creativity of life as we become unable to focus on anything but our enemies.

Bonnie emphasized the importance of a cosmological dimension in Christianity, since without it, we dwell to heavily on the personal and familiar and forget the extent to which we are creatures of the earth, embedded in a much larger, and stranger, community of life. Thurman’s cosmological orientation (“the earth beneath my feet is the great womb out of which my body comes”) places him way ahead of his time (he was born in 1899). He felt quite deeply the increasing rootlessness of industrial life and blamed the increasing prevalence of mental illness on our species’ increasing alienation from nature.

It is his emphasis on the cosmic extent of Love that draws me to Thurman most. His is undoubtedly a cosmopolitical vision. I’m fascinated by the possibility that Love may eventually overtake power as the most prevalent shaping influence of human society.

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