The term “process theology” refers to a system of thought that emerged in the early twentieth century and is based primarily upon the reflections of Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne. Both its name and its scope, however, engage questions that date to the beginning of formal philosophical thought about the nature of reality and whether it is best thought of in terms of “Being” or “Becoming,” as primarily static and unchanging or dynamic and constantly in process. As a theological system, process thought is characterized for its strong divergence from many elements of classical theism, rejecting such ideas of perfection necessarily needing to involve eternal unchangingness, or a God who created ex nihilo and to whom all the “omnis” would apply (omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, omnibenevolent). In these and other sensibilities, process theology has long been recognized as having many similarities to Mormon views of God and the nature of reality, leading to a fair amount of philosophical exploration about touchstones and divergences between the two.
In this two-part episode, Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon and philosophers James McLachlan and David Grandy discuss process theology and LDS connections and differences, focusing mostly, however, on ways that engaging process thought has pushed each of them into new views of or deeper dives into Mormonism and its intuitions and sensibilities about God, humans, and the natural world. The discussion includes some “teaching” of process theology and its metaphysics (and panelists give plenty of alerts when they are about to go nerdy or get all jargony), but for the most part it stays rooted in broad territory, connecting with the history of thought, problems with classical science and philosophy and mechanistic views of matter, and exploring the kind of openings into which process and LDS thought both wade. In short, although some of the material discussed is technical, we have made a real effort to stay connected with ideas that play out in all human lives, making this, we hope, still very accessible and interesting to all listeners even if they have no training in philosophy or theology.
Please ask questions or make comments below! We look forward to engaging you!
On Mormonism and Process Thought parallels:
Garland E. Tickmeyer, “Joseph Smith and Process Theology,” Dialogue, Autumn 1984
Floyd M. Ross, “Process Philosophy and Mormon Thought,” Sunstone, January-February 1982
Sterling M. McMurrin, Response to the Floyd M. Ross article, Sunstone, January-February 1982
Daniel W. Wotherspoon, Awakening Joseph Smith: Mormon Resources for a Postmodern Worldview, doctoral dissertation, Claremont Graduate School, 1996 (Chapter Two draws several parallels between process theology and Mormonism.)
Bruce G. Epperly, Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed
John B. Cobb and David Ray Griffin, Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition