Participating consciousness

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The term participating consciousness was introduced by cultural historian Morris Berman in The Reenchantment of the World (1981)[1][2] expanding on Owen Barfield's concept of "original participation," to describe an ancient mode of human thinking that does not separate the perceiver from the world he or she perceives. Berman says that this original world view has been replaced during the past 400 years with the modern paradigm called Cartesian, Newtonian, or scientific, which depends on an isolated observer, proposing that we can understand the world only by distancing ourselves from it.

Max Weber, early 20th-century German sociologist, was concerned with the "disenchantment" he associated with the rise of modernity, capitalism, and scientific consciousness. Berman traces the history of this disenchantment. He argues that the modern consciousness is destructive to both the human psyche and the planetary environment. Berman challenges the supremacy of the modern world view and argues for some new form of the older holistic tradition, which he describes as follows:

"Participating consciousness" involves merger, or identification, with one's surroundings, and bespeaks a psychic wholeness that has long since passed from the scene. Alchemy, as it turns out, was the last great coherent expression of participating consciousness in the West.

The concept of participating consciousness has been used and further developed by philosophers and analytical psychologists, among others, and the idea of re-enchantment is a recurring theme among scholars.[3][4][5] Some compare participating consciousness to the thinking of non-Western indigenous peoples. Others link it to esoteric traditions or religious thought.[6][7][8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Morris Berman, The Reenchantment of the World, Cornell University Press, 1981
  2. ^ Morris Berman, Excerpts from The Reenchantment of the World,
  3. ^ Clive Hamilton, The Freedom Paradox: Towards a Post-Secular Ethics," Allen & Unwin, 2008
  4. ^ Stanley J. Scott, Frontiers of Consciousness: Interdisciplinary Studies in American Philosophy, Fordham University Press, 1991
  5. ^ Sharon Warner, "An epistemology of ‘participating consciousness’: Overcoming the epistemological rupture of self and world,"
  6. ^ Elizabeth A. Gowdy,"From Technical Rationality to Participating Consciousness," Social Work 39 (1994): 362–370
  7. ^ Joshua Landy and Michael Saler, ed. The Re-Enchantment of the World: Secular Magic in a Rational Age, Stanford University Press, 2009
  8. ^ Willeford, W. (1984), Magic and Participating Consciousness. Journal of Analytical Psychology, 29: 337–353.