Dr. David Nikkel’s latest book “Radical Embodiment” would heal an ancient divide in Western thought.
Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion at UNC Pembroke, Dr. Nikkel’s book was published in late 2009 by Pickwick Publications as part of their Princeton Theological Monograph Series.
Dr. Nikkel, who was trained at the Yale and Duke universities, is a versatile scholar who regularly teaches religion courses that engage cultural and scientific issues. He is also interim pastor of the Eutaw United Church of Christ in Fayetteville, N.C.
Since Greek philosophy spread through the Western world, the concept of the dual nature of the mind and body, reason and emotion, consciousness and physical reality has dominated philosophical, religious and scientific thought.
“I find this to be a one-sided view, and the book makes a case for a more holistic understanding,” Dr. Nikkel said in an interview. “Our values and reasoning are radically dependent on the nature of our bodies.”
The split was solidified by European Enlightenment thinkers like Rene Descartes, who is often referred to as the first modern philosopher.
“When Descartes said ‘I think therefore I am,’ he advocated for the idea that thought or consciousness determines whatever meaning reality has,” he said. “That is too one-sided. On the physical side of the split, some today promote the notion that consciousness is just a process involving matter and energy without value within a meaningless universe.
“Human nature is one thing; the mind and body are not separate,” Dr. Nikkel said. “We are integrated as mind/body, reason/emotion, within a meaningful world.”
“Radical Embodiment” examines a variety of modern and postmodern theologies to make the case for a new way to view humanity in the context of our physical and cultural worlds. Reviewer Eric Weislogel of the Metanexus Institute reviewed the book favorably.
“David Nikkel’s ‘Radical Embodiment’ makes a strong and persuasive case against the philosophical fracturing of reality that stems from the modern legacy of mind/body dualism,” Weislogel notes. “Nikkel’s alternative is a scientifically informed, philosophically insightful, and theologically sensitive panentheistic model of radical embodiment that aims to counter the postmodern metaphysical ‘homelessness’ of both God and (man).
“This rich, clear and engaging work will serve to remind us that, indeed, we are at home in the universe,” he said.
Dr. Nikkel practices in his ministry what he preaches in the classroom and in his writings. He says the world might be a healthier and more peaceful place with a more holistic view of itself.
“Medical schools are teaching doctors to treat the whole person; that we are not just a physical mechanism to diagnose,” he said. “Worldviews and religions may be more tolerant if they accepted the view that we share more than we differ.”
The ideas of Dr. Nikkel and others resonate with the “basic commonalities” of all humans that would allow them to “learn and share from one another,” he said.
In the end, “a dualistic understanding of the existential question pushes us toward meaninglessness and nihilism.”
“Panenthiesm is the belief that ‘all is in God,’” Dr. Nikkel said. “God is not a mind disconnected from the world.
“God is a being with emotions or feelings; God suffers and cries with us,” he concluded.
Dr. Nikkel said that “Radical Embodiment” is a collection and revision of his scholarly work that includes some brand new material. His first book, titled “Panentheism in Hartshorne and Tillich,” was published in 1995 and is available online.
“Radical Embodiment” is available by phone: 541.344.1506 or by emailing email@example.com. It costs $22.