Deification in the Flesh: How Cognitive Linguistics Calls for a Radical Interpretation of Deific

**This proposal was also proposed as part of the “The Anthropological and Scriptural Contours of Deification” session proposal.**

This proposal argues that a radical reinterpretation of the Christian doctrine of theosis (deification) is in place with the latest development in cognitive linguistics. It has been widely accepted that Jules Gross’s La divinization du chrétien d’après les pères grecs (1938), a comprehensive study of deification in the writings of the Greek Fathers, has been replaced by Norman Russell’s The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition (2004) as the leading scholarly work in the field. Russell suggests four distinctive usages of deification within a threefold typology: the nominal, analogical, and metaphorical. His latter category is subdivided into “ethical” and “realistic” treatments. Russell’s framework, though criticized and revised by numerous scholars, has by and large been retained as the foundation for scholarly research, utilizing basic philosophical terminologies such as “metaphorical,” “analogical,” “ethical,” “aesthetic,” “realistic,” “ontological,” etc. In particular, Russell deploys the platonic terms such as homoiosis and methexis to unpack the “metaphorical” sense of deification. Moreover, his underlying claim is that deification was first developed as a metaphor and then developed as a spiritual doctrine in its maturity.
However, these foundational presuppositions cannot stand the scrutiny of the three major findings of cognitive science: 1) the mind is inherently embodied; 2) thought is mostly unconscious; and 3) abstract concepts are largely metaphorical. In their now classic Philosophy in the Flesh, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson argue that the central parts of Western philosophy are inconsistent with these three findings from the science of the mind. They boldly suggest that an empirically responsible philosophy would require Western culture in general, and Anglo-American culture in particular, to abandon some of its deepest philosophical assumptions. If this is true, then much of the philosophical underpinning behind the theological study of deification needs a radical reinterpretation.
By building on the crucial discoveries of cognitive science, this proposal studies the spatial logics of several basic body-based image schemas used in abstract reasoning of deification. The typical deificational passages of 2 Peter 1:4 and Paul’s “in Christ” language of union with Christ all employ image schemas of in-out, part-whole, near-far, source-path-goal, and containment. These findings are significant in that, first, deification has always been a conceptual metaphor through and through. Second, as a conceptual metaphor, deification is directly related to our embodiment. Third, deification is pan-Christian across languages and cultures.

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