fractal - connecting the world
The heart of the Claremont Process Nexus is a network of organizations that share a common commitment to process-relational ways of understanding and living. The Nexus came into being through a collaboration of organizations: Center for Process Studies, Institute for Ecological Civilization, Pando Populus, and Cobb Institute. As the progenitor of the other three, a primary aim of the Center for Process Studies was to promote interest in process thought, especially that of Alfred North Whitehead, among philosophers, scientists, educators, lawyers, and so forth. The Nexus builds on and expands that ambition by providing a way for members of the process movement to better communicate, collaborate, and support one another.
Joining the Nexus does not mean that you need to take on anything additional or that anyone will tell you what to do. It does not mean that you commit your organization to any set of beliefs or practices. It does mean that you are comfortable relating to other organizations with a similar heritage to yours, at least on some topics.
As a member you will learn about other opportunities, and be invited to attend events about which you would not otherwise know. We hope there will be occasions when you support others and others support you. Some of you as individuals may enjoy discussing specific questions or new books. Others may be interested in finding resources or connecting with like-minded individuals. Our aim is for this endeavor to benefit all who participate.

Our History

Some of the values and ideas that are widely shared in the network will be discussed below. But it is better to begin with history. The story begins with the publication of a journal fifty years ago—Process Studies. The first issue appeared in 1970, three years before CPS itself.

Because of widespread prejudice in academia against theology and the church, and despite the fact that its founders were also teaching and writing theology, they bent over backwards to assure secular people that they could join without a theological taint. On the other hand, to respond to the needs of the churches, they organized  Process & Faith. So, from the beginning there was a multiplicity of institutions and projects.

The Center had projects in Korea, Latin America, and China. By far the most important organization to develop out of its work is the Institute for Postmodern Development of China (IPDC). But the work in Korea is now bearing rich fruit as well, and there have been several small developments in Latin America.

In 2015, the Center worked with IPDC on its tenth conference on ecological civilization. Early in the twenty-first century, China affirmed the goal of becoming an ecological civilization. CPS judged that this could be a name for the world for which we hoped and worked, and we held conferences annually on this topic. Whereas the first nine were chiefly for Chinese individuals, this one was designed to put the same goal on the map in North America as well.

Two more organizations arose out of this conference: Pando Populus, which has worked primarily in Los Angeles County, and the Institute for Ecological Civilization, which works globally. Several years later, when CPS was preparing to move with the Claremont School of Theology to the Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, we organized the Claremont Institute for Process Studies to keep local activities alive. Partly because another “Claremont Institute” exists, and to honor the legacy of its founder, John Cobb, the name was changed to the Cobb Institute on John’s 95th birthday. In connection with this institute, a group with an interest in science organized an Advisory Committee, and it has also assumed responsibility for Religion Online, which they plan to reactivate with an expanded focus.

The journal has already been mentioned as one of our most important scholarly publications. There is also an independent publishing house–Process Century Press,  and a splendid website with many resources–Open Horizons. There is an annual film festival–Common Good Film Festival. And there are experiments in education and church organization–Flagstaff CollegeCobb Eco-Academy in Zhejiang Province, China, Way Collective, and Church of Our Common Home. In Pomona, CA we have two important nonprofit businesses, one that manufactures inexpensive patented solar panels–CHERP Solar Works, one that carries out urban farming, community wellness, and restorative justice initiatives–Community Partners 4 Innovation.

Our Ideas

You can see from this account that a family of institutions has grown, directly or indirectly, out of the ongoing work of the Center for Process Studies. This can be identified with very little reference to beliefs and practices. This does not mean that such beliefs and practices are unimportant. On the contrary, the belief that a shift from substance-based thinking to event-based thinking, from thinking in terms of ‘things’ to thinking in terms of relationships, experiences, and becomings has enormous benefits that underlie much of what has happened. But it is best to recognize that a group of connected institutions exists, and then to ask what they have in common now. It is now time to ask.

Most of the participants in the Nexus are critical of the extreme individualism characteristic of modernity. We see it as reflecting the idea that each person is a separate substance only externally affected by others. Most of us think that persons are persons-in-community rather than isolated subjects, and that a person’s subjectivity is itself a creative synthesis of relations to the world. That means that relationships are constitutive of each person’s being, that healthy communities create healthy persons at least as much as healthy persons create healthy communities.

One important question is whether there is a shared view in the field of religion or spirituality. There is not. There are both strong theists and committed atheists within our network. But there are few, if any, who share the widespread contempt for religion and religious beliefs so common in our university culture, or who consider discussing them a waste of time. Within our network, religious and spiritual diversity is valued and encouraged. Hostility or condescension among the various positions is unacceptable. But we do not overcome these errors by denying the unique value of each tradition. We believe that deep commitment to one tradition should open one to appreciate others and learn from them.

In addition, there are virtually no reductionistic materialists among us. We take the totality of experience seriously. Its emotional base is as important, or more important, than what it derives from its sense organs. The past enters causally into the present, and the agency of the present reshapes it and transmits the result to its future.
There are other attitudes among us that separate us from the dominant culture. We think, for example, that the dominant culture has made, and is continuing to make, some serious mistakes. What is needed are radical changes. This applies to our universities and public schools, our legal and penitentiary systems, and issues like national sovereignty, free trade, and capitalism. No particular belief about any one of these is required in order to be part of the network, but lack of openness to radical criticism in general would be in marked tension with the dominant ethos.

Our Common Ground

Although there is much consensus grounded in our shared history, there is no imposed agreement. We think that a general consensus exists among us and makes it possible for us both sometimes to argue fruitfully and often to agree and work together. We anticipate that any who want to join us without sharing this history will be attracted by this general consensus rather than sharply opposed.
Our consensus is derived from a shared outlook on life, a shared philosophy, emphasizing relationality over isolated individuality; the ideas that the actual world is always in a process of becoming; that the very heart of existence includes creativity; that each and every living being has value for itself as well as value for others; and that we should live with respect and care for one another and the larger community of life. Part of our consensus is that most modern philosophies fail to make these affirmations.
Most of us are enthusiastic about the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead. Some specialize in its study and promotion, and the Whitehead Research Project is working on a critical edition of all of his writings. But many of those who participate in the consensus quickly disclaim much interest in further refinements of these ideas philosophically. Nor are they especially interested in what goes on in academic departments of philosophy. They may prefer to leave formal philosophical reflection to others. In the long run this may prove the undoing of the network. But at present the respect of those who do not want to be pressed philosophically for those who know the philosophy well holds us together.
We think that the practical implications, such as the need for ecological civilization, is solidly grounded philosophically, but that it can be understood and adopted in primarily pragmatic ways. Process thinking supports the primacy of history over system. The Claremont Process Nexus has been presented in the way this thinking calls for. I hope this will help the reader to understand that giving primacy to energy over mass and events over substances changes the way we think about everything.

A Postscript

Some people may be interested in how this new network relates to other people oriented to process-relational thought. This way of thinking had been around a long time before the Center for Process Studies was established in Claremont. CPS did not claim to be originating any particular beliefs or practices. It has had only good will and admiration for those who came to process thought before, or independently of, the Center. We are glad to welcome them to join us. But we claim them for our Nexus only if they expressly desire to be included.

This applies to those who studied at the University of Chicago with Charles Hartshorne or at the Federated Theological Faculty. Some of them affiliated with CPS, mostly informally. Some did not. Those who chose not to do so and who have had their own separate following are obviously not part of the Claremont Process Nexus.

Some other branches of the process movement are well organized. For example, the followers of Teilhard de Chardin are probably more numerous than those of Whitehead. For the most part we are mutually supportive, but there is no reason to think of them as part of the Claremont group. If an institution chiefly influenced by Teilhard wanted to join our network for any reason, we would welcome it.

We feel closely allied with the followers of Pope Francis’ “Laudato Si,” and resonate with his view of integral ecology. Any connection some of them might want with us will be appreciated. But a more realistic hope is that they will organize themselves quite separately to affect the direction of the Catholic church.

The discovery of Whitehead by the deconstructive postmodernists on the European continent was another important event for many reasons. One of the most important for us is that it has made possible the advanced study of Whitehead in several European universities. Although some in this group prefer not to be associated with Claremont process institutions, we appreciate their scholarly contributions, and look forward to increasing cooperation in the future.