Matheology = Mathematics + Theology
“WHAT IS MATHEMATICAL THEOLOGY?
A metaphorical interpretation of mathematics from a religious angle. It’s a relatively new field, although it goes back at least as far as the Pythagoreans. Today, there are a few bright stars in the constellation, most notably Sarah Voss, author of What Number Is God? A marvelous book by a stellar visionary. It’s no exaggeration to say that in today’s world she is the quintessential beacon for the rest of us.” Jonathan Zimmer
An important perspective in the formation of the thought process that eventually led to Sarah’s understanding of matheology may be found in her article Depolarizing Mathematics and Religion (Philosophia Mathematica, Virginia Beach: Grunwald Publishers, Series II 5(2) 129-41, June, 1990). In this essay, she applies Clifford Geertz’ foundational definition of religion to mathematics.
Although she hadn’t yet coined the name, Sarah’s first major venture into Matheology was her 1995 book, What Number Is God? Today the book has been used in academic classes on subjects such as “Society and Religion” and the “History of Western Esoterism,” and is referenced in a variety of articles and books, such as “A Brief Look at Mathematics and Theology” by Philip J. Davis and Truth and Tension in Science and Religion by Varadaraja V. Raman. The subject is becoming better known.
Metaphors, Metaphysics, Metamathematics, and the Nature of Things
by Sarah Voss (State University of New York Press, 1995) 214 pages. A volume in the SUNY series in Western Esoteric Traditions, David Appelbaum, editor.
This book explores the historical connection between religion and mathematics and uses modern mathematical metaphors to better understand religion and philosophy. Citing many examples, Voss traces how humankind has long used mathematics metaphorically to understand and make sense of life’s most fundamental questions. As Voss shows, contemporary society also uses metaphors of mathematics to investigate such issues, though in a fashion that is frequently overlooked or denied. The intentional use of contemporary mathematical ideas as metaphors for metaphysical notions can have a dramatic impact on modern society, in part by providing new symbols to replace old religious language which has lost its power to excite.
What Number Is God? is a part of the State University of New York (SUNY) Series in Western Esoteric Traditions.
While What Number Is God? is an essential source for information about matheology, Sarah has since expanded many of the ideas first presented in the book. Essays that offer further insight into matheology include “Mathematical Theology,” “Mathaphors and Faith Understandings of Consciousness,” “Mathematics and Theology: A Stroll through the Garden of Mathaphors,” and “Sacred Qualities: Power and Significance in Numbers.”
Several versions of “Mathematical Theology” have appeared in print:
- invited version in Spiritual Information: 100 Perspectives, Templeton Foundation Press, 2005.
- shorter version in Dovetail: A Journal by and for Jewish/Christian Families, 12:1, Sept./Oct.2003
- expanded version entitled “Matheology and Cantorian Religion,” in Religious Humanism 37:1, Winter/Spring 2004, 15-26
- read-it-here version in The UU World, April/May 2003, 21-22