Kenosis is a term of philosophy with two interesting and conceptually related uses, one in relation to religion and the other in relation to literature. In both uses, the use relates to a conceptual "emptying," and indeed kenosis derives from the Ancient Greek word κένωσις (kénōsis, “emptying”) derived from κενόειν (kenósin, “to empty”) which varies κενός (kenos) meaning “empty.”

In religion
In religious jargon, kenosis means an emptying of the self, in a transformative sense. The most common historical incarnation of this sense is in Christian theology, where kenosis is used to describe the process by which Jesus Christ became a human being, through the Biblical God temporarily emptying itself of the aspects of divinity. Various translations of the original Greek describe how Jesus “emptied himself” or “made himself nothing, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are,” in a variant of the term as used in Philippians 2:7.

Here it is important to note that the God of most brands of theism exists outside of time and space. This poses a problem for those who wish to explain how their God interacts with the existence of mankind, which is entirely bound by time and space. For Christians, it raises the particular problem of how God became one particular human, Jesus Christ, said to be simultaneously fully human and fully divine. Christians diminish or discount the divinity of most or all humans other than Jesus, contrary to those who hew to pantheism and pandeism, who accord divinity to all humans. Therefore, kenosis for Christians is a doctrine of sacrifice, one potentially more compelling than the human sacrifice embodied in the crucifixion itself, for it is through this process that the God of the Bible is asserted to have surrendered the attributes of Godhood – including the inability to die, in the way that Jesus dies upon the cross.

Christian theology presents another use for kenosis, as the reflective ‘self-emptying’ of the believer’s will with the goal of eliminating internal obstacles to receiving the “perfect” will of God. Despite the predominance of its use in Christological theology: “The idea of kenosis, the self-emptying ecstasy of God is crucial in both Kabbalah and Sufism.” This sentiment is carried forward in the writing of Nineteenth Century mystic poet William Blake. In A History of God, Karen Armstrong says, “Like the Gnostics, Kabbalists and early Trinitarians, Blake envisions a kenosis, a self-emptying in the Godhead, who falls from his solitary heaven and becomes incarnate in the world.”

Kenosis was a fundamental element of the theology proposed by Georg Wilhelm Hegel, of whom Armstrong wrote “Spirit which was the life force of the world” and was “dependent upon the world and upon human beings for its fulfillment.” Thus “Hegel's view of the kenosis of the Spirit, which empties itself to become immanent and incarnate in the world, has much in common with the Incarnational theologies” of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

In pandeism, kenosis is used in a more far-reaching sense, that of the Deus (the Creator of the Universe which is comparable to the theological concept of God), emptying the whole of its existence into the creation of the Universe.

In poetry:
The other use of kenosis exists in the world of literature and the fine arts. There, kenosis describes the effect, the feeling, that the reader of lyric or poetry experiences. It describes an emptying of the ego-personality of the reader into the immediate sensory manipulation of poetics, and in this sense kenosis characterizes the infliction upon the reader of an experience of timelessness. The comparable affect created by drama is called catharsis; that created by literature is kairosis.

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