"...the Imagination (or love, or sympathy, or any other sentiment) induces knowledge, and knowledge of an 'object' which is proper to it..."
Henry Corbin (1903-1978) was a scholar, philosopher and theologian. He was a champion of the transformative power of the Imagination and of the transcendent reality of the individual in a world threatened by totalitarianisms of all kinds. One of the 20th century’s most prolific scholars of Islamic mysticism, Corbin was Professor of Islam & Islamic Philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris and at the University of Teheran. He was a major figure at the Eranos Conferences in Switzerland. He introduced the concept of the mundus imaginalis into contemporary thought. His work has provided a foundation for archetypal psychology as developed by James Hillman and influenced countless poets and artists worldwide. But Corbin’s central project was to provide a framework for understanding the unity of the religions of the Book: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. His great work Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi is a classic initiatory text of visionary spirituality that transcends the tragic divisions among the three great monotheisms. Corbin’s life was devoted to the struggle to free the religious imagination from fundamentalisms of every kind. His work marks a watershed in our understanding of the religions of the West and makes a profound contribution to the study of the place of the imagination in human life.

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Monday, August 25, 2008


Certainly Corbin knew well that Islam, as any religion, requires a doctrine, a "literal" outside, a Law, which must exist in order for there to be anything in which to conceal the "hidden meanings." Nonetheless, it is clear enough where his sympathies lie. The Ismailis have long been known among detractors and supporters both, for the priority which they give to the esoteric at the expense of the exoteric. Corbin calls to our attention more than once, with a kind of longing, to aone of several symbolic events of the epochal 12th century, the Ismaili Declaration at Alamut.

"Alamut! The stronghold lost in the high solitary summits of the Elburz mountain chain, to the southwest of the Caspian Sea, where, on 8 August 1164, the Great Resurrection was proclaimed... Undoubtedly a proclamation of this type pertains to that spiritual history, the events of which occur unnoticed by external official history, because their implications cannot be suspected by historians whose attention is given exclusively to the latter. In any case, the proclamation of the Great Resurrection was intended to be the triumph of absolute spiritual hermeneutics, since it purely and simply abolished the shari'a and its observances, in order to permit the reign of the spiritual Idea...alone to subsist."

But, he continues,

"Here again, the impatience of the soul provoked a premature anticipation of eschatology... [The major Shi'ite traditions] continued carefully to maintain...the coexistence of the esoteric and the exoteric, for as long as the human condition remains what it is in the present world, the soul cannot manifest itself without being contained in a material body."

Citations from Corbin in Swedenborg & Esoteric Islam, 1995, translated by Leonard Fox, West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 95.
Excerpted from The World Turned Inside Out by the author. Also see Christian Jambet, 1990. La Grande rsurrection d' alamut: les formes de la liberte dans le shiisme ismaelien. Francia: Verdier.

The Fortress at Alamut: From the Iranian Cultural Heritage And Tourism Organization, Alamut Cultural Heritage Base

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