"...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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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Beauty is the Supreme Theophany

"As for the theophanic function invested in men, it is the secret of the dialectic of love. In the nature of mystic love this dialectic discovers the encounter (con-spiration) between sensory, physical love and spiritual love. Beauty is the supreme theophany, but it reveals itself as such only to a love which it transfigures. Mystic love is the religion of Beauty, because Beauty is the secret of theophanies and because as such it is the power which transfigures. Mystic love is as far from negative asceticism as it is from the estheticism or libertinism of the possessive instinct. But the organ of theophanic perception, that is, of the perception through which the encounter between Heaven and Earth in the mid-zone, the 'alam-al-mithal takes place, is the Active Imagination. It is the active Imagination which invests the earthly Beloved with his "theophanic function"; it is essentially a theophanic Imagination and, as such, a creative Imagination, because creation itself is theophany and theophanic Imagination. From this idea of Creation as theophany … arises the idea of a sophiology, the figure of Sophia aeterna … as she appears in the theosophy of Ibn 'Arabi."

"In place of the negative connection that we habitually understand between Christian asceticism and the Greek consciousness of beauty, it is necessary to speak here of a valorization that confers a prophetic function on beauty."

Henry Corbin, Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi, 98 and En Islam Iranien: Aspects spirituels et philosophiques, Tome III: Les fideles d'amour - Shi'isme et sufisme. Paris: Gallimard, Bib. des Idees, 1972, 16.

Sculpture of Sophia, Ephesus Library, Anatolia (Turkey) 135 C.E. from wikimedia.

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