"...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 11, 2008

On Phenomenology

On the first page of Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi Corbin writes that

"Today, with the help of phenomenology, we are able to examine the way in which man experiences his relationship to the world without reducing the objective data of this experience to data of sense perception or limiting the field of true and meaningful knowledge to the mere operations of the rational understanding. Freed from an old impasse, we have learned to register and to make use of the intentions implicit in all the acts of consciousness or transconsciousness. To say that the Imagination (or love, or sympathy, or any other sentiment) induces knowledge, and knowledge of an "object" which is proper to it, no longer smacks of paradox. Still, once the full noetic value of the Imagination is admitted, it may be advisable to free the intentions of the Imagination from the parentheses in which a purely phenomenological interpretation encloses them, if we wish, without fear of misunderstanding, to relate the imaginative function to the view of the world proposed by the Spiritualists to whose company the present book invites us."

Seyyed Hossein Nasr, who taught with Corbin in Teheran for many years tells us that

"Corbin...used to translate phenomenology...to the Persian speaking students as kashf al-mahjub, literally 'rending asunder of the veil to reveal the hidden essence,' and considered his method...to be spiritual hermeneutics as understood in classical Sufi and Shi'ite thought."

(In Nasr, Religion and the Order of Nature, New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, 26, n. 19).

Miniature: Mourners at the funeral of Majnun, who died for the love of Layla; Probably painted by Shaykh Zadeh; From a Khamsa of Nizami, 1494 in Herat. From wikimedia.

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