"...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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Wednesday, September 17, 2008
A Country the Color of Heaven
In 1939 Henry and Stella Corbin traveled to Istanbul for what was intended as a six-month stay, to collect manuscripts for a critical edition of Suhrawardi. The outbreak of war changed their plans. Corbin served as the only member of the French Institute of Archaeology until the end of the war. When his replacement arrived in September of 1945, the Corbins left Istanbul for Teheran, and they first arrived on the 14th of September, in what he called a country "the color of heaven."
"To affirm the properly Iranian spiritual universe is to state the need for the existence, in the realm of the spirit, of an intermediary world between what the properly Arabic spiritual world and what the spiritual universe of India represent there." – Corbin, Avicenna and the Visionary Recital, 13.
"Persia was situated at the center, a median and mediating world, because Persia, ancient Iran, is not only a nation or an empire, it is a spiritual universe, a focus of the history of religions." - Corbin, in Henry Corbin, edited by Christian Jambet, 41.
Corbin writes that "the specifically Iranian genius is an aptitude for conjoining philosophical research and mystical experience; the refusal to dissociate them gives to each a character so specific we can only deplore that this Irano-Islamic philosophy has been absent from the histories of philosophy. That absence has impoverished our knowledge of humanity." - see Corbin, En Islam iranien, Tome I, x.
"Corbin was extremely sensitive to the topography of Iran, he saw it as the terrestrial and sensible form of the mundus imaginalis." Daryush Shayegan, Henry Corbin: La topographie spirituelle de l'Islam Iranien, Ed. de la Difference, Paris, 1990, 23-24.
Isfahan, Masjid Shah. Mosaics inside the giant dome. Photo by Ali Majdfar from his very fine Iran Photo Gallery.