"...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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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Corbin - Illich - Derrida

As I have tried to suggest in my book After Prophecy, both Henry Corbin and Ivan Illich, for all their profound theological differences, shared a deep suspicion of the authoritarian structures of the institutional Church, and both were in their own ways creatively ecumenical in their understanding of Christianity. An attempt to understand the roots of their theological differences can prove to be a liberating experience for a dedicated reader of their work. In this spirit I would point out a book, recently translated into English, by Jacques Derrida and Mustapha Chérif: Islam & the West (PDF file here and here at amazon.com). Chérif is Professor of Philosophy and Islamic Studies at the University of Algiers and a Visiting Professor at the College of France, and Derrida was of course one of the most influential, famous, and even infamous, philosophers of the late 20th century. Both were born in Algeria, where French and Islamic culture have long met. Issues of cultural conflict, personal identity, and the social and philosophical meanings of the monotheistic tradition are of central importance in their lives. Derrida is one of the most powerful contemporary critics of authoritarian structures of all kinds, and through his late works especially, has had an enormous influence on what has come to be called post-modern theology (this volume is a good introduction). Although Henry Corbin was no post-modernist, neither was he a Traditionalist. He is a Romantic thinker in some of the many senses which Rothenberg and Robinson have powerfully delineated in their new book Poems for the Millennium, Volume 3. Corbin's theology of the creative imagination, his willingness to draw inspiration from a wide variety of spiritual, literary, philosophical and theological sources outside the boundaries of conservative academia, along with his quasi-Islamic and radical Protestant Christianity, place his work in a wholly unique position. If Corbin's vision is to have the wide influence which it deserves, it will have to be understood within the larger dialogue of contemporary multicultural and pluralistic thought which the complexities of the world forces upon us. Reading Derrida and Chérif with Corbin in mind is one possible step on that long path.

Ruins of a Mosque, Mansoura, outside Tlemcen, Algeria.

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