"...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.

Search The Legacy of Henry Corbin: Over 800 Posts

Friday, February 27, 2009

Corbin on Film and YouTube!

The Eranos Foundation has posted a short trailer for the Film Eranos - 1951 at their website here. The film was directed by Willy Roelli, with script by Ximena de Angulo-Roelli and Willy Roelli and produced by the C.G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles. Henry Corbin appears on the path about 40 seconds into the trailer, shakes hands, turns to the viewer's right and goes down the stairs.

And many sincere thanks to Farshid Kazemi for sending this fascinating YouTube link for a ten-minute video of Henry Corbin narrating a film about Zoorkhaneh, the traditional Persian martial art and gymnastic exercise. (Photos as still practiced in Isfahan.) It is a delight to see and hear Corbin speak. I hope that someone with a better ear for French than I will translate the narration for us.
The photos of traditional zoorkhaneh below are by Antoin Sevruguin, whose photos of 19th century Iran can be accessed here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Shah Abbas & the Remaking of Iran At The British Museum

Shah 'Abbas: The Remaking of Iran
In association with The Iran Heritage Foundation
19 February – 14 June 2009

In February 2009, the British Museum will open the first major exhibition to explore the rule and legacy of Shah ʿAbbas, one of the formative figures in the creation of modern Iran. Shah of Iran from 1587 – 1629 AD, he is remembered as one of the country’s most influential kings and a great military leader, ruling Iran at a time of political renewal, when it succeeded in positioning itself as a world power with a sharply defined national identity.

Shah ʿAbbas came to the throne in 1587, the fifth ruler of the Safavid Dynasty. Through trade, patronage and diplomacy Shah ʿAbbas fostered good relations with Europe and ushered in a golden period in the arts, commissioning beautiful works of art and grand architecture. He was a great builder and restorer of major monuments across the country and this architectural legacy will provide the context in which to explore the themes of his reign. The exhibition will feature luxurious gold-ground carpets, exquisite Chinese porcelains, illustrated manuscripts, watercolour paintings, metalwork and beautiful silks, objects similar to those Shah ʿAbbas gave to important religious sites across Iran. The famous calligrapher Ali Riza ʿAbbasi was a key figure throughout Shah ʿAbbas’s reign and examples of his work will feature prominently in the exhibition.

Shah ʿAbbas was a man with a strong sense of personal piety; though Shiism was declared the state religion of Iran in 1501, it was Shah ʿAbbas who consolidated its preeminence through the rule of law and the suppression of heterodox Shi'i sects and extremist dervish orders. The clerics in the circle of Shah ʿAbbas established the parameters of Shi'i orthodoxy and in so doing strengthened the role of the religious elite throughout Iran.

In association with The Iran Heritage Foundation, the exhibition will feature extraordinary loans, never before seen outside of Iran, alongside loans from Europe and the US. The exhibition is the third in a series examining empire and power in different parts of the globe and follows exhibitions on the First Emperor of China and the Roman emperor Hadrian.

"Shah ʿAbbas was restless, decisive, ruthless and intelligent. This exhibition will provide a rare opportunity to learn about this important ruler. Shah ʿAbbas was a critical figure in the development of Iran and his legacy is still with us today." Sheila Canby, curator of the exhibition

Details and Video HERE.

Shah 'Abbas and cup bearer, 1638, Safavid period
Ink and color on paper
H: 12.4 W: 9.0 cm
Probably Isfahan, Iran
Purchase, F1953.27 Freer & Sackler Galleries.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Recent News and Internet Gleanings - Update

Now Available Online
James W. Morris, "Religion After Religions ? : Henry Corbin and the Future of the Study of Religion." (pdf) In Philosophies et Sagesses des Religions du Livre, ed. P. Lory and M. Amir-Moezzi, Tournhout, Brépols Publishers, 2005, pp. 21-32. And a rich selection of articles by Dr. Morris online is available here.

Forthcoming in 2009
Patrick Laude. An Inner Islam: Insights in Massignon, Corbin, Guénon and Schuon. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 2009. Also of great interest are Dr. Laude's previous publications here. Table of Contents: Introduction; Sufism, Shi'ism, and the Definition of Inner Islam; The Qur'an; The Prophet; The Feminine; The Universal Horizon of Islam; The Question of War; Epilogue. From the Introduction: "The current study focuses on two intellectual lineages within the domain of Islamic studies: one ran from the seminal and "revolutionary" contribution of Louis Massignon (1883-1962) to Islamic Studies and was continued, along a significantly different line -more gnostic than mystical, more centered on Shi'ism than on Sunni Islam, by his student Henry Corbin (1903-1978); the second originated with the works of René Guénon (1886-1951) in metaphysics and the study of symbols, and was pursued in a distinct way by the religious philosopher Frithjof Schuon (1907-1998), whose notions of esoterism and tradition have played an influential role in redefining the nature of religious intellectuality among a significant number of contemporary Islamic and non-Islamic scholars. One of the theses put forward in the present book is that these two intellectual lineages are complementary in more than one way: on the one hand, Massignon and Corbin were both deeply rooted in the Christian tradition (Catholic in the former, Protestant in the latter) while being intensely involved in a scholarly redefinition of the academic study of Islam; on the other hand, both Guénon and Schuon developed their works outside of academic institutions and protocols, and were able to illuminate central facets of the Islamic tradition from the point of view of an actual participation in its spiritual economy. This book aims at introducing these four major figures to the English-speaking world by concentrating on their parallel and complementary contributions to a wider and deeper understanding of Islam as an intellectual and spiritual reality... This study addresses pressing questions that are most relevant to our present-day international predicament since studies in Sufism and Islamic spirituality have been widely recognized as most conducive to bridging the gap between Islam and the West, opening the way to fruitful dialogue between Islam and the Christian traditions, reconnecting a section of the younger Islamic intelligentsia with its own spiritual heritage, and providing original answers to the challenges of modernization and fundamentalism by unveiling and explaining the inner and universal dimension of Islam."

Miscellaneous Notes:

New Additions to the Bibliography:

Review: En Islam Iranien, reviewed by Earl Waugh, History of Religions Vol. 14, No. 4: 322-34 (May, 1975). (I can make this available online as a Google Document to anyone who will send me an email address. Otherwise it is available through JSTOR here for anyone who has access.)

: "Islamic Gnosticism: A Systematic Overview" by Peter J. Awn. Reviewed work: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabī by Henry Corbin; Ralph Manheim, History of Religions, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Feb., 1984), pp. 280-282 (review consists of 3 pages).

Ionuţ Daniel Băncilă, "Some Aspects of Manichaeism as Religion of Beauty [in English]," Caietele Echinox (Romania) Issue no.12 /2007. "The study investigates the aspects of Beauty in Manichaean teachings, following certain intuitions by Henry Corbin and Ilya Gershevitch. The Living Soul imprisoned in this material word, the Manichaean dissemination of the Zoroastrian figure of the Virgin of the Good Deeds, as well as the descriptions of the otherworldly ”Gardens of Light” offer as many instances and occasions for the Manichaeans to praise Beauty, although always as situated above and out of this world."

Robert Bosnak
, "My Eranos," (With several mentions of Corbin. Bosnak's own work has been profoundly influenced by Corbin). The San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal, Winter 1987, Vol. 7, No. 1, Pages 25–29.

R. Marcotte, "Phenomenology through the eyes of an Iranologist: Henry Corbin," The Bulletin of The Henry Martyn Institute of Islamic Studies (1995)14,1-2,55-70. The journal's editor states that this article is both an "insightful and comprehensive analysis of the types and schools of thought which helped to shape the views of one of the best known Islamic scholars of the mid-twentieth century". "Although Corbin's methodological approach is devalued by many scholars today, Marcotte points out that his attempt to form a 'spiritual-type phenomenology' offered fresh and challenging ways of interpreting Islamic thought which, despite their inherent limitations, are still worthy of consideration".

Ali Shariat, "Henry Corbin and the Imaginal: A Look at the Concept and Function of Creative Imagination in Iranian Philosophy," Diogenes, Vol. 39, No. 156, 83-114 (1991)

Manuscript Page: Folio from an unidentified text; A winter scene of a Sufi and courtier conversing at a shrine.
mid-16th century. Safavid period. Qazvin or Tabriz, Iran. Freer & Sackler Galleries. Purchase, F1946.13.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Idols & Icons

Corbin writes that idolatry is "that two-faced spiritual infirmity which consists in either loving an object without transcendence, or in misunderstanding that transcendence by separating it from the loved object, through which alone it is manifested. These two aspects spring from the same cause: in both cases a man becomes incapable of the sympathy which gives beings and forms their transcendent dimension… The cause may be a will to power, dogmatic or otherwise, which wishes to immobilize beings and forms at the point where man has immobilized himself - perhaps out of a secret fear of the infinite successions of perpetual transcendences...and [the knowledge that]...to be faithful to the Angel is precisely to let ourselves be guided by him towards the transcendences that he announces." - Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi, 134

The light that illuminates an icon comes from within and can reveal all of Creation, Corbin says, as "one immense iconostasis." "Idolatry consists in immobilizing oneself before an idol because one sees it as opaque, because one is incapable of discerning in it the hidden invitation that it offers to go beyond it. Hence, the opposite of idolatry would not consist in breaking idols, in practicing a fierce iconoclasm aimed against every inner or external Image; it would rather consist in rendering the idol transparent to the light invested in it. In short, it means transmuting the idol into an icon." - "Theophanies and Mirrors: Idols or Icons", (from - La philosophie iranienne Islamique aux XVIIIe et XVIIIe Siecles, 364)

The concept of the icon is central to Corbin's work. Any attempt to extend and develop the implications of his vision requires meditation on the meaning of the icon in the modern, and postmodern world. Such a project opens onto a vast landscape. For some pathways into this world there is a fascinating and suggestive syllabus for a course taught at Harvard Divinity School by Nicholas Constas in 2001. I have made this available online as a Google Document: Theology of the Icon. (The page has since disappeared from the internet, and I have not been able to find current contact information for Dr. Constas. If anyone can help with this I would appreciate it.) My tentative sketch of a project linking Corbin's work to aspects of contemporary theology, particularly the work of Jean-luc Marion, can be read here as a Google Document. Part of this larger project would involve consideration of theology and the arts, including film. I begin a selected Bibliography below.

Idols & Icons in Modern Theology
Jean-luc Marion, The Idol and Distance, God Without Being, The Crossing of the Visible, Being Given, In Excess and The Erotic Phenomenon.

Film as Icon
Gerard Loughlin, "Within the image : film as icon," in Johnston, Robert K. Reframing Theology and Film: New Focus for an Emerging Discipline. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2007.
Gunnlaugur A. Jónsson, and Þorkell Ágúst Óttarsson. Through the Mirror: Reflections on the Films of Andrei Tarkovsky. Newcastle, U.K.: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2006.

Still image from Andrei Tarkovsky's Nostalghia.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Corbin & Platonism

Henry Corbin's relation to Platonism and Neoplatonism is too varied and complex to be simply surveyed. But in the intellectual autobiography that Corbin provides in his late interview with Phillipe Nemo he describes something of the place that Platonism occupies in his spiritual and philosophical universe:

"Thus it was that one day, and I believe it was in the course of the year 1927-1928, I spoke with [Louis] Massignon of the reasons that had drawn me, as a philosopher, to the study of Arabic, and the questions I had with regards to the connections between the philosophy and mysticism of a certain Suhravardi (or at least of what I then knew of him by way of a rather meagre German resume)… That day Massignon received an inspiration from the Heavens. He had brought back with him, following a voyage in Iran, a lithographed edition of the principal work of Suhravardi, Hikmat al-Ishrâq: “The Oriental Theosophy”. With the commentaries it was a large volume of more than five hundred pages. “Here, he said to me, I believe that there is something in this book for you”. That “something” was the presence and company of the young Shaykh al-Ishraq and it is something that has not left me over the course of my lifetime. I have always been a Platonist (in the broadest sense of the term, of course). I believe one is born a Platonist, just as one can be born an atheist, a materialist, etc. It is a question of the impenetrable mystery of pre-existential choices. In any case, the young Platonist that I was could not help but burn at the very contact of he who had been the “Imam of the Persian Platonists”.

By my encounter with Suhravardi, my spiritual destiny in my passage through this world was sealed. This Platonism of his expressed itself in terms belonging to the Zoroastrian angelology of Ancient Persia and in so doing illuminated the path I had been searching for. Having made this discovery there was no more need to remain torn between Sanskrit and Arabic. Persia was right there in the centre, as median and mediating world. For Persia, the old Iran, is not only a nation or an empire, it is an entire spiritual universe, a hearth and meeting place in the history of religions. Moreover this world was ready to receive and welcome me. Henceforth the philosopher that I was passed into the rank and file of the Orientalists. Later on, after a long period of instructive experience, I was to explain why it seemed to me that in future it would be the Philosophers and not the Orientalists who would be the only ones capable of assuming responsibility for the “oriental philosophy.” - From the Interview with Phillipe Nemo

On Corbin's view, much of the enormous philosophical merit of Suhrawardi lies in the fact that he was the first to attempt to provide an ontological foundation for the reality of the mundus imaginalis, or the imaginal world. To provide such a foundation there must be available a cosmology which disappeared from mainstream Western experience with the triumph of the Aristotelianism of Averroes and the demise of the Neoplatonic cosmology of Avicenna, which Corbin dates to the 12th century. (On this see Avicenna and the Visionary Recital, Alone with the Alone, and The History of Islamic Philosophy).

Corbin held in high regard a figure nearly forgotten in Western philosophy except among specialists. The Neoplatonist philosopher Proclus born in Constantinople in 412 C.E., had an enormous influence on Platonist thought both East and West. Nicolas of Cusa and Hegel may be counted among his admirers. In his Commentary on Plato's Parmenides Proclus discusses the symbolic meaning of the dramatic setting of that dialogue. Corbin condenses this as follows:

"On the one hand there are the philosophers of the school of Ionia; [they] have studied every aspect of Nature, but they have scarcely given thought to spiritual matters... And there are, on the other hand, philosophers of the Italian school, represented above all by Parmenides and Zeno. These are exclusively concerned with things of the intelligible order. Between the two is the Attic school, which holds a middle position, because, under the stimulus of Socrates and Plato, a synthesis has been made between the findings of the other two schools... [T]he middle ground is symbolized by Athens, by whose mediation awakened souls ascend from the world of Nature to that of nous, intellect...

"These [Ionians] are types of those souls who have descended into this world who are really in need of the aid of the daimons... This is why they abandon their house, the body: they emigrate to Athens..., they set out on the way from ignorance to knowledge, from agnosis to gnosis... They come for the Goddess, whose sacred peplum is carried in the theoria, or procession of the Panatheneia in celebration of victory over the Titans who unloose chaos. The aim of the Parmenides is precisely to unite everything to the One, and to demonstrate how all things proceed from the One. To come [to Athens] is, for them, to know that it is within the soul that the battle of the giants takes place, in which [Athene] is victorious. Athens is an Emblematic City." [Corbin, Emblematic Cities, 13-14]

Corbin draws on Proclus again, in passages where he describes the movements of the flower, the Heliotrope, as it keeps its face turned towards the sun. Proclus writes,

"For, in truth, each thing prays according to the rank it occupies in nature, and sings the praise of the leader of the divine series to which it belongs, a spiritual, or rational or physical or sensuous praise; for the heliotrope...[produces] a hymn to its king such as it is within the power of a plant to sing." [Alone with the Alone, 106].

Proclus saw clearly "the essential community between visible and invisible things." Corbin writes,

"This common essence...is the perception of a sympathy, of a reciprocal and simultaneous attraction between the manifest being and his celestial prince... Taken as a phenomenon of sympathy, this tropism in the plant is at once action and passion: its action...is perceived as the action...of the Angel...whose name for that very reason it bears... And this passion...is disclosed in a prayer, which is the act of this passion through which the invisible angel draws the flower toward him... But since sympathy here is also a condition and mode of perception...we must also speak of the poetic or cognitive function of sympathy..." [Alone with the Alone, 106-7]

(The above is excerpted from The World Turned Inside Out).

In an essay presented at the Eranos Conference in 1976, Corbin described the Angel Holy Spirit as the figure who shatters monolithic monotheism.This is because our only access to the One God is by means of our own individual Lord - we are destined to angelomorphosis as partners with our Angel. Each of us has a Lord as there are uncountable stars in the heavens. Corbin quotes with approval from the novel Erewhon Revisited, by the nineteenth century Anglican, Samuel Butler. The narrator tells us that the Erewhonians had been told about astronomy, and that

"all the fixed stars were suns like our own, with planets revolving round them, which were probably tenanted by intelligent living beings... From this they evolved the theory that the sun was the ruler of this planetary system, and that he must be personified, as they personified the air-god, the gods of time and space, hope, justice, and the other deities... They retain their old belief in the actual existence of these gods but they now make them all subordinate to the sun. The nearest approach that they make to our own conception of God is to say that He is the ruler over all the suns throughout the universe - the suns being to Him much as our planets and their denizens are to our own sun. They deny that He takes more interest in one sun and its system than another. All the suns with their attendant planets are supposed to be equally His children, and He deputes to each sun the supervision and protection of its own system. Hence they say that though we may pray to the air-god & etc, and even to the sun, we must not pray to God. We may be thankful to Him for watching over the suns, but we must not go further."

This "pluralist cosmic theism" sketched by Butler is foreshadowed, according to Corbin, by the late Neo-Platonist Syrianus, who was Proclus' master. Syrianus wrote,

"If one reaches a grasp of the Sun and the Moon, each of the properties that this definition will have attributed to each of these beings, will belong to all the suns (and all the moons), even where there would be ten thousand suns, for in their Idea they would all be identical one with the others."

This grand cosmology explains why every encounter with the Angel, as Corbin says,

"puts us in the presence of a known and limited God (known because limited, and vice versa): Angel-Holy-Spirit, Angel-Adam, Sun of our world, - and of a God unknown and unknowable, God of Gods, of which all the universes and all the galaxies are the sensorium."

(The above is excerpted from After Prophecy).

In Apophatic Theology as Antidote to Nihilism Corbin writes in more detail about the connections between Proclus and the pluralist metaphysics he is describing:

"Clearly, we can now see that what is at issue here is what has traditionally been referred to in philosophy as the « principle of individuation ». Once more citing our article: « We know that the dominant ontology and anthropology of Western humanity are centered quite precisely upon the invincible affirmation of the reality of the ego (in all its forms) and of the reality of individual forms in general. This belief seems to us to be correlative to a mutilation of being », because it has its origin and essence in « negativity or the principle of individuation identified with the reality principle ». Here again, the adoption of such a position appears to us a very serious matter. Such a decision is marked, indeed stained, by the same confusion denounced by our Iranian metaphysicians of the Avicennian tradition, to whit, the confusing of the transcendental unity of Being or Existence (wahdat al wojud) with an impossible, contradictory and illusory unity of existents or existent being(s) (mawjud, Latin ens). These Avicennian metaphysicians vigorously denounced this same confusion committed by the practitioners of a particular brand of Sufism, one that would occupy precisely the position defined by Georges Vallin as belonging to Oriental humanity. On the other hand, on this point our Iranian philosophers are in agreement with the metaphysics of Being professed by the great neoplatonist, Proclus : [I am referring to] the connection or relationship between the Henad of Henads and the Henads that lend their unicity to the multiplicity of singular existents that they pose in the act of being by making each in its turn one being, [or, by investing each in turn with its own singularity]. For Being can only be existent within the multiplicity of individual beings. To affirm the reality of individual forms is therefore in no way a mutilation of Being, but is on the contrary its revelation and fulfillment. To confound the order of Being with the order of beings is a fatal confusion. The principle of individuation is a positioning and positing of the existent. If one sees in this nothing but negativity then one has set one's course towards metaphysical catastrophe.
I had the privilege, last May, of participating in a conference at the Institute of Philosophy at the University of Tours, which had as its theme "The Human and the Angel". Simply pronouncing such a theme these days sounds like a challenge directed towards common opinion and received ideas. Indeed, it is because it is a challenge that such a theme contains and conceals precisely that secret path upon which one may find the answer to the question I am now posing: "What is the person?" On this path, it is to our Iranian philosophers --to whom I have long owed a great deal-- that I will appeal in showing how the answer to this question appears to me, and finally how I see the message of Iranian philosophy as it applies to our present conference.

I find this answer by referring to a concept that is fundamental to the anthropology of pre-Islamic Zoroastrian Iran, that of the Fravarti (the correct pronunciation of that which is written fravashi ; and in Persian forûhar). In Zoroastrianism the word designates the celestial archetype of each being of light --their superior Self, their guardian Angel. This celestial archetype belongs to their very being because it is each one's singular celestial counter-part. The concept is so fundamental to Zoroastrian personalism --as the very law of being-- that Ohrmazd himself, his Archangels (Amahraspandân) and all the Angel-Gods (Izad, cf. the Dii-Angeli that we find in Proclus) also have their respective fravartis. It is this fravarti that gives the person his or her true dimension. A human person is a person only by virtue of this celestial, archetypal, angelic dimension. This angelic dimension is the celestial pole without which the terrestrial pole of its human dimension is completely depolarised, reduced to vagabondage and perdition. The drama then, would be the loss of this pole, the loss of this celestial dimension, because the entire fate or destiny of the person is engaged in this drama."

In The Paradox of Monotheism Corbin expands again on negative theology and the "polytheism" of Proclus:

"The Parmenides for Proclus is the Theogony that his very own "Platonic Theology" was to elaborate upon further. Plato's Parmenides is in some ways the Bible, the Sacred Scripture of the eminently Neoplatonic, negative, apophatic theology. Negative theology, via negationis (tanzih in Arabic) rejects the cause beyond all causes, the absolute One beyond all the Ones; being beyond all existent beings etc. Negative theology is presumed precisely by the investment of being in all existent beings of the One in the Many etc. All the while appearing to destroy affirmative theology of the dogmatic consciousness, it is negative theology that in effect safeguards the truth it bears; and this is the second instance of the "paradox of monotheism". The term is well known to both Greek and Arab Neoplatonists. In both cases it is resolved by simultaneity, the at once present [comprésent] One-God and the many divine Figures. Comparison of the process in these two cases has yet to be attempted.

Let us say that in the system envisioned by Proclus, there are the One and Many Gods. The One-God is the henad of henads. The word One does not name what it is but is the symbol of the absolutely Ineffable. The one is not One. It does not possess the attribute One. It is essentially unificent [unifique], unifying, constitutive of all the Ones, of all the beings that can only be existents by being each time an existent, i.e. unified [made one], constituted in unities precisely by the unifying One. This sense of unifying of the One is what Proclus meant by the word henad [principal of unity]. When this word is used in the plural form, it does not denote productions of the One but manifestations of the One, "henophanies". Those in addition to Unity, are the divine Names and these Names govern the diversity of beings. It is from beings that are their partners that it is possible to know the divine substances, that is to say the Gods that are themselves inconceivable. We have already compared the theory of the divine Names and celestial hierarchies in Proclus and in Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite.

There is much to be learned from an in-depth comparison of the theory of divine Names and theophanies that are the divine Lords -- I mean to say the parallelism between Ibn Arabi -- the ineffability of God who is the Lord of Lords and the multiple theophanies that constitute the hierarchy of the divine Names -- and Proclus: the hierarchy originating in the henad of henads manifested by these henads themeselves, and permeating all levels of the hierarchies of being: there are the transcendant Gods; the intelligible Gods (at the level of being); the intellective-intelligible-Gods (at the level of life); the intellective Gods (at the level of intellect); the hypercosmic Gods (leaders and assimilators); the intracosmic Gods (celestial and sub-lunar); there are the superior beings: archangels, angels, heroes, daimons. However, these multiple hierarchies presuppose the One-Unique that transcends the Ones, because it unifies them; the being that transcends existents because it essentiates them; life that transcends the living because it vivifies them. In Proclus, harmony results from the encounter in Athens between philosophers of the Ionian School from Clazomenea and those of the Eleatic School, namely Parmenides and Zeno of Elea - all gathered for the Panathenian Festival. In Ibn Arabi's school of thought, harmony is achieved by the confrontation between monotheism of the naïve or dogmatic consciousness and theomonism of the esoteric consciousness; in short the acceptance of the exoteric or theological tawhid (tawhid wojudi). This is precisely the form that the paradox of the One and the Many takes in Islamic theosophy." - Henry Corbin

In the mystical theology that Corbin describes for us, the vision of the Angel is a revelation of divine Love and Beauty. The beauty of the Divine can only manifest in the form of creatures. Whenever we encounter a being of beauty we are seeing the Beauty of the transcendent Lord. Human and divine beauty are not opposed. Corbin wants to avoid any hint of an ascetical Christian moralism that would deny divine meaning to human love or to the sensuous beauties of creation. The experience of love is profoundly sacramental. It is the sacred occasion where Flesh is made holy and the means by which the opposition between Spirit and Matter is abolished. He says,

"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."

Beauty is the essential divine attribute and human love leads to the vision of the unique Lord who is the Angel. Such a love is purified of all merely carnal, possessive instincts, all utilitarian ends, all obsessions and neurotic "needs." Such a chaste love is an ecstasy before the revelation of divine beauty in a being of beauty, a theophany. At the limit of this experience of love is the experience of Divine Unity: The Divine being is simultaneously the Loved, the Lover and the Love itself.

Selected Bibliography and Internet Resources

* The central text in Corbin's work is En Islam Iranien Vol 2: Suhrawardi and the Platonists of Persia (English translation). Available in the original French from amazon.fr here.
* On Suhrawardi see this excellent summary review with a link to this superb Bibliography by Dr. Stephen Lambden, including many of Corbin's critical editions and works.
* Parviz Morewedge, Neoplatonism and Islamic Thought, SUNY Press, 1992.
* On Avicenna: this excellent website.
* On NeoPlatonism.: Introductory Article by Edward Moore of the St. Elias School of Orthodox Theology.
* Pauliina Remes, Neoplatonism, University of California Press.
* International Society for Neoplatonic Studies
* On Plotinus
* Pierre Hadot, Plotinus, or The Simplicity of Vision, 1994.
* Margaret Miles, Plotinus on Body and Beauty, 1999.
* On Proclus, see this excellent bibliography


1 Bust of Plato.
2 The sculpture is from the east frieze of the Parthenon (East V, 31-35): The presentation of the peplos of Athena. British Museum. Image from Institut für Klassische Archäologie.
3 Cluster of Galaxies from the Hubble Space Telescope.
Faravahar (Fravarti) from Persepolis.
5 Archangel Michael, Folio from Aja'ib al-makhluqat (Wonders of Creation) by al-Qazvini; Archangel Michael (Mikayyil); early 15th century. Iraq or Eastern Turkey. Al-Qazwini's Wonders of Creation is an encyclopedic work on the cosmology and geography of the world. The text was composed in thirteenth-century Iraq, and is divided into two main sections that discuss heavenly and earthly bodies. According to al-Qazwini, the angel stands on the overflowing sea of the seventh heaven and is in charge of humans and the presence of wisdom and knowledge in souls. His attendants rule over the entire world and have power over resurrection and generation. The representation of the archangel, dressed according to fourteenth-century norms, also implies a certain humility and gentleness, thus adding to our understanding of this powerful, heavenly creature.
Two Lovers, Safavid period (1501-1722), Attributed to Iran, court of Shah `Abbas the Great (r. 1588-1629)
7 Gianlorenzo Bernini, The Ecstasy of St. Theresa, 1647-52.
8 Auguste Rodin, Cupid & Psyche, 1905

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Symposium on Islamic Art - Cordoba, November 2009

And Diverse Are Their Hues: Color in Islamic Art and Culture
November 2-4, Cordoba, Spain
Organized by Sheila S. Blair and Jonathan M. Bloom

Full Details at their website.

The Program includes Samir Mahmoud on Color, Symbolism, and the Mystic Quest: the Spiritual Exegesis of Color in Sufism. Mahmoud is the author of From Heidegger to Suhrawardi: An Introduction to the Thought of Henry Corbin

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Corbin at Eranos

Henry Corbin's Lectures at Eranos
From the Complete Bibliography
(Listed by the year the lectures were delivered.)

The Eranos Foundation remains active on the shores of Lago Maggiore in Ascona, Switzerland. Their website provides, among other things, a history and details of the past conferences, lecturers and the Eranos Yearbooks. Many of these volumes are in print and available from Daimon Verlag. (It should be noted that there is another organization that has claimed the Eranos name. The link above is to the official Foundation in Ascona at the site of Olga Froebe-Kapteyn's original property.)

Corbin was first invited to speak in Ascona in 1949 as a replacement for Louis Massignon who characteristically refused to comply with the Eranos rule that politics not be discussed at the Conferences.

Corbin wrote a Forward for this book of Eranos Lectures edited by Joseph Campbell that describes the Eranos experience as he saw it: « The Time of Eranos », in: Man and Time: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks. New York: Pantheon Books, 1957.

The Lectures

1949 « Le Récit d’initiation et l’hermétisme en Iran (recherche angélologique)», Eranos-Jahrbuch, XVII/1949. Zurich, Rhein-Verlag, 1950.
1950 « Le Livre du Glorieux de Jâbir ibn Hayyân (alchimie et archétypes) », Eranos-Jahrbuch, XVIII/1950, Zurich : Rhein-Verlag, 1950.
1951 « Rituel sabéen et exégèse ismaélienne du rituel », Eranos-Jahrbuch, XIX/1950, Zurich : Rhein-Verlag, 1951.
1952 « Le Temps cyclique dans le mazdéisme et dans l’ismaélisme », Eranos-Jahrbuch, XX/1951, Zurich : Rhein-Verlag, 1952.
1953 « Terre céleste et corps de résurrection d’après quelques traditions iraniennes (Mazdéisme, Ishrâq, Shaykhisme) », Eranos-Jahrbuch, XXII/1953. Zurich, Rhein-Verlag, 1954.
1954 « Epiphanie divine et naissance spirituelle dans la gnose ismaélienne » (texte original de la traduction anglaise infra, 1963-5), Eranos-Jahrbuch, XXIII/1954. Zurich, Rhein-Verlag, 1955.
1955 « Sympathie et théopathie chez les ‘Fidèles d’Amour’ en Islam », Eranos-Jahrbuch, XXIV/1955. Zurich, Rhein-Verlag, 1956.
1956 « Imagination créatrice et prière créatrice dans le soufisme d’Ibn ’Arabî », Eranos-Jahrbuch, XXV/1956. Zurich, Rhein-Verlag, 1957.
1957 « L’Intériorisation du sens herméneutique soufie iranienne : Sa’inoddîn ’Alî Torka Ispahânî et ’Alâoddawla Semnânî », Eranos-Jahrbuch, XXVI/1957. Zurich, Rhein-Verlag, 1958.
1958 « Quiétude et inquiétude de l’âme dans le soufisme de Rûzbehân Baqlî de Shîrâz », Eranos-Jahrbuch, XXVII/1958. Zurich, Rhein-Verlag, 1959.
1959 « L’Imâm caché et la rénovation de l’homme en théologie shî’ite », Eranos-Jahrbuch, XXVIII/1959. Zurich, Rhein-Verlag, 1960.
1960 « Pour une morphologie de la spiritualité shî’ite », Eranos-Jahrbuch, XXIX/1960. Zurich, Rhein-Verlag, 1961.
1961 « Le Combat spirituel du shî’isme », Eranos-Jahrbuch, XXX/1961. Zurich, Rhein-Verlag, 1962.
1962 « De la philosophie prophétique en Islam shî’ite », Eranos-Jahrbuch, XXXI/1962. Zurich, Rhein-Verlag, 1963. « In memoriam Olga Froebe », Eranos-Jahrbuch, XXXI/1962. Zurich, Rhein-Verlag, 1963.
1963 « Au ‘pays’ de l’Imâm caché », Eranos-Jahrbuch, XXXII/1963. Zurich, Rhein-Verlag, 1964.
1964 « Herméneutique spirituelle comparée : I. Swedenborg, II. Gnose ismaélienne », Eranos-Jahrbuch, XXXII/1964. Zurich, Rhein-Verlag, 1965.
1965 « La Configuration du Temple de la Ka‘ba comme secret de la vie spirituelle d’après l’œuvre de Qâzî Sa‘îd Qommî (1103/1691) », Eranos-Jahrbuch, XXXIV/1965, Zurich: Rhein-Verlag, 1966.
1966 « De la épopée héroïque à l’épopée mystique », Eranos-Jahrbuch, XXXV/1966. Zurich, Rhein-Verlag, 1967.
1967 « Face de Dieu et face de l’homme », Eranos-Jahrbuch, XXXVI/1967, Zurich: Rhein-Verlag, 1968.
1969 « Le Récit du nuage blanc (Hadîth al-ghamâma) commenté par Qâzî Sa‘îd Qommî (1103/1691) », Eranos-Jahrbuch, XXXVIII/1969. Zurich, Rhein-Verlag, 1971.
1970 « L’Esotérisme et le verbe ou l’initiation ismaélienne », Eranos-Jahrbuch, XXXIX/1970, Leiden : Brill, 1973.
1971 « Juvénilité et chevalerie (Javânmardî) en Islam iranien », Eranos-Jahrbuch, XL/1971, Leiden : Brill, 1973, pp 311-356.
1972 « Symbolisme et réalisme des couleurs en cosmologie shî’ite d’après l’œuvre de Mohammad Karîm-Khan Kermânî », », Eranos-Jahrbuch, XLI/1972, Leiden : Brill, 1974.
1973 « La Science de la balance et les correspondances entre les mondes en gnose islamique d’après l’œuvre de Haydar Âmolî (VIII/XIVe s.) », Eranos-Jahrbuch, XLII/1973, Leiden : Brill, 1975.
1974 « L’Imago Templi face aux profanes », Eranos-Jahrbuch, XLIII/1974, Leiden : Brill, 1977.
1976 « Le paradoxe du monothéisme », Eranos-Jahrbuch, XLV/1976. Leiden, Brill, 1980.

Critical Histories & Analysis

Hakl, Hans Thomas. Der verborgene Geist von Eranos: unbekannte Begegnungen von Wissenschaft und Esoterik : eine alternative Geistesgeschichte des 20. Jahrhunderts. Bretten: Scientia Nova, Verlag Neue Wissenschaft, 2001. English translation: Hakl, Hans Thomas. Eranos: An Alternative Intellectual History of the 20th Century. Oakville: David Brown Book, Forthcoming, 2010.
From the publisher:
Few people are aware that from 1933 and for a period of almost seventy years, many of the worlds leading intellectuals met annually at Ascona on Lake Maggiore to give scholarly lectures about their latest insights in the fields of religion, philosophy, history, art and science and in particular to explore religion with an emphasis on its mystical and symbolic aspects. Known as the Eranos meetings (Eranos in Ancient Greek meant banquet), participants over the years comprised a galaxy of illustrious names in many branches of the humanities and sciences: Carl Gustav Jung, Erich Neumann, Mircea Eliade, Martin Buber, Walter F. Otto, Paul Tillich, Gershom Scholem, Sir Herbert Read, Joseph Campbell, Erwin Schrödinger, Karl Keréyni, D.T. Suzuki, Adolph Portmann and many others. Based on archival material, printed sources, private letters and interviews with Eranos presenters and participants, Hakl presents the only complete study of what is arguably the single most important gathering of scholars in the twentieth century. With a masterful hand, Hakl skillfully weaves together portraits of the exceptional people involved, their significance in the world of learning, the way they interacted with each other as well as the manifold influences that the meetings exerted. While in general sympathetic to the Eranos spirit, the author does not try to hide the negative aspects of the concern with esotericism, such as the Islamicist Henry Corbin's sympathy for the reign of the Shah, nor the Eranos patron (and OSS member) Paul Mellons' massive holdings in Iranian Oil. The final chapter concerns itself with an exploration of the political implications of the Eranos phenomenon and the tendency among esotericists towards authoritarian standpoints. The vignettes it offers of the lives and lively debates of leading twentieth century intellectuals will attract readers interested in the history of ideas, psychology, religious and cultural studies, Jewish and Islamic studies, the history of science, mysticism and the development of the new age religions. 480p, 47 b/w photos (Equinox Publishing 2009)

Wasserstrom, Steven M. Religion After Religion: Gershom Scholem, Mircea Eliade, and Henry Corbin at Eranos, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1999.

Wasserstrom's book sparked a good deal of debate at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion. A record of the Symposium can be had here: Journal of the American Academy of Religion 2001, 69(2): 427 Symposium on Wasserstrom 1999. (pdf file requires subscription access).

Wasserstrom's critical remarks concerning Corbin's presumed politics and ideology have been addressed in print by Lory, Subtelney and Versluis as cited below:

Pierre Lory's Review of Wasserstrom
Maria E. Subtelny, “History and Religion: The Fallacy of Metaphysical Questions (A Review Article).” Iranian Studies: March 2003, 36(1): 91-101.
Arthur Versluis' Review at Esoterica.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Corbin - Luther - Heidegger - Thomas of Erfurt

The hermeneutic key to understanding prophetic philosophy came to Corbin through Martin Heidegger, but the prelude to this lies in Martin Luther, and in the Scholastic tradition of "speculative grammar," which has deep ties to the phenomenology of Husserl and Heidegger.

Luther's insight into the meaning of the significatio passiva was fundamental for Corbin. He writes,

"In the presence of the Psalm verse In justitia tua libera me [Deliver me in Thy righteousness - Psalm 71 KJV] Luther experienced a movement of revolt and despair: what can there be in common between this attribute of justice and my deliverance? ...[He] perceived in a sudden flash (and his entire personal theology was to result from this experience) that this attribute must be understood in its significatio passiva, that is to say, thy justice whereby we are made into just men, thy holiness whereby we are hallowed, etc... Similarly...[for Ibn 'Arabi] the divine attributes are qualifications that we impute to the Divine Essence...as we experience it in ourselves." (Alone with the Alone , 300, n. 25. For Erik Erikson's classic account of Luther's struggle with this Psalm passage in Young Man Luther see pp. 325ff in The Erik Erikson Reader.)

Corbin says that this experience of Luther's provided him with the key for understanding the meaning of mystical philosophy in Islam. It provides the connection between the Divine attributes in themselves and those attributes as they appear in the created world. Upon the significatio passiva hinges an entire cosmology, an entire metaphysics of creation. It provides another way of understanding the connection between "metaphysics," the intellect, and the transformation of the soul:

"One simple example: the advent of being in this theosophy, is the placing of being in the imperative: KN [Arabic], Esto (in the second person, not fiat). This is primary, it is neither ens nor esse, but esto. 'Be!'. This imperative inauguration of being, is the divine imperative in the active sense; but considered in the being that it makes be, the being that we are, it is the same imperative, but in its significatio passiva."

Corbin will link these "existential" ideas concerning the "modes of being" to the philosophy of Mulla Sadr. On this see Christian Jambet: The Act of Being: The Philosophy of Revelation in Mulla Sadra. Reviewed by David Burrell here.

Corbin continues, "I believe we can claim, therein, the triumph of hermeneutics as Verstehen [understanding], meaning that that which we truly understand, is never other than that by which we are tried, that which we undergo, which we suffer and toil with in our very being. Hermeneutics does not consist in deliberating upon concepts, it is essentially the unveiling or revelation of that which is happening within us, the unveiling of that which causes us to emit such or such concept, vision, projection, when our passion becomes action, it is an active undergoing, a prophetic-poietic undertaking." from Corbin's Interview with Philippe Nemo.

Corbin and Heidegger were both immersed in medieval theology and the German hermeneutic tradition. "Hermeneutics" in the Europe of the 19th and early 20th century still referred to the interpretation of the Bible. It was a theological concept. It was chiefly Heidegger who was to give the term the strictly philosophical and secular meaning that is has today. Corbin's reading of Heidegger was of course theological from the outset. His study of prophetic philosophy always centered on the meaning of the Book - on the true Interpretation of the Book.

In this extended excerpt from his interview with Nemo, Corbin gives a clear account of his reading of Heidegger's Being and Time in the early 1930's:

"First and foremost, I would say, there is the idea of hermeneutics, which appears among the very first pages of Sein und Zeit. Heidegger’s great merit will remain in his having centered the act of philosophizing in hermeneutics itself. Forty years ago, when one employed this word, “hermeneutic”, among philosophers, it had a strange, almost barbaric ring. And yet, it’s a term borrowed directly from the Greek and one that has its common usage among biblical specialists. We owe the technical definition to Aristotle: the title of his treatise peri hermenêias was translated into Latin as De interpretatione. We can go one better too, for in contemporary philosophical parlance hermeneutics is that which, in German, is called das verstehen, le “Comprendre,” “Understanding”. It is the art or technique of “Understanding”, as this was understood by Dilthey. An old friend, Bernard Groethuysen, who was once a student of Dilthey’s, always came back to this in the course of our discussions. There is, in fact, a direct link between the “Verstehen” as hermeneutic in Dilthey’s “Comprehensive Philosophy” and the “Analytic”, the idea of hermeneutics that we find in Heidegger.

That said, Dilthey’s concept is derived from Schleiermacher, the great theologian of the German Romantic period, upon whom Dilthey had consecrated an enormous and unfinished work. Precisely there, we relocate the theological origins, namely Protestant, of the concept of hermeneutics that we use in philosophical circles today. Unfortunately, I have the impression that our young Heideggerians have somewhat lost sight of this link between hermeneutics and theology. To find it again, one would obviously have to restore an idea of theology altogether different from that which holds sway today, in France as elsewhere, I mean that definition that has become subservient to sociology when it is not handmaiden to “sociological-politics”. This restoration could only come about through the concurrence of the hermeneutics practiced within the Religions of the Book: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, for it is therein that hermeneutics has developed as a spontaneous exegesis, and therein lie reserved its future palingenesis.

Why? Because therein one is in possession of a Book upon which all depends. It is indeed a question of understanding the meaning, but of understanding the true meaning. Three things to consider: there is the act of understanding, there is the phenomenon of the meaning, and there is the unveiling or revelation of the truth of this meaning. Now, are we to understand by this “true” meaning that which we currently call the historical meaning, or rather a meaning that refers us to an altogether other level than that of History as the word is commonly understood. From the very outset, the hermeneutics practiced in the Religions of the Book put into play the same themes and vocabulary familiar to phenomenology. What I was enchanted to rediscover in Heidegger, was essentially the filiation of hermeneutics itself passing through the theologian Schleiermacher, and if I lay claim to phenomenology, it is because philosophical hermeneutics is essentially the key that opens the hidden meaning (etymologically the esoteric) underlying the exoteric statement. I have as such done nothing more than attempt to deepen this understanding, firstly in the vast unexplored domain of Shiite Islamic gnosis, and then in the neighboring domains of Christian and Judaic gnosis. Inevitably, because on the one hand the concept of hermeneutics had a Heideggerian flavour, and because on the other hand my first publications concerned the great Iranian philosopher Suhravardî, certain historians stubbornly maintained their “virtuous insinuations” that I had “mixed up” (sic) Heidegger with Suhravardî. But to make use of a key to open a lock is not at all the same thing as to confuse the key with the lock. It wasn’t even a question of using Heidegger as a key, but rather of making use of the same key that he had himself made use of, and which was at everyone’s disposition. Thank God, there are some insinuations whose sheer ineptitude reduces them to nothing… that said, the phenomenologist would have a great deal to say about the “false keys” of historicism.

And specifically with regards to this last point, there is a book within the ensemble of Heidegger’s work about which, perhaps, we no longer speak of enough. It is true that it is an old book… it was one of the first that Heidegger wrote, for it was his “habilitation thesis.” I am referring to his book on Duns Scotus. This book contains pages that have been particularly illuminating for me, concerning as they do what our medieval philosophers called grammatica speculativa. I was to make immediate use of it upon being called to stand in for my dear departed friend Alexandre Koyré at the Section of Religious Sciences in the Ecole des Hautes Etudes, during the years 1937 through 39. Having to discourse upon Lutheran hermeneutics, I was able to put into practice that which I had learned of the grammatica speculativa." - Henry Corbin

Heidegger's Habilitationsschrift was published in 1916 under the title, Die Kategorien- und Bedeutungslehre des Duns Scotus. As it happens, the Bedeutungslehre attributed to Scotus was show in 1922 to be the work of Thomas of Erfurt (14th century), the author of De modis significandi sive grammatica speculativa. See this excellent article on Erfurt and the speculative grammarians. (Also here.) Now as Corbin laments above, Heideggerians have until recently much neglected these aspects of Heidegger's work. But the emphasis of scholarship is shifting and his early grounding in theology is receiving much more attention. Although wading into the deeps of Heidegger scholarship is fraught with perils, the works listed below are a place to start.

On the Early Heidegger and Medieval Theology
McGrath, S. J. The Early Heidegger & Medieval Philosophy: Phenomenology for the Godforsaken. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2006. Reviewed by Christian Lotz in the Medeival Review, Sept. 2007, here (pdf).
Van Buren, John. The Young Heidegger: Rumor of the Hidden King. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.
_____ "The earliest Heidegger: a new field of research," in Dreyfus, Hubert L., and Mark A. Wrathall. A Companion to Heidegger. Blackwell companions to philosophy, 29. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub, 2005.

Portions adapted from The World Turned Inside Out by the author.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Corbin - Dante - i Fedeli d'Amore

Corbin invokes Dante and the group of poets known in Italian as the Fedeli d'Amore time and again throughout his work. The primary source is Volume 3 of En Islam Iranien, Book 3, Les Fideles d'Amour. For the English speaking reader the best place to begin is his profound and beautiful book on the great Islamic mystic Ibn ‘Arabi, Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi (now published as Alone with the Alone). Here he recounts an incident from the Master’s life that illuminates the question at the heart of the soul’s journey. In Mecca in the year 1201 (A.H. 598) the mystic and poet was a guest in the home of an Iranian family originally from Isfahan. The daughter of the house was a figure of surpassing intelligence, beauty and spiritual discernment. Her name was Nizam, ‘ayn al-Shams wa’l-Baha’, which is Harmonia, Eye of the Sun and of Beauty. As Beatrice did for Dante, so she revealed the human face of the eternal Sophia for Ibn ‘Arabi. Of his discussion of this incident, and of much else besides, Corbin writes,

"There is [one] term which perhaps calls for special justification: Fedeli d'amore. We have already had occasion to speak of the Fedeli d'amore, Dante's companions, and we shall speak of them again, for the the theophanism of Ibn 'Arabi has a good deal in common with the ideas of the symbolist interpreters of Dante (Luigi Valli) , though it is secure against such criticism as that of the literalist philologists, who were alarmed to see the person of Beatrice fade into pale allegory… In any case the young girl who was for Ibn ‘Arabi in Mecca what Beatrice was for Dante , was a real young girl, though at the same time she was “in person” a theophanic figure, the figure of the Sophia aeterna (whom certain of Dante’s companions invoked as the Madonna Intelligenza)…

It has not been our intention to re-open the great debate inaugurated by Asin Palacios, concerning the actual historical relations between those to whom we can give the name of the Fedeli d’amore in the East and West. It has seemed more important to indicate the undeniable typological affinities between them. We shall observe that this term Fedeli d’amore… does not apply indiscriminately to the entire community of Sufis; it does not, for example, apply to the pious ascetics of Mesopotamia who in the first centuries of Islam took the name of Sufi. In making this distinction we only conform to the indications provided by the great Iranian mystic Ruzbehan Baqli of Shiraz (d. 1209) in his beautiful Persian book entitled the Jasmine of the Fedeli d’amore. Ruzbehan distinguishes between the pious ascetics or Sufis, who never encountered the experience of human love, and the Fedeli d’amore for whom the experience of a cult of love dedicated to a beautiful being is the necessary initiation to divine love, from which it is inseparable. Such an initiation does not indeed signify anything in the nature of a monastic conversion to divine love; it is a unique initiation, which transfigures eros as such, that is, human love for a human creature. Ruzbehan’s doctrine falls in with Ibn ‘Arabi’s dialectic of love. It … makes Ruzbehan the precursor of that other famous man of Shiraz, the great poet Hafiz, whose Diwan is still observed today by the Sufis of Iran as a bible of the religion of love, whereas in the West it has been solemnly debated whether or not this Diwan has a mystic meaning. This religion of love was and remained the religion of all the minstrels of Iran and inspired them with the magnificent ta’wil [spiritual hermeneutic] which supplies a link between the spiritual Iran of the Sufis and Zoroastrian Iran, for according to this ta’wil the Prophet of Islam in person proclaims Zarathustra to b the prophet of the Lord of love; the altar of Fire becomes the symbol of the Living Flame in the temple of the heart." (Alone with the Alone, 100-101)

A few pages further on Corbin writes that those among the Sufis whom “we group as the Fedeli d’amore… [are] dominated by two great figures: Ibn ‘Arabi, the incomparable master of mystic theosophy, and Jalaluddin Rumi, the Iranian troubadour of that religion of love whose flame feeds on the theophanic feeling for sensuous beauty. Fedeli d’amore struck us as the best means of translating into a Western language the names by which our mystics called themselves in Arabic or Persian (‘ashiqun, muhibbun, arbab al-hawa, etc.) Since it is the name by which Dante and his companions called themselves, it has the power of suggesting the traits which were common to both groups and have been analyzed in memorable works. " (Alone with the Alone, 110)

The "memorable works" that Corbin cites in a note are by Miguel Asin Palacios, Enrico Cerulli and Luigi Valli. Asin Palacios first suggested Arabic sources for Dante's Commedia in 1919. The spirited debate that his thesis sparked is ongoing even today in the context of discussions about Western "Orientalism" in general. A history of the controversies up to 1965 is provided by Vincente Cantarino in his essay "Dante and Islam: History and Analysis of a Controversy," in De Sua, William J., and Gino Rizzo. A Dante Symposium in Commemoration of the 700th Anniversary of the Poet's Birth (1265-1965). Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1965. More recently Maria Rosa Menocal has argued for Islamic influences in Medieval literature in her book Arabic Role in Medieval Literary History: A Forgotten Heritage. The Middle Ages series. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987. Also useful are these short articles: Otfried Lieberknecht, A Medieval View of Islam: Dante's Encounter with Mohommed in Inferno XXVIII and Paul Cantor, The Uncanonical Dante: The Divine Comedy and Islamic Philosophy.

Corbin himself was perfectly willing to accept the idea of Arabic influences on Dante, but he characteristically remained largely indifferent to any strictly historical analysis, and was concerned, unlike most modern scholars, with the"typological affinities" involved, as he remarks above. It is the spiritual similarity based on the archetype of Sophia that is important, not the existence or non-existence of historical influences, which he would nonetheless be inclined to accept.

For a concise and detailed overview of the relations among Dante and the Fedeli d'amore as well as the Arabic sources of the troubadour traditions from the point of view of someone who accepts Asin Palacios' basic account see Dante and the Fedeli d'Amore by Bruce MacLennan. The figure said to have been the leader of the Fedeli was Guido Cavalcanti. Also useful is this piece on the Troubadours.

For more on Ruzbehan see Henry Corbin, "The Jasmine of the Fedeli d'Amore: A Discourse on Ruzbehan Baqli of Shiraz," Sphinx 3: A Journal of Archetypal Psychology and the Arts, (London) 1990.

The portrait of Dante (from wikimedia) is atttribued to Giotto.