"...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, January 12, 2010

Cross of Light & Harmonia Abrahamica - in a film review

As I noted last June, Godfrey Cheshire, film critic for Indy Week discussed Henry Corbin in his review of Linklater's "Waking Life" back in 2001. I did not know that he drew on Corbin again in a review of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of Christ" in 2004. Its rather wonderful  to see Corbin's work used so effectively and a bit of a shock to see it used at all in such a context. Mr. Cheshire begins his review as follows:

"In his essay "Divine Epiphany and Spiritual Birth in Ismailian Gnosis," the great Iranologist Henry Corbin recalls a crucial scene recounted in the Gnostic Acts of John:

On the evening of Good Friday the Angel Christos, while the multitude below, in Jerusalem, imagines that it is crucifying him, causes the apostle John to go up to the Mount of Olives and into the grotto illumined by his presence; and there the angel reveals to John the mystery of the "Cross of Light."

Here is what the apostle hears:

"This is not the cross of wood which thou will see when thou goest down hence: neither am I he who is on the cross, whom thou now seest not, but only hearest his voice...Thou hearest that I suffered, yet I did not suffer; that I suffered not, yet I did suffer...and in a word, what they say of me, that befell me not. But what they say not, that did I suffer."

Corbin cites these lines in a complex argument that can be seen as part of a search for what he elsewhere called the "Harmonia Abrahamica," the essential commonalities shared by Judaism, Christianity and Islam. No bland or wishful ecumenism, this project recognizes that the three faiths will always be separate and distinct voices, yet it posits that if each were properly understood, they would harmonize rather than screeching at each other discordantly and, indeed, dangerously.

Understanding, for Corbin, means seeking the spirit behind the letter, the esoteric concealed within the exoteric. And the purpose of such a search is intentionally transformative. For example, the description of the Crucifixion given above--which accords with the docetic understanding of that event held by Muslims--has one noticeable effect: It obliges us to look up, toward divine Mystery and Meaning, rather than down, toward matter and the limitations of conventional understandings.

As for why anyone would bother seeking "Harmonia Abrahamica," we need only juxtapose two fiery images: the explosions of Hiroshima and those of 9/11. The first of these announced a capacity for destruction that could conceivably engulf the planet in the 21st century; the second heralded the likelihood that such a cataclysm, if it comes, will erupt along the fault lines separating the three Abrahamic religions."

Read the entire review here.

Photo: The Mount of Olives.

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