"...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, February 24, 2016

The Scholastic Imagination - Mundus imaginalis & intellectus agens

He writes,

I’ve recently been reading up on medieval theories of cognition. The background is a paper I’m writing on esotericism and “kataphatic practices” – contemplative techniques where the practitioner uses mental imagery, sensory stimuli, and emotions to try and achieve some religious goal: Prayer, piety, divine knowledge, salvation, etc. Kataphatic practices may be distinguished from “apophatic” ones, which, although they may be pursuing the same goals, use very different techniques to achieve them: withdrawing from sensory input and attempting to empty the mind of any content, whether affective, linguistic, or imagery-related (note that the kataphatic-apophatic distinction is more commonly used as synonymous with positive vs. negative theology– that’s a related but separate issue to the one I talk about here). My argument is that esoteric practices are typically oriented toward kataphatic rather than apophatic techniques. The cultivation of mental imagery is usually key – which means that the notion of “imagination” needs to be investigated more thoroughly...

Later on in his post we find this:

But also on the theoretical side, it is tempting to say that the scholastic imagination exerted a major, long-lasting influence on various “esoteric epistemologies”. In a sense, this is a trivial observation: the imagination as a separate cognitive faculty, or an “inner sense” involved with perception and apprehension is an Aristotelian notion, and that Aristotelian notion re-entered European intellectual discourse through the Persian, Andalusian, Italian, and German scholars I have mentioned here. Moreover, that the “phantasms” created by the imaginative faculty can be mined for mystical insights is a notion that appears to enter European religious/intellectual discourse through Bonaventure’s synthesis of Aristotelianism and illuminationism.

So, if we look at the famous illustration in Robert Fludd’sUtriusque cosmi historia (“History of the two worlds”, 1617-1621) of how the cognitive system and (external and internal) senses reach out to the three worlds, at least on the cognitive side we still see the basic framework of Avicenna, Averroes, and Bonaventure. He lodges “imagination” between “sensation” and “mind”, with a window on to the mundus imaginalis, the “shadows” of the world. The connection of God and the angels with the “intellectual world”, influencing the “mind” and playing a direct part in assessing the images sent forward from imagination, still echoes the scholastic interpretation of Aristotle’s “agent intellect” acting on the “passive intellect”...

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