"...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, December 4, 2008

Islamic themes in Frank Herbert's "Dune"

Of interest to some readers may be the suggestion of a connection between elements in Frank Herbert's best-selling science fiction novel Dune (1965) and its many sequels and ideas to be found in Corbin's work. For instance, the 'alam al-mithal as a transcendent realm is of great importance in the novel and appears in the glossary. It is not clear how Herbert knew of the term. It seems that he knew Alan Watts and may have heard something of the Illuminationist tradition and perhaps of Henry Corbin through him. There is however, as far as I am aware, no reason to think that Herbert read Corbin. Norman Spinrad talks a bit about Islamic elements in here.

Image of the Central Alborz Mtns., Aatashgah Region, Karaj, Iran from Ali Madjfar here.


  1. James Morris, in the introduction to his book, Master and Disciple, indicates that Herbert must have read Ibn Khaldun's book "The Muqaddimah" or "The Prolegomenon" because a lot of the concepts in Dune can be found in Ibn Khaldun.

    I looked the book up on Amazon. It appears to be quite famous. Toynbee said it was one of the most important books in history. It is entirely possible that Herbert read the book. Herbert's knowledge of Islam and Arabic is too sophisticated for him to have got it from a conversation.

    I think Henry Corbin, who I haven't read, but not for lack of trying, is a bit too specialized to have inspired Dune.

  2. Thanks for this most excellent comment. TC

  3. It is a fact that Watts was a Corbin scholar. It is also well documented that Watts and Herbert spent a lot of time together discussing religion while they were tripping on the LSD Watts provided. If you haven't read Corbin, as you admit, then you haven't got much ground to be opining on the matter. It is the LSD theme (spice) in Dune PLUS the Corbin themes, ideas and vocabulary that make this case. "Dune" has Alan Watts all over it.

  4. to anonnymous... the very "natural" language and dialogue in the first three dune buks, makes clear that it was something more subtle than lsd. or maybe lsd made many things clearer to frank herbert - like spice trance.

  5. "Howie [Howard Hansen, part Quileute indian and a long-time friend of Herbert] and [Frank Herbert] spent a lot of times discussing religion, particularly the mysticism of many faiths and peoples. They drew parallels between Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, the Kabbala of Judaism, the Sufis of Islam, and American Indian beliefs." (Dreamer of Dune, the biography of Frank Herbert - Brian Herbert)

    Nothing indicates that Alan Watts - with whom Frank Herbert never took lsd, by the way - provided him something else than his knowledge about Zen, a doctrine Watts was specialized with and which is everywhere to be found in the Dune serie...

  6. Very insightful comments, thank you