Henry Corbin

Infobox Philosopher
region = Western Philosophy
era = 20th century philosophy
color = #B0C4DE

name = Henry Corbin
birth = April 14, 1903 Paris, France
death = death date and age|1978|19|7|1903|4|14 Paris, France
school_tradition = School of Illumination
main_interests = Phenomenology Islamic philosophy Philosophy of religion and Ontology
notable_ideas = Prophetic philosophy, Imaginal world
influences = Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi · Martin Heidegger Mulla Sadra· Étienne Gilson· Louis Massignon Martin Luther
influenced = Kathleen Raine· Temenos Academy James Hillman Harold Bloom· Charles Olson Dariush Shayegan

Henry Corbin (14 April 1903 - October 7 , 1978) was a philosopher, theologian and professor of Islamic Studies at the Sorbonne in Paris, France.

Corbin was born in Paris in April of 1903. As a boy he revealed the profound sensitivity to music so evident in his work. Although he was Protestant by birth, he was educated in the Catholic tradition and at the age of 19 received a certificate in Scholastic philosophy from the Catholic Institute of Paris. Three years later he took his "licence de philosophie" under the great Thomist Étienne Gilson. In 1928 he encountered the formidable Louis Massignon, director of Islamic studies at the Sorbonne, and it was he who introduced Corbin to the writings of Suhrawardi, the 12th century Persian mystic and philosopher whose work was to profoundly affect the course of Corbin’s life. The stage was then set for a personal drama that has deep significance for understanding those cultures whose roots lie in both ancient Greece and in the prophetic religions of the Near East reaching all the way back to Zoroaster. Years later Corbin said “through my meeting with Suhrawardi, my spiritual destiny for the passage through this world was sealed. Platonism, expressed in terms of the Zoroastrian angelology of ancient Persia, illuminated the path that I was seeking.”

Corbin is responsible for redirecting the study of Islamic philosophy as a whole. In his "Histoire de la philosophie islamique" (1964), he disputed the common view that philosophy among the Muslims came to an end after Ibn Rushd, demonstrating rather that a lively philosophical activity persisted in eastern Muslim world, especialy Iran and continues to our own day. [http://www.bookrags.com/research/corbin-henry-eorl-03/ Corbin, Henry] an article by Encyclopedia of Religion]

Life and work

The philosophical life and career of Corbin can be divided into three phases. The first period includes 1920s and 1930s, which he involved in learning and teaching western philosophy. The second period is the years between 1939 and 1946, in which he studied Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi and School of Illumination in Istanbul. The last period begins at 1946 and lasts until his death in which he studied and reintroduced eastern and Islamic philosophy. Wasserstrom (1999), [http://books.google.com/books?id=RvuHVggCA-IC&pg=PA145&vq=Occultation&dq=intitle:Corbin&lr=lang_en&as_brr=3&source=gbs_search_s&sig=ACfU3U2lUi1bgpg4idH2iJLcU3JlVbKkHg p.145] ]

But his spiritual quest extended well beyond the vast landscapes of western scholasticism and Islamic mysticism. During the 1920s and the early 1930s he simultaneously pursued studies that in themselves would have marked him as an eclectic Protestant theologian. In his maturity Corbin presented himself as a Protestant Christian. He became deeply engaged with the German theological tradition and lectured on Luther, Kierkegaard and Hamann. He was the first to translate the early works of Karl Barth into French. In 1930 a second defining encounter in Corbin’s spiritual odyssey took place. This was his reading of Martin Heidegger's foundational work of phenomenology, "Being and Time". It gives us some sense of the unique perspective of this truly catholic philosopher to note that his copy of the notoriously difficult and very German work was marked throughout by glosses in Arabic.

In 1933 he married Stella Leenhardt. In 1939 they traveled to Istanbul to collect manuscripts for a critical edition of Suhrawardi. They remained there until the end of the war. In 1945, the Corbins traveled for the first time to Teheran where he was to teach as a member of Teheran University for many years. Corbin came to love Iran as a second home and the symbolism of the Persian landscape figures prominently in his spiritual universe. They finally returned to Paris in July 1946. In 1949 he first attended the annual Eranos Conferences in Ascona, Switzerland, where he was to become a major figure along with Carl Jung, Mircea Eliade, Gershom Scholem, Adolf Portmann and many others. In 1954 he succeeded Louis Massignon in the Chair of Islam and the Religions of Arabia. From the 1950s on he spent autumn in Teheran, winter in Paris and spring in Ascona.

The three major works upon which his reputation largely rests in the English speaking world were first published in French in the 1950s: "Avicenna and the Visionary Recital", "Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi"' (see below) and "Spiritual Body & Celestial Earth". His later major work on Central Asian and Iranian Sufism appears in English with an Introduction by Zia Inayat Khan as "The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism". His magnum opus, as yet untranslated, is the four volume "En Islam Iranien: Aspects spirituels et philosophiques" [Corbin, Henry (1978) "En Islam Iranien: Aspects spirituels et philosophiques" Gallimard, Paris, [http://worldcat.org/oclc/6776221 OCLC 6776221] ] . His life was spent teaching, writing, lecturing, and editing critical editions of Persian and Arabic manuscripts. His published work includes over 200 critical editions, translations, books and articles. He presented his last paper in June 1978, entitled “Eyes of Flesh, Eyes of Fire: the Science of Gnosis.” He died on October 7 of that year, in the same city he was born, at the age of 75.

Main themes

Though an exhaustive list would be difficult to produce, there are several main themes which together form the core of the spirituality that Corbin defends. The Imagination plays a crucial role in the human and divine orders. It is the primary means by which we engage with Creation and provides the link “without which the worlds are put out of joint.” Prayer is the supreme form of the creative imagination, and as such is the ultimate exercise of human freedom. Opposing the imagination is rigid literalism in its myriad forms. Corbin presents a vehement triple critique of idolatry, dogma and the institutionalization of religion, coupled with a radical assessment of the doctrine of the Incarnation. He considered himself a Protestant Christian but he abandoned a Christocentric view of history. The grand sweep of his theology of the Holy Spirit embraces Judaism, Christianity and Islam as manifestations of a single coherent story of the ongoing relationship between the individual and God. He pleaded for recognition of the over-arching unity of the religions of Abraham. He was a passionate defender of the central role of the individual as the finite image of the Unique Divine. It is the bond between the human soul and the face of the Heavenly Twin, the Angel Holy Spirit, who appears uniquely to each of us, which is the ethical bond par excellence. This mystical spirituality depends upon the capacity of the human soul to travel a path towards the Angel, and towards perfection. The status of Person is not simply bestowed upon us at birth – it is a goal to be achieved. The true journey of our lives is measured on a vertical scale. Our progress on this path is gauged by our capacity for love and, linked to this, our ability to perceive beauty. His mysticism is no world-denying asceticism but regards all of Creation as a theophany of the divine. Beauty is the supreme theophany, and human love for a being of beauty is not a hindrance to our union with the Divine, but a threshold to Divine Passion. This vision has much in common with what has become known as Creation Spirituality, and the figure of the Angel Holy Spirit is similar to what is sometimes called the Cosmic Christ. Some who desire a future for the prophetic tradition which transcends mutual suspicion, hatred and violence postulate one in which Corbin’s work can play an important role.

An example of Corbin's lucid articulation of metaphysical concepts, which is not unrelated to his own spiritual hermeneutics, is finely demonstrated in his "Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi". Despite the fact that much of the information- both historical and doctrinal- presented in this book has been corrected and updated in more recent Ibn Arabi scholarship- particularly the works of William Chittick, Michel Chodkiewicz, Claude Addas, James Morris, and Gerald Elmore- Corbin's elucidations of such concepts as the metaphysics of the heart and the function of imagination are phenomenal. In a chapter entitled "Theophanic Imagination and Creativity of the Heart", Corbin makes a sharp distinction between two functions of imagination. On the one hand, it deals specifically with "theogony", that is, the Divinization of the Cosmos through the Divine Names. Corbin distinguishes theogony from creatio ex nihilo, which understands the cosmogonic process as beginning in one point in time, and which insists on maintaining some type of a ‘distance’ between the Principle and Its creation. Corbin uses the phase "theogony of the cosmos" to refers specifically to cosmology, but that type of cosmology which takes place within the Primordial Cloud (the linguistic place where words become articulated or ‘existentiated’), in which the Principle and Its manifestation are not separate from one another, except from the standpoint of the manifestations’ multiple levels of being as descents from their Principle. Since reason can only understand creatio ex nihilo, imagination is required in order to understand the cosmos as theophany. The other function of imagination which Corbin identifies is its purely spiritual/psychological role as “an imaginative potency in man”.

The purely psychological functions of the imagination also play a ‘creative’ role in that the imaginal faculty allows for certain modes of ‘creation’ to come about. How this takes places is related to the fundamental distinction between the two types of imagination (to be distinguished from the two functions of imagination mentioned above) articulated by Ibn Arabi: "conjoined imagination" (al-khayal al-muttasil) and dissociable or, as Corbin suggests, autonomous imagination (al-khayal al-munfasil). The former denotes the existence of an imagination connected to the imagining subject, whereas the latter denotes an imagination which is entirely separate from the subject, subsisting in its own right in the World of Images or the Imaginal World (‘alam al-mithal). It is the autonomous imagination that allows the emergence of the images which present themselves to the "conjoined imagination". The way in which imagination is ‘creative’ is intimately related to an understanding of these two types of imagination. When an image from the World of Images presents itself to the subject, its (re)presentation takes place in the imagining subject’s imaginal faculty (Phenomenological reality), thus allowing for the significance of the image proceeding from the World of Images to emerge, that is, the significance that that image holds for the imagining subject. The (re)presentation of the image depends entirely on two concepts, that of the heart (qalb)- which Corbin astutely refers to as the ‘organ of mystic physiology’- and that of spiritual will (himma), or, perhaps more accurately in this context (Corbin does not translate the term), ‘creative imaginal potency’.

But it is important to keep in mind that when the Image from the World of Images represents itself to the imagining subject, it reflects in his ‘heart’ which itself functions like a mirror. The mirror of the heart reflects that Image which is cast upon it, thus producing a purely imaginal representation of the Image’s true ‘mode’ of being. Objects in mirrors are both real and unreal. They are real because they convey to us, rather accurately, the reality of that image which is reflected in it, yet they are also unreal in that the image is, actually, not ‘there’, and is, in fact, non-existent. Images in mirrors are, therefore, at once existent and non-existent, which is precisely the way Ibn Arabi envisions the ‘situation’ of the cosmos. When the Image from the World of Images reflects into the heart of the mystic, it is the mystic’s imaginal faculty, his Active Imagination as governed by his himma, which can then ‘create’ that image into a ‘representation’ or ‘apparition’ of the Image itself, thus reproducing the Image in a purely ‘imaginal’ way which stands ‘outside’ of the imagining subject. It is with this important concept in mind that the notion of ‘theophanic prayer’ may be understood, and which Corbin discusses in detail in the following chapter. Theophanic prayer refers to a method in which God reveals Himself to the mystic in the mystic’s ‘act’ of prayer, or, rather, how the mystic ‘creates’ an Image of God for himself in prayer. The formless form of God is made manifest to the mystic by virtue of his himma, thus producing an Image of the Divinity to whose qiblah he has turned his attention. But it is through the Image of the Divine produced in the heart of the mystic that this can, in fact, take place. God at this point is reminiscent of the vaporware of a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is actually God who reveals Himself to Himself in the act of prayer, but it is to the degree of the purity of the mystic’s heart (read ‘spiritual consciousness’), that he will have a vision of God’s Image and, by the same token, that God will have a vision of Himself, His own Image. Thus prayer is a purely ‘creative’ act for the Gnostic because it allows him to recast the Image of the Divine presented to his heart by virtue of the creative power of his himma. This imaginal power creates a mode of presence of the Divine which simply would be unperceivable without recourse to imagination. It should also be noted that Corbin looks at how the notion of creative imagination plays itself out in several key events related in the Qur’an and hadith. For example, the Qur’an mentions one of Prophet Solomon’s companions (someone who had “Knowledge of the Book”) who was able to reproduce, in an instant, the throne of the Queen of Sheba. What happened was “that the “transfer” of the throne took place on the plane of Imaginative Presence…”. This example finely illustrates the importance of the power of imagination in producing images instantaneously, but which can only take place on the plane of Imagination itself, the possibility of which is entirely determined by one’s himma.

Legacy and influence

Corbin’s work has been criticized by a number of writers for a variety of reasons. Critical assessments have been articulated by Algar, Adams, Chittick, Walbridge & Ziai (in Suhrawardi, 1999), and Wasserstrom. The main charges are as follows: His scholarly objectivity has been questioned on the basis of both a Shi’ite bias, and his theological agenda; he has been accused of being both ahistorically naive and dangerously politically reactionary; and he has been charged with being both an Iranian nationalist and an elitist in both his politics and his spirituality. Forceful rejoinders to the more damning of these critiques by Lory and Subtelny have been particularly lucid.

Corbin's ideas continue to have an impact though the work of colleagues, students and many others influenced by his work. Though this list is far from complete, these include the following prolific Western scholars of Sufism and Islamic thought: Seyyed Hossein Nasr, William Chittick, Christian Jambet, Ali Amir-Moezzi, Hermann Landolt, Pierre Lory, James Morris, and Todd Lawson. In England his influence has been felt in the work of Kathleen Raine, Phillip Sherrard and other members of the Temenos Academy. Corbin was an important source for the archetypal psychology of James Hillman and others who have developed the psychology of Carl Jung. The American literary critic Harold Bloom claims Corbin as a significant influence on his own conception of Gnosticism, and the American poet Charles Olson was a student of Corbin’s great book on Ibn Arabi. Corbin’s friends and colleagues in France have established a society for the dissemination of his work through meetings and colloquia, and the publication of his posthumous writings. The organization is L’Association des Amis de Henry et Stella Corbin and they maintain a very useful and interesting website. [ [http://www.amiscorbin.com Amis Corbin] ("trans." Friends of Corbin) in French]

Corbin, Henry (1993 (original French 1964)). , Translated by Liadain Sherrard, Philip Sherrard. London; Kegan Paul International in association with Islamic Publications for The Institute of Ismaili Studies. ISBN 0710304161.

elected bibliography

* "Avicenna and the Visionary Recital". Princeton University Press, 1960.
* "Histoire de la philosophie Islamique". Gallimard, 1964. (Re-issued by Kegan Paul in 1993 as "History of Islamic Philosophy".)
* "Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi". Princeton University Press, 1969. (Re-issued in 1998 as "Alone with the Alone".)
* "En Islam Iranien: Aspects spirituels et philosophiques" (4 vols.). Gallimard, 1971-3.
* "Spiritual Body & Celestial Earth: From Mazdean Iran to Shi'ite Iran". Princeton University Press, 1977.
* "Le Paradoxe du Monothèisme". Ed. de l'Herne (Le Livre de Poche), 1981.
* "Cyclical Time & Ismaili Gnosis". KPI, 1983.
* "L'Homme et Son Ange: Initiation et Chevalerie Spirituelle". Fayard, 1983.
* "Face de Dieu, Face de l'homme: Hermeneutique et soufisme". Flammarion, 1983.
* "Temple and Contemplation". KPI, 1986.
* "The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism". Omega Publications, 1994.
* "Swedenborg and Esoteric Islam". Swedenborg Foundation, 1995.

See also

*Sufi studies



*cite book|last=Wasserstrom|first=Steven M. |authorlink=|coauthors=|title=Religion After Religion: Gershom Scholem, Mircea Eliade, and Henry Corbin at Eranos|publisher=Princeton University Press |year=1999|isbn=0691005400

Further reading

* Adams, Charles J. “The Hermeneutics of Henry Corbin,” in "Approaches to Islam in Religious Studies", Martin, Ed., University of Arizona Press, 1985.
* Addas, Claude. "Quest for the Red Sulphur: The Life of Ibn 'Arabi". Trans. Peter Kingsley. Islamic Texts Society, 1993.
* Algar, Hamid. “The Study of Islam: The Work of Henry Corbin.” Religious Studies Review 6(2) 1980: 85-91.
* Avens, Roberts. "The Subtle Realm: Corbin, Sufism and Swedenborg," in "Immanuel Swedenborg: A Continuing Vision", Edited by Robin Larson. Swedenborg Foundation, 1988.
* Amir-Moezzi, M., Christian Jambet et Pierre Lory, (Editors). "Henry Corbin: Philosophies et Sagesses des Religions du Livre". Brepols, 2005.
* Bamford, Christopher. “Esotericism Today: The Example of Henry Corbin,” in Henry Corbin, "The Voyage and the Messenger: Iran and Philosophy". North Atlantic Books, 1998.
* Bloom, Harold. "Omens of Millennium: The Gnosis of Angels, Dreams and Resurrection". Riverhead Books, 1996.
* Brown, Norman O., "The Prophetic Tradition," and "The Apocalypse of Islam," in "Apocalypse &/or Metamorphosis". University of California Press, 1991.
* Cheetham, Tom. "The World Turned Inside Out: Henry Corbin and Islamic Mysticism." Spring Journal Books, 2003.
* _____ "Green Man, Earth Angel: The Prophetic Tradition and the Battle for the Soul of the World". SUNY Press, 2005.
* _____ "After Prophecy: Imagination, Incarnation and the Unity of the Prophetic Tradition. Lectures for the Temenos Academy". Spring Journal Books, 2007.
* Chittick, William. "The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn 'Arabi's Metaphysics of the Imagination". SUNY Press, 1989.
* Chodkiewicz, Michel. "An Ocean without Shore: Ibn 'Arabi, the Book and the Law". Trans. David Streight. Islamic Texts Society, 1993.
* ______ "Seal of the Saints: Prophethood and Sainthood in the Doctrine of Ibn 'Arabi". Trans. Liadain Sherrard. Islamic Texts Society, 1993.
* Elmore, Gerald. "Islamic Sainthood in the Fullness of Time: Ibn al-'Arabi's Book of the Fabulous Gryphon". Brill, 1998.
* Jambet, Christian, (Editor). "Henry Corbin". Cahier de l'Herne, no. 39. Consacré à Henry Corbin, 1981.
* _____ "La logique des Orientaux: Henry Corbin et la science des formes". Éditions du Seuil, 1983.
* Giuliano, Glauco. "Il Pellegrinaggio in Oriente di Henry Corbin. Con una scelta di testi". Lavis (Trento-Italia), La Finestra editrice, 2003.
* Giuliano, Glauco. "Nîtârtha. Saggi per un pensiero eurasiatico". Lavis (Trento-Italia), La Finestra editrice, 2004.
* Landolt, Hermann. "Henry Corbin, 1903-1978: Between Philosophy and Orientalism,” "Journal of the American Oriental Society", 119(3): 484-490, 1999.
* Lory, Pierre. Review of Wasserstrom, 1999, at http://www.amiscorbin.com.
* Morris, James. "The Reflective Heart: Discovering Spiritual Intelligence in Ibn 'Arabi's Meccan Illuminations". Fons Vitae, 2005.
* Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. "Henry Corbin: The Life and Works of the Occidental Exile in Quest of the Orient of Light," Ch. 17, in S.H. Nasr, "Traditional Islam in the Modern World". KPI, 1987.
* Shayegan, Daryush. "Henry Corbin: La topographie spirituelle de l'Islam Iranien". Ed. de la Difference, 1990.
* Subtelny, Maria E. “History and Religion: The Fallacy of Metaphysical Questions (A Review Article).” "Iranian Studies": March 2003, 36(1): 91-101.
* Suhrawardi, Yahyá ibn Habash. "The philosophy of illumination: A new critical edition of the text of Hikmat al-Ishraq". with English translation, notes, commentary, and introduction by John Walbridge & Hossein Ziai. Brigham Young University Press, 1999.

External links

Official website

* [http://www.amiscorbin.com/textes/anglais/anglaistextes.htm Association des Amis de Henry et Stella Corbin (French/English)]


* [http://www.bookrags.com/research/corbin-henry-eorl-03/ Corbin, Henry] an article by Encyclopedia of Religion
* [http://www.bookrags.com/research/corbin-henry-19031978-eoph/ Corbin, Henry(1903–1978)] an article by Encyclopedia of philosophy
* [http://www.amiscorbin.com/textes/anglais/2007%20From%20Heid.CorbinIntro.pdf From ‘Heidegger to Suhrawardi’: An Introduction to the thought of Henry Corbin]
* [http://www.henrycorbinproject.blogspot.com/ The Legacy of Henry Corbin]
* [http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/brill/mtsr/2005/00000017/00000003/art00002?token=005d11080266d6546592f653b672c57582a72612d58464340595c5f3b3b476728485534627b554a452a38302afe5a Between Heidegger and the Hidden Imam: Reflections on Henry Corbin's approaches to mystical Islam ]
* [http://www.tippe.dk/Imaginal%20World.htm Imaginal World, introducing true creativity]
* [http://www.hermetic.com/bey/mundus_imaginalis.htm Mundus Imaginalis, the Imaginary and the Imaginal] by Henri Corbin

NAME = Corbin, Henry
SHORT DESCRIPTION = French philosopher and orientalist
DATE OF BIRTH = April 14, 1903
PLACE OF BIRTH = Paris, France
DATE OF DEATH = October 7, 1978
PLACE OF DEATH = Paris, France

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