Henry Corbin : biography
Henry Corbin (14 April 1903 – 7 October 1978) was a philosopher, theologian and professor of Islamic Studies at the Sorbonne in Paris, France.
Corbin was born in Paris in April 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 disproved the common view that philosophy among the Muslims came to an end after Ibn Rushd, demonstrating rather that a lively philosophical activity persisted in the eastern Muslim world – especially Iran – and continues to our own day. an article by Encyclopedia of Religion
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 through 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 Cowan (Australian author), 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 Avicenna and the Visionary Recital. 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. (trans. Friends of Corbin) in French
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.
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