• History of Islamic Philosophy

    tr. Philip Sherrard. London: Kegan Paul International in association with Islamic Publications Ltd., 1993. pp. xviii, 445.

    ISBN HardBack:
    0 7103 0416 1
  • Henry Corbin’s History of Islamic Philosophy was originally published in 1964 and (for Part II, ‘From Averroes to The Present Day’) in 1974. This elegant translation by Liadain and Philip Sherrard was published in 1993, with an enlarged and partially updated bibliography, especially of translations and sources available in English. However, despite the appearance of many editions, studies and translations in most areas of Islamic thought in the intervening years, the ongoing attraction and special interest of this volume continues to lie in those special features that set it apart when it first appeared: namely, the remarkable breadth of Prof. Corbin’s interest in many previously neglected areas of Islamic thought which had not directly influenced mediaeval Western philosophy, and his special personal affinity for the thinkers and issues of Shi‘i Islam, both in the Twelver and Ismaili traditions.

    His history begins with two key sections – on ‘The Sources of Philosophical Meditation in Islam’ (focusing on ‘Spiritual Exegesis of the Qur’aninfo-icon’) and ‘Shi‘isminfo-icon and Prophetic Philosophy’ – which are valuable philosophic essays in their own right. These opening sections vividly reflect Professor Corbin’s sympathy for the issues and perspectives of the earliest Shi‘i thinkers and sources, works which he taught and edited in his courses and discussed in seminal Eranos essays that went on to influence well–known poets and psychologists as well as Islamic scholars. Several of those more detailed studies on early Shi‘i and Ismaili thought are studied in more detail in his volume on Cyclical Time and Ismaili Gnosis (English translation also published by Islamic Publications, London, 1983). And while his focus on specifically Islamic sources, themes and problems in many of these thinkers may seem natural, even obvious (not to mention ‘politically correct’) today, his emphases were a radical and often controversial departure when they first appeared.

    Corbin’s studies of early Shi‘ism, which were elaborated in constant dialogue with such famous, erudite and seminal scholarly friends (and frequent Eranos speakers) as Mircea Eliade, Gershom Scholem and S. Pines, also reflect a profound acquaintance with both classical Hellenistic sources (gnostic, Christian and Jewish) and with cognate, ‘parallel’ religious traditions from other parts of the world. Thus these opening chapters should continue to be of special interest to two groups of scholars – students of ‘gnostic’ currents in the religious thought of late Antiquity (whether in Christian, Jewish, Manichaean or other settings), and students of comparative religions, especially Hindu and Buddhist. The narrow ‘orthodoxies’ of contemporary Wahhabi/Salafi thought, so often identified with Islam in the popular, journalistic consciousness, form a radical contrast to the deep and far–reaching speculations of these very early and quite ‘authentic’ Muslim thinkers, whose perspectives are reflected in some of Corbin's chapter headings here: prophetology, Imamology, gnosiology, hierohistory and metahistory, cyclical time and eschatology. Contemporary students of the many schools of Buddhist thought, in particular, will find close parallels to central issues in virtually every domain of spiritual and metaphysical reflection.

    Another key element in this history is the important chapter on Suhrawardi and his Ishraqi school of ‘illuminationist’ thought, which summarises, in terms accessible to the general, unspecialised audience, the distinctive ideas and insights of this tragic figure – whose life and teachings eerily parallel the later Renaissance martyr, Giordano Bruno – whose writings were the focus of Professor Corbin’s most sustained scholarly editions and translations. It was the decisive encounter with Suhrawardi, beginning in the late 1930s, that eventually sent Corbin toward Iran and that ‘renaissance’ (or at least Western discovery) of traditional Iranian Islamic thought for which he was to be so largely responsible. This chapter continues to be a useful starting–point for approaching the increasing number of translations of Suhrawardi’s writings, both his philosophic treatises and his ‘initiatic tales,’ which Corbin himself so dramatically translated into French – again so typically interesting and influencing artists, poets and filmmakers as well as academics.

    The notion of ‘philosophy’ (or we might say today, of ‘Islamic thought’) underlying Corbin’s project was broad enough to include groups as disparate as the seminal Sufi mystics and the kalâm writings of Ghazali and others, and his chapters on these two vast groups – which are now the study of extensive introductory and survey discussions in their own right – do provide indispensable background for the problematic ‘blending’ of these different approaches that is so typical among all the later Islamic writers discussed in Part II of this volume (see below). The particular emphasis in Corbin’s summary treatment here, as we might expect, was on those particular figures – such as Bastami, Hallaj and Ahmad Ghazali – who were best known and most influential in the Iranian cultural sphere and among later Islamic thinkers of that region.

    The remaining chapters in Part I deal with those particular schools of thought, more closely derived from Hellenistic models and direct translations of Greek texts and commentary traditions, which had previously been identified with ‘Islamic philosophy’ in the West i.e., ‘Philosophy and the Natural Sciences,’ ‘the Hellenizing Philosophers,’ and a separate chapter on the philosophers of Andalusia (which also includes Ibn Masarra, an unfairly neglected precursor of the great mystic Ibn ‘Arabi). Here again, especially in his inclusion of figures like Jâbir ibn Hayyân and the wider traditions of alchemy and the ‘esoteric sciences,’ Corbin – no doubt under the influence of his friends Paul Kraus and M. Eliade – was one of the first to introduce wider, non–specialist audiences to neglected and challenging, but vigorous aspects of early and classical Islamic thought (reflected since then in the vast bio–bibliographical compendia of F. Sezgin and his colleagues) which still cry out for creative comparative study.

    Part II of Corbin’s book, focusing on later Muslim thinkers (‘from the death of Averroes’) reflects vast (and still living) traditions of Islamic thought, which for the most part, were unknown in the West before he began studying (and publishing numerous critical editions and anthologies) in Iran in the late 1940s. (The intellectual traditions in question were, for the most part, active and creative for several centuries throughout the Subcontinent and the Ottoman realms as well, and their active survival in Iran reflects the accidents of the colonial era more than any intrinsic separation of Sunni and Shi‘i settings.) This section, originally prepared for the famous Pléiade encyclopedia (1974), is a highly condensed survey that – because of its essentially bio–bibliographic focus – remains an essential reference work (for those limited to English) in locating and situating many of the less familiar philosophers and theologians of these later centuries. The basic subdivisions (by Sunni, Shi‘i, and Sufi thinkers) were apparently adopted for convenience, but the actual schools of Islamic thought treated here cover the same vast, heterogeneous spectrum as in the first half of the volume: theologians, rationalist philosophers (including Ibn Khaldun), Sufi poets, saints and thinkers (including brief notices on such major figures as Ibn al–‘Arabi and Jalal al–Dininfo-icon Rumi), Ishraqis, and Shi‘i philosophers from Mullainfo-icon Sadra down to Sabzavari. Although recent decades have brought new studies, editions and translations of some of these figures – many of them by students and younger colleagues formed and encouraged by him to varying degrees – it is a measure of Professor Corbin’s amazing breadth, enthusiasm and creative energy that in the majority of these cases he is actually summarizing his own pioneering studies, translations, editions and anthologies which often remain classic, even indispensable works on the figures in question.

    Henry Corbin was a thinker and a poet (and in his personal life, a musician) as well as a scholar and historian. His writings, more generally and in whatever field he explored, continue to stand out from most scholarly works above all for their inspirational quality, their intuitive (if sometimes creative!) insights, their often contagious sympathy for the thinkers in question, their breadth of comparative vision and their ability to communicate the lasting, even universal human passions and meanings behind highly unfamiliar words and symbols. His History of Islamic Philosophy is a worthy and lastingly useful introduction to his contributions in so many fertile fields of Islamic thought.

  • Transcription
    Part One: From the Beginning Down to the Death of Averroës (595/1198)
      The Sources of Philosophical Meditation in Islam
        Spiritual exegesis of the Quran
        The translations
      Shiism and Prophetic Philosophy
        Preliminary Observations
        Twelver Shiism
          Periods and sources
          Hierohistory and metahistory
          The hidden Imaminfo-icon and eschatology
        Periods and sources: proto–Ismailism
        Fatimid Ismailism
          The dialetic of the tawhidinfo-icon
          The drama in Heaven and the birth of Time
          Cyclical Time: hierohistory and hierarchies
          Imamology and eschatology
        The reformed Ismailism of Alamutinfo-icon
          Periods and sources
          The concept of the Imam
          Imamology and the philosophy of resurrection
          Ismailism and Sufisminfo-icon
      The Sunni Kalaminfo-icon
        The Mu‘tazilites
        The origins
        The doctrine
      Abu al–Hasan al–Ash‘ari
        The life and works of al–Ash‘ari
        The doctrine of al–Ash‘ari
        The vicissitudes of the Ash‘arite School
        Reason and faith
      Philosophy and the Natural Sciences
        Jabir ibn Hayyan and alchemy
        The encyclopaedia of the Ikhwan al–Safa’
        Rhazes (al–Razi), physician and philosopher
        The philosophy of language
        Ibn al–Haytham
        Shahmardan al–Razi
      The Hellenistic Philosophers
        Al–Kindi and his pupils
        Abu al–Hasan al–‘Amiri
        Avicenna and Avicennism
        Ibn Maskuyah, Ibn Fatik, Ibn Hindu
        Abu al–Barakat al–Baghdadi
        Abu Hamid al–Ghazali and the critique of philosophy
        Preliminary remarks
        Abu Yazid al–Bastami
        Al–Hakim al–Tirmidhi
        Ahmad al–Ghazali and ‘pure love’
      Al–Suhrawardi and the Philosophy of Light
        The restoration of the wisdom of ancient Persia
        The Orient of the Lights (Ishraq
        The hierarchy of the universes
        The occidental exile
        The Ishraqiyun
      In Andalusia
        Ibn Masarrah and the school of Almeria
        Ibn Hazm of Cordoba
        Ibn Bajjah (Avempace) of Saragossa
        Ibn al–Sid of Badajoz
        Ibn Tufayl of Cadiz
        Averroës and Averroism
    Part Two: From the Death of Averroës to the Present Day
      General Survey
      Sunni Thought
        The Philosophers
          Ibn Sab‘in
          Al–Katibi al–Qazwini
          Rashid al–Dininfo-icon Fadl–Allah
          Qutbinfo-icon al–Din al–Razi
        The Theologians of the kalam
          Fakhr al–Din al–Razi
        The Adversaries of the Philosophers
          Ibn Taymiyah and his followers
        The Encyclopaedists
          Zakariya al–Qazwini
          Shams al–Din Muhammad al–Amuli
          Ibn Khaldun
      The Metaphysics of Sufism
        Ruzbihan Baqli al–Shirazi
        ‘Attar of Nishapur
        ‘Umar al–Suhrawardi
        Ibn al–‘Arabi and his school
        Najm al–Din al–Kubra and his school
        ‘Ali al–Hamadhani
        Jalal al–Din Rumi and the Mawlawis
        Mahmud al–Shabistari and Shams al–Din al–Lahiji
        ‘Abd al–Karim al–Jili
        Ni‘mat Allah Waliinfo-icon al–Kirmani
        Hurufisinfo-icon and Bektashis
        Husayn Kashifi
        ‘Abd al–Ghani al–Nablusi
        Jalal al–Din Rumi and the Mawlawis
        Nurinfo-icon ‘Ali–Shah and the Sufi Renewal at the end of the eighteenth century
        The Dhahabis
      Shiiteinfo-icon Thought
        Nasir al–Din Tusi and the Shiite kalam
        The Ismailis
        The Ishraqi current
        Shiism and alchemy: al–Jaldaki
        The integration of Ibn al–‘Arabi to Shiite metaphysics
        Sadr al–Din Dashtaki and the school of Shiraz
        Mir Damad and the school of Isfahan
        Mir Findiriski and his pupils
        Mullainfo-icon Sadra Shirazi and his pupils
        Rajab ‘Ali Tabrizi and his pupils
        Qadiinfo-icon Sa‘id Qummi
        From the school of Isfahan to the school of Tehran
        Shaykhinfo-icon Ahmad Ahsa’i and the Shaykhi school of Kirmaninfo-icon
        Ja‘far Kashfi
        The schools of Khurasaninfo-icon
          Hadi Sabzavari and the school of Sabzavar
          The school of Mashhad
    Elements of a Bibliography
    List of Abbreviations
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