• 24 Oct 2024
  • Aga Khan Centre and Online
  • Talks and Lectures

The Concept of Sympathy in Greek Heritage

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This event will begin promptly at 17.00 BST

The term “Sympathy” is derived from the Greek συμπάθεια (pronounced as sympátheia), the state of feeling together (derived from the composite of fellow/together [συν pronounced as syn] and feeling/passion [πάθος pronounced as páthos]). In contemporary times it is used as a form of affective subjectivity exemplified by the “I feel with you” formula.

This talk aims to shed some light on how the notion of “sympathy” has been used across time and by different intellectual/religious traditions. In particular, Dr De Cillis will look at the Stoic and Neoplatonic notion of sympátheia highlighting how, in the late classical and early Hellenistic period, it was employed to make sense of the natural world across a plethora of disciplines. Within Islamic traditions, the notion was adapted, inter alia, in the intellectual systems of Abū Maʿshar (d. 886) and al-Kindī (d. 873). Within Ismaili traditions “sympathy” was employed by Fatimid scholars such as Ḥamīd al-Dīn al-Kirmānī (d. c. 1021), who integrated it into the concept of “The Balance of Religion” (mīzān al-diyāna).

Identified as the main force operating throughout the cosmos and applied as a doctrine in Renaissance alchemy, magic and medicine, “sympathy” features in the writings of many Italian Renaissance thinkers such as Pico della Mirandola (d. 1494) and Gian Battista della Porta (d. 1615).

Hosted by the Institute of Ismaili Studies (London) and convened by Dr Orkhan Mir-Kasimov, the Islamic History and Thought Lecture Series is designed to invite scholars of various international academic institutions, specialising in intellectual, social and political aspects of medieval and early modern Islamic societies, to present and discuss their research. Watch previous lectures on our YouTube channel.


Dr Maria De Cillis

Dr Maria De Cillis is an Associate Professor and Head of the Shiʿi Studies Unit (Interim) in the Department of Academic Research and Publications at the IIS, where she is also the Managing Editor of the Shiʿi Heritage Series. Dr De Cillis obtained her bachelor’s degree (with honours) from the Faculty of Languages and Literatures in the Department of Arabic and English Studies at the Universita' degli Studi di Napoli “L’Orientale”, Naples, Italy. She completed her Master’s in Islamic Studies (with distinction) and was awarded her PhD in Islamic Studies from the Near and Middle East Section, Faculty of Languages and Cultures, SOAS University of London.


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Dr Toby Mayer

Dr Toby Mayer is a Research Associate in the Qur’anic Studies Unit at The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London. After completing his undergraduate degree in Indian Studies at the University of Cambridge, he went on to study Medieval Arabic thought at the University of Oxford, where he wrote his doctoral thesis on the Book of Allusions (Isharat) by the major Persian philosopher Ibn Sina. 


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Cover image: Ḥamīd al-Dīn al-Kirmānī’s Rahat al-ʿaql f. 130a. Provided by Russell Harris and the Ismaili Special Collections Unit. Ms 1454

Please note filming and photography may take place during the lecture for educational and promotional purposes.

Views expressed in this lecture are those of the presenting scholars, not necessarily those of IIS, the Ismaili community or its leadership. Promotion of this lecture is not an explicit endorsement of the ideas presented.