Cyclical Time and Ismaili Gnosis comprises three of Henry Corbin’s (1903–1978) lectures on fundamental themes of classical Ismaili thought. The Ismaili tradition, a branch of Shiʿi Islam, derives its identity from a unique conception of Prophethood and the Imamate, seen as manifestations on Earth of ‘events in Heaven’.

Thus, the notion of cyclical time in Ismaili hiero-history constitutes the main focus of the first lecture. This evokes the parallel of analogous themes in certain religions of pre-Islamic Iran, as well as in an early Christianity ‘that had long returned to the paradise of the archetypes’.

In the second lecture, which is a key study of Ismaili gnosis as a whole, Professor Corbin’s penetrating analysis of its docetistic background points to the dynamics of the doctrine of the Imams. The underlying concept of divine epiphany is entirely different from a doctrine of incarnation in historical time. At any one time, the Imam can be the symbol of the self, so that ‘he who knows himself, knows his Lord’, is born spiritually and becomes part of a cosmic process of resurrection.

Against this gnostic background, the third lecture examines the possibility of concrete historical contacts between the gnostic movements of late Antiquity and early Ismailism. The author’s comparison of dominant themes in all forms of gnosticism leads to the conclusion that we are here in the presence of a ‘world religion’ (Weltreligion).