Friday, November 7, 2008

Re-Imagining the Prophetic Tradition

After Prophecy: Imagination, Incarnation and the Unity of the Prophetic Tradition - Lectures for the Temenos Academy

Cover Photo by Jim Yasuda

The third volume in a quintet of works which explore the implications of the spiritual vision of Henry Corbin (1903-1978). Corbin was one of the 20th century’s premier scholars of Islamic mysticism. He was a colleague of C. G. Jung and a major figure at the Eranos Conferences. He introduced the concept of the mundus imaginalis into contemporary thought and his work has provided much of the intellectual foundation for archetypal psychology as developed by James Hillman. But Corbin’s underlying theological and philosophical project was to provide a framework for understanding the unity of the religions of the monotheistic tradition: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. His profound grasp of the phenomenology of the religious imagination and his uniquely ecumenical approach make his work essential reading in a complex and pluralistic age.

Tom Cheetham addresses us lucidly and accessibly, in a prose often kindled into lyricism by his dedication to his subject. His enthusiasm is infectious, the range of his knowledge daunting, the depth of his commitment an inspiration. The book is full of wisdom. In a field whose exoticism and difficulty could easily tempt one to play the mystagogue, Cheetham’s sincerity and humility are disarmingly evident. This is an important and very valuable book, the culmination of an important and very valuable trilogy. It sheds precious light on the profoundest levels of what it means to be human – of what it means to be. It holds open a door which, for some at least among Cheetham’s readers, may bring them face to face at last with their true nature. -
John Carey, Editor, Temenos Academy Review, Author of A Single Ray of the Sun and Ireland and the Grail - full Review in Temenos Academy Review 11 - 2008. Read the full review here.

Based on the author's profound insight into the works of Henry Corbin, After Prophecy explores the creative role of the imagination in the formative ground of Western religious traditions. - Sophia: The Journal of Traditional Studies

Cheetham's passionate engagement with Corbin's thought transforms his "research" into something more than scholarship. In approaching some rather abstruse and easily ridiculed religious traditions with rigour and a critical eye, he brings them alive for the post-psychological West… In our present world, with obscene indulgence and famine competing for headlines, Cheetham's accessible and thoroughly intelligent exposition of traditions of mysticism, poetry and gnosis that try to attack the roots of these horrors couldn't be more welcome… His skilful analysis works just fine as a tool for the deeper appreciation of some of the stranger treasures of human culture. But running throughout this valuable book is something immensely courageous, and perpetually relevant: "a quest to be open to the world without fear of violation". - The Dreamflesh Library. Read the Full Review.

Henry Corbin was one of the most profound and original thinkers of the 20th century and without any doubt at all one of the most undersung — if not utterly misunderstood and spurned —scholars of our age. There are reasons for this: He chose to express his compelling and sometimes daunting meditations and ideas through the medium of the history and contents of esoteric Islamic thought. This book by Tom Cheetham will be celebrated by all who have known this but somehow felt powerless to change the situation. His clear, lucid, profound reading of Corbin, his patient, knowing and sincerely humble voice, will serve to commend and demystify the timeless and urgent message found in his subject. We must all be grateful to him for his labor for it has produced marvelously accessible and true statements touching the essence of Corbin's work such as: "Secretly the world is already a burning bush, but the quest is to see it that way, and to act as if you saw it that way." In the context of this beautifully written and deeply illumined study, such language never sounds facile, glib or clever. Rather it helps us see and act. One is tempted to say that anyone interested in anything must read this book. And I think I will. - Todd Lawson, University of Toronto, Author of Reason and Inspiration in Islam

Cheetham’s passion for the material carries the reader into an ever-deepening appreciation of the huge importance of Henry Corbin for the re-valuation of vision and imagination. Arabic and Persian parallels and arguments with Western thinkers including Levinas, Illich and Jung are set forth clearly and fairly. It seems to me a faultless book. – James Hillman

This book is a clear and profound contribution to any deep reflection on the sacred nature of creation. I have been humbled by Cheetham’s passion and deep commitment to his subject, a subject that is for him not one of mere intellectual curiosity, but a way, a path to be lived, suffered and fully encountered. For anyone practicing in the therapeutic professions it is an essential meditation on the whole purpose and direction of the cure of souls. - Sir Nicholas Pearson, Chairman, The Temenos Academy

Tom Cheetham has written a powerful book. With great talent, he shows how Henry Corbin's deep spirituality has the power to eliminate our "spiritual neediness," because it gives us what we are truly looking for: a non-literal god, a god that does not even ask to be called "God" (or "Goddess"), one that is the World, not beyond it. Cheetham's book should be required reading for all believers. He provides an alternative to the neurotic God complex that is tearing humanity apart. This book is much needed, offering a balm to wounds of the collective psyche. As an atheist who feels the divine beauty of this world, I can only applaud this reading of Corbin, who replaces belief in God with a profound capacity to perceive the harmony of the sensate world. - Ginette Paris, Pacifica Graduate Institute, Author of Wisdom of the Psyche

This is a work that deepens our appreciation of Corbin and his passion for the natural world. The author enhances Corbin's poetic analysis with his own aesthetic narrative, creating a synthesis that embodies the very ideals he seeks to interpret. With a deepening gaze, the author explores the creative role of the imagination in the formative ground of western religious traditions. According to Corbin, engaging the soul of the world through the mediating power of the the Imaginal, is an act of love. The author explores this theme fully through his analysis of mystical poverty, contemplative knowledge, the luminosity of the earth, the theophanic vision, the Christ angel, the divine sensorium, alchemical transformation, the spiritual humanism of Ivan Illich, western iconoclasm, and the centrality of gnosis, all in the service of individual awakening to spiritual responsibility. The author offers a visionary alternative to the confusions of contemporary life while also celebrating the creative capacity of soul to engage the world with hope. Highly recommended. – Lee Irwin, Chair, Department of Religious Studies, College of Charleston, Author of Awakening to Spirit

John Carey's wonderful review of After Prophecy in The Temenos Academy Review (Volume 11) is now available as a Google Document here.

The Corbin Trilogy
By Tom Cheetham

Reviewed by M. Ali Lakhani
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Distributed in Europe by Daimon Publishers.

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