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Imaging Islam: Intellect and Imagination in Islamic Philosophy, Poetry, and Painting

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This essay introduces the pioneering approaches of four classical Muslim thinkers (Ghazali, Biruni, Farabi, and Ibn 'Arabi) to the understanding of Islam and of religion more broadly, together with the subsequent artistic mirroring of their perspectives in two later masterpieces of Islamic mystical poetry (a ghazal of Hafiz) and painting (an illustration of the same poem by the early Safavid artist Sultan Muhammad). The discussion begins with the ways each philosopher's distinctive emphases on the relative roles of intellect, inspiration, and imagination highlight different but complementary dimensions (social, political, ritual, intellectual, and spiritual) of religious life and experience. The concluding section then illustrates how, just as in Plato's Symposium, each of those archetypal philosophical outlooks are powerfully dramatized and memorably integrated in the most influential poetic and artistic traditions of the Islamic humanities.

Affiliations: 1: Boston College


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