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Intellect and Imagination in Islamic Philosophy


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to:

  • BA students in Philosophy: Global and Comparative Philosophy, who have successfully completed their first year, and also completed at least 10 EC’s of the mandatory components of their second year, including Language of Thought, and Concepts of Selfhood.

  • BA students in Filosofie, who have successfully completed their first year, and also completed at least 10 EC’s of the mandatory components of their second year, including Comparative Philosophy, and Philosophy of Mind. In addition, the course World Philosophies: Middle East, an introduction to Islamic philosophy or equivalent.

  • Pre-master’s students in Philosophy who are in possession of an admission statement, and for whom this course is part of their programme.


The twelfth century was a turning point in the history of philosophy in the Islamic world. Before it, we have the classical period, afterwards we have the post-classical period. What changed? While we will touch on a broad array of factors on how this period shifted its intellectual ambitions, our focus lies within two topics that were particularly rich in development: theories about the intellect and theories about the faculty of imagination. We are, then, speaking of epistemology, but we will notice how quickly results pour over into domains such as psychology, ontology, and cosmology. The developments we will become familiar with, through reading primary sources in translation and ample secondary literature, are highly original and unique to post-classical Islamic intellectual history. They play a part in philosophy from the Islamic ‘till this day. Three philosophers in particular will be subject of discussion: Ibn Sina (Avicenna, d. 1037), who can be seen as the founding figure of the post-classical period, Suhrawardi (d. 1191), known for his work ‘Wisdom of Illumination’, and Ibn Arabi (d. 1240), known for his ‘Bezels of Wisdom.’

Course objectives

This course aims to:

  • make students aware of significant developments in medieval Islamic philosophy.

  • introduce students to the scholarly debate around these developments.

  • highlight the difficulty of translating philosophy.

  • contextualize those developments against Greek philosophy and current day relevancy.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • which parts of epistemology medieval philosophers prioritized;

  • arguments and argumentation strategies of medieval muslim philosopher;

  • the relationship between philosophy and other, mostly religious, disciplines of learning in medieval Islam;

  • in which parts of the history of Islamic philosophy more insight is yet to be gained.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • know what to pay attention to when reading primary sources in translation;

  • place additional secondary literature in current scholarly debates;

  • evaluate and criticize the dominant narrative of decline in medieval Islamic philosophy.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Assessment method


  • Active participation (10% - satisfactory grade is a requirement for completing the course)

  • Mid-term presentation (20%)

  • End-term paper, 5,000 words (70%)


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of several subtests (see above).


The resit consists of the end-of term paper and counts as 70% of the grade. The grades for the other exam components remain in place: the resit does not cover the class presentation and active participation.

Class participation is required for taking the resit.
Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for course cannot take the resit.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

The following books can be bought:

  • Lit, L.W.C. van. The World of Image in Islamic Philosophy: Ibn Sīnā, Suhrawardī, Shahrazūrī, and Beyond. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2017.

  • Corbin, H. Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sūfism of Ibn ’Arabī. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969.

  • Chittick, W.C. The Sufi Path of Knowledge. Albany: SUNY Press, 1989.

Additional readings should be obtained as specified in the timetable on Brightspace.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. L.C.W. van Lit


Not applicable.