The Doctrine of the Universal Man
(al-insān al-kāmil) in Ibn ʻArabī and His Heirs
The 2021 edition of the Summer School “Studies in Sufism”, organized by the association Perennia Verba (IT), in collaboration with MIAS Latina (Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society, ES), MIAS (Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society, UK), Officina di Studi Medievali (Palermo, IT).
The 2021 edition of the Summer School “Studies in Sufism” will take place in the form of online seminars, from 26th to 31st July, and will represent a unique opportunity to listen to different scholars and discuss with them the doctrine of al-insān al-kāmil. The “Universal Man” or, as some would translate it, the “Perfect Human” is one of the fundamental and main topics of Ibn ʻArabī’s teachings, if not the main one, and one which has influenced all subsequent generations of Muslim mystics and intellectuals.
Every lecture will address a different aspect of the teaching of the Shaykh al-Akbar and his followers, from the context in which Ibn ʻArabī emerged in al-Andalus to the technical terminology he used in his works and the way it was later systematized by the following authors.
The idea of Universal (or Perfect) Man (al-insān al-kāmil) is at the core of Ibn ʻArabī’s cosmology and metaphysics, who was also the first to use it in a technical sense. The notion pervades all his works, but occurres especially in his al-Futūḥāt al-Makkiyya (The Meccan Openings) and in the Fuṣūṣ al-ḥikam (The Bezels of Wisdom), where it is rooted in the interpretation of Qur’ānic verses mentioning Man as God’s viceregent on earth.
As to his heirs, “All of Qunawi’s teachings revolve around the concept of the Perfect Man”, says William Chittick, and the same can be said of Ibn ʻArabī himself and of many other masters of the Akbarian school. Jurjānī (XV sec.) in his “Book of definitions” refers to the insān kāmil as ẓill al-ilāh, “shadow of the Divinity”. But it is with ʻAbd al-Karīm al-Jīlī that the idea of Perfect Man as the center of manifestation of the Unique Principle is developed in its full details. Al-Jīlī himself said: “No one before me has addressed this topic with such depth and no one after me will find anything new to add”.
The concept of al-Insān al-kāmil is however a universal one and can be found in the Adam Qadmon of the Jewish tradition, in the anthropos teleios of the Gnostics, in the Vedic Puruṣa, in the Iranian Gayomart, in the Old Norse Ymir, as well as in the Chih-jen of the Daoism. Philo of Alexandria often uses the expression “perfect man” (anthropos teleios), and makes him, like Ibn ‘Arabī’s al-insān al-kāmil, the perfect manifestation of the Imago Dei.
This edition of the Summer School will focus on the above-mentioned as well as on other Sufi authors who engaged with the centrality of the notion of al-insān al-kāmil under diverse points of view, including:
• Ibn ʻArabī (d. 1240)
• al-Qūnawī (d. 1274)
• al-Jīlī (d. 1424)
• al-Nābulsī (d. 1741)
• al-Tijānī (d. 1815) and later Sufi scholars
Seminars will take place on Zoom for in a single week, up to a total of twelve meetings. Each meeting will consist of a lecture (approximately one hour) and a following discussion (no actual time limit, but indicatively no more than one hour). Students will also have exclusive access to a forum where they can further develop the discourse, interacting with teachers and other participants. The forum will be open also after the end of the Summer School.
Lessons will be in English and knowledge of Arabic is desirable but not strictly required.
Seminars will take place on Zoom from 26th to 31st July 2021.
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