The purpose of my short presentation is to initiate some reflections on certain key terms for our discussion: “imagination” (together with “mental image,” “imagining,” and “imaginary”), “imaginaire,” and “imaginal.” I do not wish to stipulate usage, but just to clarify some of the main ways in which these terms and associated concepts have already been used in scholarship pertinent to the study of religion. Three levels of analysis are prominent in my choice of terms:
- “Imagination” is primarily treated as a mental faculty, pertaining to the mental capacities of the individual, and thus a topic investigated in psychology, cognitive science, or philosophical psychology;
- “imaginaire,” though it literally means “imaginary,” began to be used in a peculiar sense by historians of the Annales school in France—such as medievalists Jacques Le Goff, Philippe Ariès, and Jean-Claude Schmitt—to refer to what we may paraphrase as “collective imagination,” and therefore a phenomenon for social-historical analysis;
- “imaginal,” as I am using it, stems from the work of Islamicist Henry Corbin, and involves the posit of a supernal realm, disclosed to the imagination of some individuals, but not taken as a product of their imagination and thus not reducible to the phenomena of individual psychology. This is a topic for metaphysical or theological inquiry.
Having distinguished these three levels, I would like to turn to their interrelationships and introduce, as well, some aspects of their applicability to the study of the religious tradition I know best, Buddhism. I will avoid Jungian reflections, which may well be of interest in this context (particularly on the relations between “imaginal” and “imaginaire,” but in different terms), though some may wish to introduce Jung into subsequent discussions.