Nasir-i Khusraw’s Doctrine of the Soul: From the Universal Intellect to the Physical World in Ismaili Philosophy | Dr. Alice C. Hunsberger

In Nasir-i Khusraw’s system, the physical world is a product resulting  directly from Soul’s desire to correct its ontological imperfection – the fact that it is separated from God by Intellect- his philosophical treatment of the role of mankind and matter is more positive than would be expected in a more traditional Neoplatonic or gnostic treatise. For example, when Universal Soul moves toward Intellect, desiring its perfection, it creates the first movement, which in turn initiates the movement of the heavens, the onset of time and the creation of the physical world. Thus everything in the physical world is based on a desire for perfection. Man’s individual soul plays a crucial role in the perfection of Universal Soul. Because of Nasir-i Khusraw’s premise that individual souls are actually a part of the Universal Soul (and not merely a trace, athar), each individual soul is instrumental in moving the Universal Soul closer to its perfection. This is achieved through individuals carrying out religious duties and through the souls using their individual intellects to gain knowledge. The doctrine of the soul is thereby shown to be at the center of Nasir-i Khusraw’s cosmogony, ontology, epistemology, soteriology and eschatology.

Through an examination of six of his prose philosophical texts (Gush~yish wa Rah~yish, Jamie al-~ikmatayn, Khwan al-Ikhwan, Rawshan~’i-namah, Waih-i Din, Zad al-Musafarin), this dissertation describes and analyzes Nasir-i Khusraw’s definition and functions of the soul. A review of the literature shows that even while hailing this 11th century Ismaili philosopher as a major Persian thinker and writer, Western scholarship has focused mostly on his book of travels (Safarn~mah) and his poetry, rather than on his religious and philosophical writings.

First the fundamental concepts are identified, such as the existence of both a Universal Soul and individual souls, and that soul is not a harmony of the elements. Then, following the order of emanations in the Neoplatonic hierarchy, Soul’s connection to the Word, Intellect, Nature, and man is presented.

This Dissertation can be downloaded here

Note: This research  dissertation was submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Columbia University in 1992 

Compiled by Sujjawal Ahmad

About the Author:


Dr Hunsberger received her doctorate in Middle East Languages and Cultures from Columbia University in 1992, specialising in Persian and Arabic literatures. She has taught courses dealing with aspects of Islam as well as on the history of science at various universities in Iran and the USA, including Arya Mehr University of Technology in Isfahan, Iran and Hunter College, The City University of New York. Dr Hunsberger is the author of Nasir Khusraw, The Ruby of Badakhshan: A Portrait of the Persian Poet, Traveller and Scholar (London, 2000), and has contributed numerous papers to academic conferences and journals. Dr Hunsberger was a Visiting Research Fellow at The Institute of Ismaili Studies from 1999-2001.


Previously on Ismailimail…

Author: Sujjawal Ahmad

Sujjawal is an invited blog author from Pakistan. He finds it extremely exciting to develop a deep love of cultures around the world. The stories that are about humanity, and emotion, that compel us as individuals, and connect our hearts and minds are the kinds of stories Sujjawal has always gravitated to, and the kinds he tells. He can be reached at:

One thought

  1. It’s a beautifully-written book(The Ruby of Badakhshan by Dr Alice Hunsberger) and it shows that the cosmology of Nasir Khusraw, a senior Dai during the Imamat of Fatimid Imam Hakim bin Amrillah(the 3rd of 5 Fatimid Imams) paralleled the cosmology of Dai Abu Yakub Al Sijistani, a senior Dai during the time of the first Egyptian Fatimid Imam, Al Moez. These two Eastern Persian Shia Ismaili Muslim dais affirmed the 4 wellsprings of Knowledge: Intellect, Soul, Natiq and Asas. Their doctrinal system made an extremely difficult subject much easier to understand for me and their cosmological doctrine is very, very relevant to the acquisition of knowledge today, especially new knowledge of Allah’s Magnificent Creation.


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