About Cornelis van Lit

L.W Cornelis van Lit


About L.W Cornelis (“Eric”) van Lit


I work on Islamic intellectual history from the late-medieval to early-modern period, known as the post-classical period. I concentrate on topics from philosophy, but frequently involve sources from theology, mysticism, and the sciences as well. Popular knowledge has it that this period is devoid of interesting intellectual work in the Islamic world; that Islam fell into a Dark Age from which it never recovered. My work helps to dispel this myth by giving counter examples and establishing a general narrative of intellectual activity in this post-classical period. My preferred procedure is to pick an earlier thinker such as the theologian al-Ghazali (d. 1111), the philosopher al-Suhrawardi (d. 1191), or the mystic Ibn Arabi (d. 1240) and unearth the influence such a thinker had on the discourse up until today.

To do this work, I use computer-supported solutions, which makes my work part of the emerging ‘Digital Humanities.’ I am one of the first to introduce Islamic Studies to this, and as such my work on this is a combination of thinking of foundational concepts and developing of practical proof of concepts.

I draw especially from the notion of ‘Distant Reading’, that is, “understanding literature not by studying particular texts, but by aggregating and analyzing massive amounts of data. This allows me to develop a method to navigate the ocean of unread literature from the Late Medieval and Early Modern period. I further explore the notion of ‘commentary traditions;’ sets of texts from disparate socio-historical contexts that have in common that they all are commentaries on a particular text or author. Such commentary traditions give interesting dissections of this large, unexplored period.

Current project, Summer 2018 – Spring 2022

Ibn ʿArabī’s Reshaping of the Muslim Imagination

For the duration of four years, I shall be working on the writings of the medieval sufi thinker Ibn ʿArabī and his commentators, specifically on their notion of ʿālam al-mithāl (world of image) and, more generally, their thinking on the function of the imagination. I am patronised by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). Please see my project website here: https://digitalorientalist.github.io/World-of-Image/


Do you work on Ibn ʿArabī? Or on the concept of imagination in Islam? Do you have a good suggestion or do you wish to collaborate? I want to hear from you! Please get in contact with me.



  1. The World of Image in Islamic Philosophy: Ibn Sina, Suhrawardi, Shahrazuri and Beyond, Edinburgh University Press 2017


  1. 2017 “Commentary and Commentary Tradition: The Basic Terms for Understanding Islamic Intellectual History”, Mélanges de l’Institut dominicain d’études orientales, vol. 32, pp. 3-26. Also available here.
  2. 2018 “The Commentary Tradition on Suhrawardī”, Philosophy East and West, vol. 68, nr. 2, pp. 1-37.
  3. 2017 “Mysterious Symbols in Islamic Philosophy”, Islamic World of Art Magazine, vol. 3, pp. 34-39.
  4. 2016 “Book review of Islamic intellectual history in the seventeenth century”, Global Intellectual History, vol. 1, pp. 1-3.
  5. 2015 “The Digital Orientalist: Scholarship is becoming bigger and better”, MELA Notes, vol. 88, pp. 24-31.
  6. 2015 “An Ottoman Commentary Tradition on Ghazālī’s Tahāfut al-falāsifa. Preliminary Observations”, Oriens, Leiden: Brill, vol. 43, pp. 368-413.
  7. 2014 “Ghiyāth al-Dīn Dashtakī on the world of image (ʿālam al-mithāl): The place of his Ishrāq Hayākil al-nūr in the commentary tradition on Suhrawardī”, Ishrâq: Islamic philosophy yearbook, Moscow: Vostochnaya Literatura Publishers, vol. 4, pp. 116-136.
  8. 2014 “Book review of An Anthology of Philosophy in Persia: From the School of Illumination to Philosophical Mysticism, by S.H. Nasr and M. Aminrazavi,” Ilahiyat Studies, Bursa: Ilahiyat Fakültesi Uludağ Üniversitesi, vol. 4:2, pp. 267–271.
  9. 2012 “The measurement of the circle in Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī’s Revision of the ‘middle books’ (Taḥrīr al- mutawassiṭāt)”, Tarīkh-e ‘Elm, Tehran: Institute for the History of Science, vol. 10, pp. 1-42.
  10. 2012 “Book review of R. Pourjavady’s Philosophy in Early Safavid Iran: Najm al-Dīn Maḥmūd al-Nayrīzī and His Writings”, Ilahiyat Studies, Bursa: Ilahiyat Fakültesi Uludağ Üniversitesi, vol. 3:2, pp. 294-296.
  11. 2012 “Book review of C. Belo’s Chance and Determinism in Avicenna and Averroes”, Al-Masaq, London: Routledge, vol. 24:2, pp. 219-220.
  12. 2011 “The Chapters on God’s Knowledge in Khojazāda’s and ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn’s Studies on al-Ghazālī’s Tahāfut al-Falāsifa”, Uluslararasi Hocazâde sempozyumu : (22-24 ekim 2010 Buras) Bildiriler [= International symposium on Khojazāda : (22-24 october 2010 Bursa) Proceedings], Bursa: Büyükşehir Belediyesi, 2011, pp. 175-199.
  13. 2011 “Book review of F. Griffel’s Al-Ghazālī’s Philosophical Theology”, Philosophy East and West, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, vol. 61:3, pp. 564-567.
  14. 2011 “al-Ghazālī on zombies and what to do when you drop your cellphone in the toilet”, Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī (1058-1111) : an exhibition held in the Humanities & Social Sciences Library, McGill University, Montreal: McGill University Library, 2011, pp. 12-14.
  15. 2010 “Report on the International Symposium on Khojazāda”, Ilahiyat Studies, Bursa: Ilahiyat Fakültesi Uludağ Üniversitesi, 2010, vol. 1:2, pp. 278-281.
  16. 2009 “Pokerwiskunde – Beslissingen in Poker” [= Poker Mathematics – Decisions in Poker], De Nieuwe Wiskrant, vol. 28:4, 2009, pp. 22-28.
  17. 2008 “Pokerwiskunde” [= Poker Mathematics], De Nieuwe Wiskrant, 2008, vol. 28:2, pp. 15-19.
  18. 2008 “Grote behoefte aan wat goede moslimtheologen” [= Great need for some good Muslim theologians], Trouw, Verdieping/Podium section, April 29. Trouw is one of the major newspapers in the Netherlands.
  19. 2008 “Osama bin Laden als popidool” [= Osama bin Laden as a pop idol], ZemZem, 2008, vol. 4:2, pp. 32-38.

Spoken contributions available online

  1. 2016, December 17, تهافت الفلاسفة للغزالي وحضوره في البحث الفلسفي عند علماءالأشاعرة والماتريدية, Tabah Foundation, Cairo. Full video. See also here and here.
  2. 2016, December 13, Reflections on the Argument from Cannibalism in Islamic Theology, Institut dominicain d’études orientales, Cairo. See here.
  3. 2016, July 27, Podcast appearance: Ottoman Commentaries on Islamic Philosophy, Ottoman History Podcast, available here 
  4. 2016, January 16, Talk: الفلسفة الإسلامية في مرحلة ما بعد الكلاسيكية: البحث عن مرجعية ودور أبي حامدالغزالي (“Post-classical Islamic Philosophy: The search for a Canon and al-Ghazālī place in it”), DAAL Center for Research & Media, Cairo. See here and here. Available online at
  5.  2015, October 16, Conference: A Digital Approach for Production and Transmission of Knowledge in Islamic Intellectual History, Distant Reading and the Islamic Archive, third annual Digital Islamic Humanities Conference, Brown University, Providence. Available online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEKeUUd1zZ4&feature=youtu.be&t=23m30s
  6. 2015, April 12, Radio appearance: on the Dutch radio show ‘Voor wie niet slapen kan’, In close to an hour I relate about my experience studying Islam, about interfaith dialogue, about my love for books, and everything in between. Available online at http://www.npo.nl/voor-wie-niet-slapen-kan/12-04-2015/RBX_EO_809532
  7. 2015, March 8, Radio appearance: on the Dutch radio show ‘De Boekenkast’ I talk about reading, studying, and books in general. Available online at http://www.npo.nl/voor-wie-niet-slapen-kan/08-03-2015/RBX_EO_782893
  8. 2007, December 29, Co-instructor: Workshop on the Astrolabe, for graduate students, House of Mathematics, Isfahan, and History of Science Department, Tehran University. Resource available here. See also here.