The South Pole Imaging Fabry-Perot Interferometer (SPIFI) is the first instrument of its kind-a direct-detection imaging spectrometer for astronomy in the submillimeter band. SPIFI's focal plane is a square array of 25 silicon bolometers cooled to 60 mK;, the spectrometer consists of two cryogenic scanning Fabry-Perot interferometers in series with a 60-mK bandpass filter. The instrument operates in the short submillimeter windows (350 and 450 mum) available from the ground, with spectral resolving power selectable between 500 and 10,000. At present, SPIFI's sensitivity is within a factor of 1.5-3 of the photon background limit, comparable with the best heterodyne spectrometers. The instrument's large bandwidth and mapping capability provide substantial advantages for specific astrophysical projects, including deep extragalactic observations, We present the motivation for and design of SPIFI and its operational characteristics on the telescope, (C) 2002 Optical Society of America.