All peoples, from hunter-gatherer bands to state-level societies, develop some view of who and what they are and how they fit into the universe as they perceive it. Each individual also has his own unique evolving personal world-view or cosmovision created from his or her cultural background and personal experiences. As the world around us changes and we mature, our individual ‘cosmovisions’ develop into creative works in progress as unique as one’s own genome. The goal of this seminar is to create a unique interactive learning experience where the students and teacher consciously explore the process of ‘Developing an Individual Cosmovision.’

Students will pursue their own developing personal cosmologies in light of (1) our contemporary core ‘Western’ scientific world-view and (2) a selection of other ancient and indigenous cosmovisions for comparison. Some of these other traditions to be explored in class and through individual research might include those of the Maya or Aztecs of ancient Mesoamerica, the Inca or Nazca peoples of Peru, and the Egyptians or Chinese and their descendants. One central organizing concept is that we will better understand our own cosmovisions if we learn about the world-views of our ancestors as well as other cultures very far removed from our own. As our world becomes more culturally diverse, we meet and must work with people who come from very different backgrounds from our own. In this course, we explore together some of the roots of these differences, which becomes a culturally enriching process.

In addition to the required readings and in-class discussions, a vital part of this course involves the process of the students expanding and editing their ‘personal cosmovision’ essays based on what they are learning, specifically incorporating a discussion of an ‘ancestral’ cosmology and how their own world-views might relate to those of their ancestors. This requires outside research, as with a traditional student research paper, of the world-view of either a hereditary (genetic) or cultural ancestor of their choosing. The students are asked to decide about what they think is ‘ancestral’ to themselves. These expanded essays are due near the end of the course. The seminar concludes with discussions of life in the Universe and whether our Universe might be just one such system in a vast, perhaps infinite ‘Multiverse,’ a concept now receiving considerable scientific interest in 21st-century physical cosmology.

Readings include:

J.B. Carlson, America’s Ancient Skywatchers

Jared Diamond, The Third Chimpanzee

Ian Tattersall, The Monkey in the Mirror

E.C. Krupp, Skywatchers, Shamans and Kings

—-In Search of Ancient Astronomies

Martin Rees, Before the Beginning: Our Universe and Others

—-Our Cosmic Habitat

Various handouts and website reading assignments