MA Cultural Astronomy and Astrology
The MA in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology is a unique course which deals with the ways in which human beings attribute meaning to the planets, stars and sky, and construct cosmologies which provide the basis for culture and society. For an Information Handbook with full module descriptions, examples of reading and essay titles, email Dr Nicholas Campion, email@example.com
The MA focuses on Cultural Astronomy and Astrology. We define Cultural Astronomy as the study of the application of beliefs about the stars to all aspects of human culture, from religion and science to the arts and literature. It includes the new discipline of archaeoastronomy the study of astronomical alignments, orientation and symbolism in ancient and modern architecture. Astrology is the practice of relating the heavenly bodies to lives and events on earth. We therefore examine the relationship between astrological, astronomical and cosmological beliefs and practices, and society, politics, religion and the arts, past and present.
The MA is a hybrid of history and anthropology. As historians we pay attention to documentary evidence but are heavily influenced by recent trends in anthropology; this means that modern western culture can be subjected to the same academic scrutiny as pre-modern or non-western cultures, and by questions such as the requirement for the scholar or researcher to engage in practice as part of their study of practice.
The words astronomy and astrology have distinct meanings in modern English. Astronomy is the scientific study of the physical universe. Astrology is more akin to a study of the psychic universe. The split between the two, though, is a feature of modern western thought.
Both words are of Greek origin: astronomy means the ‘law’ of the stars, while astrology is best translated as the ‘word’, or ‘reason’, of the stars, so in the classical world their meanings overlapped. To the Greek scholar Claudius Ptolemy, writing in the second century CE, there were two forms of astronomy: one dealt with the movement of the stars, the other (which we would call astrology) with their effects or significance. From then until the 17th century, the two words were interchangeable. In ‘King Lear’, Shakespeare had Edgar refer to his brother Edmund, who had been posing as an astrologer, as a ‘sectary astronomical’.
Other terms Shakespeare might have used included mathematician (the astronomer Johannes Kepler studied astrology as part of his duties as ‘Imperial Mathematician’) or Chaldean (both astrology and astronomy were commonly traced to Chaldea, another term for Mesopotamia). Neither do most non-western countries employ different words to distinguish traditional astronomy from astrology.
In India both are jyotish, the ‘science of light’. In Japan they are onmyōdō, the ‘yin-yang way’. In China, the observation and measurement of celestial phenomena was inseparable from their application to human knowledge which, in turn, was divided into two, li, or li fa, calendar systems, and tian wen, or sky patterns. All cultures have ways of visualising the stars, many without a single name for the practice. The title of the MA, whose subject matter includes the beliefs and practices of pre-modern and non-western cultures, as well as contemporary worlds, is therefore necessarily ‘Cultural Astronomy AND Astrology’.
The MA is awarded for completion six taught modules and a dissertation, the Postgraduate Diploma for just the six taught modules, and the Postgraduate Certificate for one compulsory module and two optional modules. It is also possible to take up two modules as an ‘Occasional Student’.
Students take six modules, and then write a 15,000-word dissertation based on independent research. There are three compulsory modules and students then take one ‘pathway’ of two optional modules, and any third optional module.
AHAN7002: Introduction to Cultural Astronomy and Astrology
This module introduces the notion of ‘culture’ and its relationship with astrology, astronomy and culture. We explore the classical origins of the western tradition and consider issues such as fate, myth, divination, magic, ritual and enchantment, and raise questions concerning the place of traditional practices in the modern world, including critiques of astrology.
AHAN7035: Researching Contemporary Cosmologies
Students design and conduct a simple research project investigating contemporary attitudes to astrology, astronomy or cosmology, and explore such issues as reflexivity, the insider-outsider debate and the role of the researcher in the research.
AHAN7003: History of Astrology
This module focuses on western astrology from its earliest origins to the present day, but the lessons we draw can apply to other cultures. We look at such issues as reform in the theory and practice of astrology, and students analyse primary source documents as part of their assessment.
Optional Modules and Pathways
Our optional modules are arranged in pathways, which allow students to follow common themes across two modules.
For the MA and Postgraduate Diploma you take three compulsory modules, one pathway and one additional optional module from another pathway. For the Postgraduate Certificate you take one compulsory module and any two optional modules
Pathway 1: The Inner Cosmos
AHAN7022: Sky and Psyche
This module examines notions of the ‘inner cosmos’, including its background in western esotericism, moving to the modern world and looking at the use of astrology by C G Jung.
AHAN7011: Cosmology, Magic and Divination
Students explore the divinatory and magical practices of the classical world, paying attention to modern theories of magic and with an emphasis on the reading of classical philosophers and practitioners.
Pathway 2: Stars and Stones
AHAN7006: Sacred Geography
This module explores our home planet through concepts of sacred space, and students are able to conduct a research project
Using simple techniques students learn how to look at the sky and explore its use in monuments from the ancient work to the modern, and conduct a research project.
Pathway 3: Earth and Sky
AHAN 7023: Astral Religion
Most religions believe that the soul is connected to the stars, and that significant rituals are connected to the sun and moon. This module explores such ideas and considers the question of what, exactly, is a religion?
AHAN 7010: Heavenly Discourses
This module looks at the way the sky has been represented through maps, literature, music and the visual arts, and students keep a sky journal as part of their assessment.
The course, quite simply, is unique. It is the only accredited university degree in the world to explore the human relationship with the sky through history and culture. We cover a wide range of material, from the ancient work to the present, and across cultures, and give students the chance to undertake individual research projects. All our teaching staff are experts in their fields and either have PhDs or are undertaking doctoral research. Course material is on the web and we teach using webinars – live video-conferencing sessions, and all seminars are recorded. The best student work is published in Spica, our postgraduate journal, http://www.astronomy-and-culture.org/journal/.
You can sign up for the whole MA, or just commit to a Postgraduate Certificate (three modules) or Postgraduate Diploma (six modules) and then upgrade to the MA. You can also take one or two modules as an Occasional Student.
Our students live in every continent and, by joining us, you join a world-wide community of scholars. Teaching online means that we form an international community connected online, but we also hold an annual summer school, usually in Bath, England, the legendary home of the first Druid university.
- Crystal Addey
- Laura Andrikopoulos
- Alie Bird
- Bernadette Brady
- Nicholas Campion
- Frances Clynes
- Patrick Curry
- Dorian Greenbaum
- Darrelyn Gunzburg
- Kim Malville
- Garry Phillipson
- Fabio Silva
- Anthony Thorley
- Amy Whitehead
Each module is assessed by 5,000 words of written work or the equivalent. For example, some modules require one short essay of 1,000 words and a longer, 4,000-word essay, normally due in week 10 to 12. Assessment requirements, lengths and due dates can vary from module to module. The shorter essays may be a critical review of a piece of writing, or be picked from a choice of two titles. For the longer essays there is a wider choice of titles. In some modules, the title and subject is negotiated with the course tutor. Each is then returned with comments from either one or two tutors, and students are offered the chance to have a tutorial via Skype in order to discuss the comments.
Students who take the entire MA then go on to write a 15,000-word dissertation based on a piece of independent research on a topic chosen by the student in discussion with the module tutor, and other appropriate members of staff. Each student is allocated a supervisor who can guide them through the research and writing process.
For current essay titles and a list of recent dissertation topics, email Dr Nick Campion, firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for an Information Handbook.
Initial inquiries should be directed to the Programme Director, Dr Nicholas Campion (email@example.com). Please let us know your background, including any academic qualifications.
The normal entry qualification is a good first degree (2:1 or equivalent in UK grading) in an appropriate arts/humanities/social sciences area including History, Cultural Studies, Sociology, Psychology, Theology and/or Religious Studies.
Applicants with a good first degree in another discipline and/or substantial relevant background experience and evidence of relevant study will also be considered following suitable discussion with the Programme Coordinator.
Applicants with a 2:2 degree (in UK grading) will be considered for entry to a Postgraduate Diploma, and will be considered for progression to the MA after successful completion of the six taught modules.
Students with degrees from Universities outside the UK, which do not use the UK’s grading system, should contact the Programme Director, Dr Nicholas Campionuwtsd..
In line with the University’s policy, we are committed to consider applications from non-standard candidates without a first degree who can demonstrate their ability to take the course, on the grounds of prior personal, professional and educational experience. Please contact the Programme Director, Dr Nicholas Campion (firstname.lastname@example.org).
We have two intakes a year, in October and February.
Most of our students take the MA as an end in itself because they love the subject. Some go on to study for PhDs, either with us, or at other universities.
The relationship between all academic work and non-academic employment is always based on potential employers’ appreciation of the generic skills acquired in MA study. Typically, these include critical thinking, communication skills, time-management and the ability to take on and complete independent projects. The latter quality is particular prized by many employers. One graduate is teaching at undergraduate level while another, a school teacher, was awarded a promotion and pay rise on her graduation.
Two years full-time, four years part-time (If you wish to apply for full-time study please consult Dr Nicholas Campion, email@example.com). It is also possible to take up two modules as an ‘Occasional Student’.
Please use email rather than phone for initial inquiries. For an up-to-date Information Handbook with detailed information on entry requirements, applications, full module descriptions, timetables, reading, seminars, essay titles, summer schools, conferences and other frequently-asked-questions, email Dr Nicholas Campion, firstname.lastname@example.org
See Spica, our postgraduate journal:
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See Culture and Cosmos, our academic journal: