MA in the Cultural Study of Cosmology and Divination
Consciousness-raising programmes with a holistic and spiritual approach to knowledge sit uneasily within post-enlightenment academic discourse, yet are vital in our contemporary world, where the secular and sacred are split apart. I'd like to draw the attention of RS readers to the plight of the MA programme in the cultural study of cosmology and divination at the University of Kent, Canterbury (UK). This has now been running for three years, thanks to the generous sponsorship of the Sophia Trust. This programme is unique in the UK in that it seeks to bridge the gulf between theory and practice in the study of divination -- which in the West primarily takes the forms of astrology, tarot and I Ching. We focus on cosmology, history, phenomenology, theory and method, addressing head-on the question of revelatory knowledge. What mode of enquiry is this dialogue with 'the unknown other'? What role does the imagination play in the interpretation of symbols? What is the connection between divination and parapsychology? Why is its mode of operation so alien to science, and rejected by mainstream religion? What part do theories of the unconscious play in our understanding of magical and divinatory ritual? From what kind of cosmologies do these practices arise?
The five modules that comprise the programme reflect these areas of concern:
Interpreting the Heavens addresses the history of astrology and divination in the ancient world, its theological critiques and relevant interpretative frameworks such as the four levels hermeneutic, through to modern psychological and psycho-analytic theory and 'new age' attitudes towards divination today.
The Imaginal Cosmos asks 'what is the nature of the symbol?' and evokes the pre-enlightenment magical world-view, focussing on the role of the imagination in interpreting -- and enlivening -- sacred texts and images. These range from Plato's Cave allegory and metaphorical cosmology to Henry Corbin's mundus imaginalis, via the Greek mystery rituals, neoplatonic theurgy, Renaissance art and astrology and the art of statue animation.
Cosmology and the Arts considers themes such as literature and music in relation to esoteric cosmologies and traditions; subjects might include the cosmology of Chaucer, Dante and Shakespeare and the 'music of the spheres' of the Pythagoreans.
The Intelligible Cosmos is concerned with the theory and practice of divination, particularly astrology and tarot. It considers the nature of symbolic interpretation in astrology, the role of metaphor and allegory in divination, para-psychological, psychoanalytic and analytical psychological theory of divination and magic, and the role of the daimonic in divinatory dialogue.
Nature, Culture and Religion takes a broader perspective on modern and post-modern attitudes to spirituality, covering such themes as the enchantment and disenchantment of the cosmos, feminist critiques, the science-religion debate, and anthropological perspectives on divination.
There are as yet few texts that consider divination from both a scholarly and experiential perspective, although the field is growing rapidly (and there is a large research contingent of Ph.D students at Kent). Key primary texts include relevant works of Plato, Plotinus, Ptolemy, Iamblichus, Augustine, Aquinas, Ficino, Pico, Corbin, Jung and Hillman; secondary texts include Gregory Shaw's work on Iamblichus and theurgy (esp. Theurgy and the Soul); Tom Cheetham on Corbin, Peter Kingsley on the pre-Socratics and texts by course tutors (e.g. Geoffrey Cornelius, The Moment of Astrology; Patrick Curry, Prophecy and Power, Astrology, Science and Culture: Pulling down the Moon; Angela Voss, Marsilio Ficino; Maggie Hyde, Jung and Astrology); our two conference publications, The Imaginal Cosmos (eds A.Voss and J. Hinson Lall) and Seeing with Different Eyes (eds. P.Curry and A.Voss), as well as the well-stocked field within theology, history, classics and anthropology on symbol, magic, divination, ritual and cosmology. (See Publications here.)
The programme lecturers are all both academics and practising diviners.
I, Dr Angela Voss, am the director; my background is in Renaissance music and philosophy. For my doctorate I specialised in the astrological music therapy of the 15th century Florentine magus Marsilio Ficino, and I have written extensively on Ficino's astrology. I am particularly concerned with the integration of the imagination into academic discourse as a mode of knowledge and research, to heal the split between mind and soul that seems to grow ever wider in the ideals of the contemporary academy.
Geoffrey Cornelius has been a practising astrologer and teacher for over thirty years. He has just completed a Ph.D. thesis at Kent on the hermeneutics of divination, a pioneering work in its field.
Dr Patrick Curry is a cultural historian who has specialised in the history of astrology, and whose wide-ranging interests include Tolkien, contemporary anthropology, post-modernism and Buddhism.
Maggie Hyde is an astrologer and tarot reader, currently working on a Ph.D. project entitled ‘Cosmology for Modern Time'. She has written on Jung and astrology, financial astrology and symbolism, and is particularly interested in symbolic interpretation and the ‘realisation' of the symbol in the world.
The students, past and present, are for the most part involved in the arts, healing or divination in some way themselves. They range from early twenties to mid sixties, and all bring a strong commitment to the underlying ideal of the programme, which is that we are not only learning 'about' these subjects, but ‘from' them. We are engaging with spiritual traditions and practices, and we hold that it is impossible to study them truthfully 'from the outside' without attempting to engage with the deeply transformatory mode of understanding with which they are concerned. The inner work matches the outer work, and to this end we have introduced a Learning Journal to the programme, where students share their personal responses to the material studied; this could be through prose, poetry, dreams, divinations or art-work. Students also need to write four module essays, and a dissertation on a subject matter of their choice.
I hope the above has given the reader a sense of the enormous scope and relevance of our programme for the raising of consciousness in academic study, for the re-integration of a generally ignored or rejected mode of knowledge about self and the world, and for a deepening of understanding about the complex nature of human relationship with what we term 'the spiritual' dimension of existence. We have held three international conferences, and are building up a research culture which faces the prospect of having nowhere to flourish. It is vital that our work continues. However, the Sophia Trust have no more money available, and in the current climate of financial restraint the University of Kent have decided to close down the programme in 2010, making me redundant. This means we are looking for a new home, and new sources of funding. We are keen to develop distance learning as well as on site options for study, but to do this we will need more private sponsorship and/or an existing institution with resources for expansion and a keen interest in the holistic emphasis of our programme. If any readers of Reality Sandwich can help in any way, or know of any possible sources of interest or funding, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. Many thanks!
Photo by Terwilliger911, courtesy of Creative Commons license.