Multicultural Cosmology:

How People Throughout Time have Defined Their Place in the Universe


Freshman Seminar ID 1, Section 19, Fall 1995.

Professor: Bryan E. Penprase

Office Hours: Millikan 135 W 2:30-3:30, Thu 11-12 and by appointment.

Email Address: BPENPRASE

Phone: 621-8727

Overview of the Course:

In this seminar, we will explore some of the ways that ancient and modern societies have responded to the physical universe, by examining cosmological systems from a variety of world cultures. We will begin with a brief examination of the physical observables-- the moon, sun and stars, and how they appear to move through the sky. Then we will examine separately the issues of time and space as interpreted by a variety of ancient societies. Throughout our discussion we will examine the role of the priesthood and the scientist in society, and will explore what aspects of a culture are revealed by its cosmology. We will finish by examining the foundations of western cosmology, and the development of our modern cosmological picture.

The course is intended to be a seminar, and throughout the course we will be discussing readings in class, and trying to understand the universe as seen through the eyes of our ancestors, as well as through our classmates. We will have a variety of writing assignments and group discussions, and from this we hope to bring a synthesis of the subject where all the participants will be able to learn from each other.

This is NOT a lecture course, and should in every way be a group effort.

To this end, teams of two students will lead several of the discussions in the second half of the course. The student leaders will meet with the instructor before class to review the topics to be discussed, and then will work together to encourage participation from the entire group in a critical analysis of the readings. Another collaborative effort will be to compile and edit a collection of essays on ancient cosmologies, which will be incorporated into a Web page which will be installed for world wide access through the internet.

The grading is based on participation in discussion and quality of the writing assignments. To assure participation by all in the course, questions will be handed out before most reading assignments to help focus thinking during the reading. Brief written answers will be expected to the questions, and these answers and participation in the discussions will form a major component of the course grade (30%). The final paper will be a written project of the student's choosing, and will draw upon the material developed throughout the course.

In all aspects of the course, we will attempt to show respect to the ancients whose works we are studying, and to our classmates. For the purpose of smooth discourse in the class, here are some guidelines which may help:

1) Please back up your statements with references to the texts or supporting logic.

2) Handle disagreements diplomatically: if you disagree with someone, first state which parts of their position you agree with, then state which parts you disagree with.

3) Treat your fellow students with respect -- the discussion is a chance to learn from your classmates, not compete with them.


Required Texts:



Participation in Class............................... 25%

Discussion Leading.................................. 8%

Short Writing Assignments....................... 12%

Two mid-length papers............................ 25%

Final project ........................................ 30%