Nick Campion

Welcome to the first issue of Sophia Project News, the new monthly newsletter of the Sophia Centre for the Study of Cosmology in Culture at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, and the distance-learning MA in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology.

We have a new editor in Pam Armstrong, and a technical and design team in Frances Clynes and Bernadette Brady.

The Sophia Centre's remit is to explore the manner in which ideas about the cosmos influence culture, and to examine the ways in which culture is responsible for our notions of the cosmos. Every issue will contain news about the Centre and the MA in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology, book reviews and information about related events, as well as contributions from all our staff on the MA.

The Sophia Project itself dates back to 1998, and now includes our other related activities which are connected to our work at the University, such as publishing through the Sophia Centre Press, the journal Culture and Cosmos, our postgraduate student journal, Spica, the annual conference, which is sponsored jointly by the University and the Press, and various research projects.

We are building up a community of students and scholars and we hope you will spread the word.

Dr Nick Campion, Senior Lecturer.

Photograph: Gaia Somosca

PamI would like to add my greetings to Nick Campion's above.

As he said, it is hoped the Sophia Project News will become the essential go to place for those who want to follow all matters Sophia. But we will also have articles, book reviews and latest updates about people and conferences all of which engage with and reflect our widest interests. The SP News will both describe who we are and what we do, as well as having up-to-the-minute information about events and research across the many disciplines studied at the Sophia Centre.

I myself have been an MA student in the Sophia Centre, having just submitted my dissertation. My subject was in archaeoastronomy and in particular the Neolithic monuments of western England. But I had attended the annual Sophia Conferences from their earliest days, long before I became a student. I have watched as the Sophia Centre has grown in reputation over these years, becoming recognised worldwide for its unparalleled breadth. It is our hope that the Sophia Project News will become the first port of call for those who share the Sophia Project's vision.

Pamela Armstrong, SP News Editor


Heaven And Earth Banner

Sophia Centre Conference:

The Marriage of Heaven and Earth

28-29 June 2014

Venue: Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, Bath, England.

The annual Sophia Centre conference, now in its twelfth year, has established itself as the major venue for the academic discussion of issues in ancient and modern astrology. As in previous years, this year's conference on 'The Marriage of Heaven and Earth', will be held at the gracious surroundings of the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute, one of the most elegant buildings in eighteenth-century Bath. Mythic images of Hermes and Ceres look down at us from the ceiling of the conference room. From the windows, an Egyptian obelisk forms the centre-piece of Queen Square. Bath itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site, one of the most beautiful cites in the world.

Our two visiting keynote speakers are Juan Antonio Belmonte of Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias on Tenerife, Professor Kim Malville, Professor Emeritus, Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences at the University of Colorado. Juan Antonio Belmonte is the world's foremost expert on the astronomical symbolism, orientation and alignment of Egyptian temples, and he will be drawing conclusions from his previous work in his talk titled 'Cosmic landscapes in ancient Egypt: a diachronic perspective'. Kim Malville is a world authority on the archaeoastronomy of the Americas, both North and South, and has also written on the temple practices and pilgrimages of India. His presentation will be on 'The Parallelism of Heaven and Earth in Andean Cultures'. The third keynote talk will take us to the modern period: Dr Nick Campion will talk on 'The Marriage of Heaven and Earth in Twentieth-Century Art: Mysticism, Magic and Astrology in Surrealism', looking particularly at Andre Breton and the Argentinean painter Xul Solar.

Sophia Conference: Booking  

Sophia ConferenceSpeakers and Abstracts

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Why Cosmology and Culture?

A look at why these two subjects are central to the Sophia Centre's MA


The reason we discuss the relationship between cosmology and culture at the very beginning of the MA in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology is that, as human beings, we are constantly trying to make sense of the cosmos and our place in it. We exist as individuals but we also exist as part of the wider culture which we imagine and construct. Both cosmology and culture are words which come with a huge baggage, and to put them together in the title of the Sophia Centre requires some clarification. To tackle cosmology first, in the traditional sense we should look at the Greek word kosmos, which is often translated as 'beautiful order' or 'adornment' and is the root of our modern term, cosmetic. For the Greek philosopher Plato (who did so much to craft the Greek theory of the kosmos), the kosmos was alive and intelligent. As the Greek kosmos is, literally, everything that exists, we are inside it and part of it, so the notion of studying it objectively is impossible. In studying the kosmos we study ourselves. To move to questions of definition, then, we could see cosmology as the study of traditional theories about the cosmos. But also cosmology can be the study of the way in which people align themselves with the cosmos through their rituals, social structures and environments. A cosmology can therefore be a vision of the way in which the cosmos encourages each of us to behave in certain ways. This is entirely different to cosmology when defined as the modern the scientific study of the cosmos. And then there is the problem of culture. This quote from the philosopher Terry Eagleton sums up the difficulties of getting to grips with the word: "Culture" is said to be one of the two or three most complex words in the English language, and the term which is sometimes considered to be its opposite - nature - is commonly awarded the accolade of being the most complex of all'. [1]

The debate which Eagleton highlights is whether culture, in the sense of civilisation, is something different to human nature, on the one hand, or whether it develops seamlessly out of nature, on the other. When we look at astronomy and astrology in relation to culture, then, across the entire spectrum, of human history, where do we start? A useful solution was provided by the anthropologist Clifford Geertz, who said that culture is 'an historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic form'.[2] The notion of culture as based in the transmission of meanings and symbols then provides a perfect gateway into the consideration of both astrology and astronomy as meaning systems, creating and telling stories about humanity and its relationship with the cosmos, stars and planets. This is why the study of sky and its place in culture is at the very heart of our teaching.

Nick Campion.

Image: 'Clavis Coelestis' Thomas Wright 1742. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, D.C. USA.

[1]Terry Eagleton, The Idea of Culture, Oxford: Blackwell 2000, p. 1.

[2] Clifford Geertz, 'Religion as a Cultural System', in Michael P. Banton (ed.): Anthropological approaches to the study of religion. London/UK 1966: Tavistock and New York: Frederick A. Praeger Press, 1966, p. 3.

This Month's Selected Book of Note

Book CoverAstrology and Cosmology in Early China: Conforming Earth to Heaven, David Pankenier (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

Chinese astrology has been largely ignored by western scholars since it was included in volume three of Joseph Needham's Science and Civilisation in China. Needham's work remains an essential foundation in many areas, but our knowledge has moved on and many of his ideas are no longer accepted.

Into this gap steps David Pankenier, Professor of Chinese at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Pankenier's research focuses on the connection between astronomical phenomena and formative cultural and historical developments in ancient China. With his Chinese co-authors Pankenier has previously published two volumes of translations of hundreds of ancient Chinese records of astronomical observations, a collection of essays in Chinese (Uncovering the Secrets of Ancient Chinese History: Research in Archaeoastronomy, 2008), as well as numerous articles on ancient Chinese astral prognostication, chronology, cosmology, and thought.

Pankenier's new book draws together much of his earlier work. It draws on the latest evidence and most recent scholarship to make a compelling case for the central role of the sky in Chinese religion, philosophy, political thought and social organisation. David Pankenier's examination of traditional cosmology and astrology in China is the authoritative work in the area and makes a significant contribution both to our understanding of Chinese history and culture, and to the wider history of ideas.

David Pankenier, Astrology and Cosmology in Early China.

Reviewed by Nick Campion

Winning PhotoSophia Centre Student Wins Photography Prize

Photo: 'Hazel Ray' Eva Young

Our congratulations go to Eva Young, who has just won the University of Wales Trinity St David's 'Inspire' Photography Competition. The competition's subtitle was 'Making the Invisible, Visible' which is exactly what Eva's enchanting, light filled photograph did.

Eva is currently a student at the Sophia Centre and hearing her talk about her photography, it becomes clear that her work in the MA's Archaeoastronomy module began to inform her ideas about landscape.

She wrote:

'The sustainability project and theme of the competition "Making the Invisible, Visible" resonated beautifully with the photography I have recently begun playing with. It could be called landscape astrophotography although I didn't know these terms at all when I began. This means that our Earth, as a planet that sustains life in its various forms, takes centre stage and brings horizon astronomy to the fore. My fascination with the expression of light is how "Hazel Ray" came about one early morning. It was taken with a Samsung Galaxy II cell phone although I often have a Canon SX50 bridging camera in tow when on whirligigs. I get a lot of satisfaction logging and sharing various earth and sky photos, so when our course director Dr Nicholas Campion informed us of the competition via email, I was immediately enthused. Regarding sustainability - I think most of us, as individuals, are conscientious and contribute positively as best we can in our circumstances. It is wonderful that our University is a recognised leader in this respect. I am delighted to be a part of the University of Wales: Trinity Saint David, having had the family name of 'Davies' for many years previously! Also, I could not be a student at University of Wales: Trinity Saint David if it were not for the innovative distance learning programmes that the MA in Cultural Astrology and Astronomy represents. I am grateful for all these pioneering opportunities along with the possibility to share a vision of sustainability - making the invisible, visible.'

And the commendations keep coming, because since winning her £120 prize, the astrophotography group JW Draper at Modena Planetarium in Italy, have asked if they can publish some of Eva's photographs on their website gallery.

Congratulations from everyone, Eva, for all the photography you share so generously on our Facebook pages, and especially for this prize, which is such an affirmation of your work.

Guest lecturers in MA webinars

In each module of the MA we run a series of eight webinars of up to two hours each, often with two members of staff contributing.

Micah RossThis term we are pleased to welcome Dr Micah Ross to speak on 'Zodiacal Iconography' in the 'Cosmology. Magic and Divination' module.' Micah Ross recently completed a post-doctoral study of Sanskrit astronomy and astrology at Kyoto Sangyo University. Previously, he served as a researcher at the Institute d'Etudes Avancées and within the REHSEIS workgroup of Université Paris 7, both in Paris. He graduated from the Department of the History of Mathematics at Brown University in Providence.


Chris MitchellChris Mitchell graduated with an MA in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology, and is currently studying for his PhD at the University of Leicester, where he is researching Jewish and Islamic influences on medieval astrology in England that resulted from Arabic translations of earlier texts becoming available in Europe from the 12th century onwards. In the MA webinar in the 'History of Astrology' module, Chris is looking at the Arabic contribution to astrology and looks at what innovationsthe Arabs made to astrology to provide the rich astrology practiced in medieval Europe.


Ronnie DryerLast term we welcomed Ronnie Gale Dreyer to lecture in Indian Astrology in the Astral Religion module. Ronnie Gale Dreyer has a MA in South Asian Languages and Culture, with a specialisation in Sanskrit, from Columbia University. She is the author of several textbooks including Vedic Astrology: A Guide to the Fundamentals of Jyotish (Samuel Weiser Inc., 1997), and is on the faculty of ACVA (American College of Vedic Astrology).


Book CoverINSAP Proceedings Publication Offer

The proceedings of the 2010 Seventh conference on the Inspiration of Astronomical Phenomena are about to be published by Culture and Cosmos.

A pre-publication offer, available up to 11 June, is available from the Culture and Cosmos website.




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