The Sophia Centre was established at Bath Spa
University in 2002, where it achieved an international reputation
for its groundbreaking MA in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology.
In 2007 the Centre transferred to the University of Wales, Lampeter,
in order to achieve a greater international reach and teach the
MA as a distance-learning programme.
The Centre's academic goals are 'to pursue research, scholarship
and teaching in the relationship between astrological, astronomical
and cosmological beliefs and theories, and society, politics,
religion and the arts, past and present' and to 'to undertake
the academic and critical examination of astrology and its practice'.
The Centre's wider goal is stated in its title – to 'study
cosmology in culture'. This enables us to tackle a wide
range of topics, from Egyptian sky religion and Babylonian astrology,
to astronomy in surrealist painting, astrology in contemporary
culture, UFO abduction and the politics of the space race.
The Centre promotes research in the subject area, holds seminars
and conferences, including an annual graduate conference, is
associated with the publication 'Culture and Cosmos',
teaches the MA in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology and supervises
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 architecture, ancient
and modern'. Astrology is 'the practice of relating the
heavenly bodies to lives and events on earth, and the tradition
that has thus been generated'. We take our cue from Michael
Hoskin, editor of the 'Journal on the History of Astronomy',
who posed the question, 'what astronomy is not an astronomy
Cultural astronomy is an emerging discipline attracting an increasing
number of scholars who are aware of the sky's importance
to humanity. The importance of astrology in the history of ideas
was established by Lynn Thorndike in 1905 in 'The Place
of Magic in the Intellectual History of Europe'. Astrology's
role in contemporary culture tends to be mentioned briefly by
sociologists, often in a New Age context, but is rarely investigated
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.
But the split between the two is a feature of the modern west.
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. In the classical world,
their meanings overlapped. To the Greek scholar Claudius Ptolemy,
writing in the 2nd century, there were two forms of astronomy,
one which dealt with the movement of the stars, the other (which
we would call astrology) with their effects or significance.
From then until the seventeenth 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
include 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 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 onmyodo, the 'yin-yang way'. 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
The Centre's purpose is to understand the cultural role
and function of beliefs about the sky, rather than mathematical
astronomy or technical astrology. We work from a humanities/social
science perspective and encompass research styles and methodologies
from anthropology, history, religious studies and sociology.
The focus is on astronomy and astrology as systems of story-telling
about the cosmos, or the location of meaning in the heavens.
Work undertaken by students has included such diverse topics
as classical theories of the ascent of the soul, Christian critiques
of astrology, modern pagan calendar rituals, children's
perceptions of the sky, the use of astrology in business, the
tarot as a cosmological model in the nineteenth century 'occult
revival', astrology and enchantment, astrology in surrealist
painting, the naming of planets, the nature of the astrological
consultation, and cinema as cosmology. We aim to publish the
best student work.
We welcome inquiries from prospective students around the world.
We maintain international links with other institutions pursuing
similar programmes and are always ready to consider offers of
Alice Ekrek, Administrator