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MA / MRes Cultural Astronomy and Astrology

Course Description

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,

Course Overview

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’.

The MRes Cultural Astronomy and Astrology (CAA) is programme that is divided into a 60 credit taught part and a Dissertation of 120 credits amounting to up to 30,000 words in total. The taught element is done via distance-learning, through the Sophia Centre for the Study of Cosmology in Culture and amounts to 3 taught modules chosen from the collection of modules on the programme, with a requirement that one of the choices be the Research Methods module (Researching Contemporary Cosmologies).

Key Features

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.


For further details of the course and the modules available please visit http://www.uwtsd.ac.uk/ma-cultural-astronomy-astrology/. Module availability is updated annually in August prior to the start of the academic year.

For information on our postgraduate study scholarships please visit: http://www.uwtsd.ac.uk/bursaries/

Visit the MA / MRes Cultural Astronomy and Astrology page on the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David website for more details!

(Student Profile)

Caroline Denby

“I've always wanted to do my MA, but life and finances always seemed to get in the way. When I saw this MA, I knew it was a programme I needed to do and it seemed like the right time to take part. I also had experienced some major changes in myself and in my life that motivated me to review the dreams that I have always had and make them a reality… The course content fascinates me and the format (online) works for me. I love the subject matter and it relates to my previous experience both academically and experientially. I am looking for 'deep' answers to questions and this course provides me with direction in answering those questions…

“Overall, I am happy with the course as a whole so it's difficult to choose just one thing that is best. I think this course is unique and innovative and gives me an opportunity to study ideas that may seem to rest outside the Academy… I chose to study with UWTSD because the MA Cultural Astronomy and Astrology really appealed to me. (Also, I really love Wales even though I'm not really there... hopefully doing the MA will give me a good reason and opportunity to visit in person!)” - Caroline Denby, MA Cultural Astronomy and Astrology (online), Ontario, Canada


Postgraduate Study Scholarship - No. of awards TBC

Available to UK students enrolling in their first year of a postgraduate programme who require
assistance with their fees. Awarded as fee reduction.

Value of Scholarship(s)



Available to UK students enrolling in their first year of a postgraduate programme who require assistance with their fees. Awarded as fee reduction.

Application Procedure

Application forms can be downloaded from: http://www.uwtsd.ac.uk/bursaries/application-forms/
the application deadline for 2015/16 is 4th September 2015

Further Information


Entry Requirements

A relevant undergraduate degree or experience. Each candidate will be considered on their own merit.

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Recipient: University of Wales, Trinity Saint David

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