Cosmology of Mesoamerican Societies
Comparative Studies of Ideas and Cultures (3rd level)Module:
Course code: 11
Year of study: Not specified
Workload: lectures 60 hours, seminar 30 hours
Course type: general elective
Languages: Slovene, English
Learning and teaching methods: lectures, seminar
Objectives and competences
This course familiarizes students with the cosmological concepts of pre-Hispanic peoples of Mesoamerica, as well as cultural manifestations or aspects of life in which these ideas are contained or reflected. A summary of what is currently known in this respect and a survey of studies that have led to specific results should also exemplify methodological approaches that have been applied, allow a proper assessment of their utility in this kind of research, and illustrate the relevance of what they have learned for a holistic understanding of the structure and functioning of past societies.
Content (Syllabus outline)
- Mesoamerican cultures, introduction:
- Mesoamerica: definition and common characteristics of the cultural area;
- Mesoamerica: natural environment and cultural development;
- Survey of basic characteristics of Mesoamerican cultures (economic basis, social structure, political organization, religion, exact knowledge, architecture, art, etc.).
- Cosmology in a cultural context:
- Definition of cosmology;
- Cosmology and related terms (cosmogony, worldview);
- The relationship between cosmology, science, and religion;
- The dependence of cosmological concepts on a specific natural environment and cultural context.
- Historical and mythical time in Mesoamerica:
- Orientation in time; significance of observation of the sky;
- Time measurement, the calendrical system;
- Linear and cyclical time;
- Astronomical knowledge, utilitarian aspects;
- The relation between astronomy and astrology;
- Cosmogony in myths and archaeological evidence;
- The conceptual relationship of time and space:
- Astronomically significant directions as spatial indicators of the course of time;
- Structure of the world/cosmos, cosmograms;
- Cosmology in religion and ritual;
- Observational bases of beliefs, attributes of deities, and ritual acts;
- Material correlates of cosmological concepts:
- Cosmological symbolism in architecture, burials, and small artefacts;
- Urban layouts as cosmograms;
- Astronomical orientations in architecture: practical and symbolic significance;
- Cosmological elements of cultural landscape (“sacred geography”).
- The social role of cosmological concepts:
- Ordering and interpretation of the world and humans’ place therein;
- Practical significance of understanding regularities in nature (scheduling of activities in the yearly cycle, efficiency of subsistence strategies, etc.);
- The role of cosmology in complex societies: knowledge as an instrument of domination and legitimation of power;
- Transformation of beliefs into political ideology;
- Comparative aspects and generalizations: comparison with other ancient civilizations.
- Bolle, K. W., Cosmology. In: M. Eliade (ed.). Encyclopedia of Religions, vol. 4, pp. 100-107.
- Jaki, S. L., Science and Religion. In: M. Eliade (ed.). Encyclopedia of Religions, vol.4, pp. 121-133.
- Brady, J. E. and W. Ashmore. 1999. Mountains, Caves, Water: Ideational Landscapes of the Ancient Maya. In: Wendy Ashmore – A. Bernard Knapp (eds.). Archaeologies of Landscape, Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 124-145.
- Aveni, Anthony F. 2001. Skywatchers: A Revised and Updated Version of Skywatchers of Ancient Mexico. Austin: University of Texas Press.
- Verdet, Jean-Pierre. 1996. Nebo: Red in nered, Ljubljana: DZS (translate: M. Veselko; orig.: Le ciel: Ordre et désordre, Paris: Gallimard Jeunesse, 1987).
- Carlson, J. B. 1981. A Geomantic Model for the Interpretation of Mesoamerican Sites: An Essay in Cross-cultural Comparison. In: E. P. Benson (ed.). Mesoamerican Sites and World-views. Washington: Dumbarton Oaks, pp. 143-215.
- Sosa, J. R. 1989. Cosmological, Symbolic and Cultural Complexity Among the Contemporary Maya of Yucatan. In: A. F. Aveni (ed.). World Archaeoastronomy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 130-142.
- Villa Rojas, A. 1986. Apéndice I: Los conceptos de espacio y tiempo entre los grupos mayances contemporáneos. In: M. León-Portilla, Tiempo y realidad en el pensamiento maya. México: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, pp. 119-167.
- M. P. Weaver. 1993. The Aztecs, Maya and their Predecessors. San Diego: Academic Press.
- Šprajc, I. 2005, More on Mesoamerican Cosmology and City Plans. Latin American Antiquity 16 (2): 209-216.
Active participation in discussion classes and a short written paper (8–12 pages) in which the student analyses a particular problem supported by relevant literature. The student must pass a written exam covering the entire course.