Cosmology of Mesoamerican Societies
Comparative Studies of Ideas and Cultures (3rd level)Module:
Anthropology: Understanding Worldmaking Practices
Course code: 11
Year of study: Not specified
Prof. Ivan Šprajc, Ph.D.
Workload: lectures 60 hours, seminar 30 hours
Course type: general elective
Languages: Slovene, English
Learning and teaching methods: lectures, seminar
Content (Syllabus outline)
1. 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.).
2. 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.
3. 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;
4. 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;
5. 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”).
6. 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. V: M. Eliade, ur., Encyclopedia of Religions, vol. 4: 100-107.
- Jaki, S. L., Science and religion. V: M. Eliade, ur., Encyclopedia of Religions, vol.4 : 121-133.
- Brady, J. E. – W. Ashmore, 1999, Mountains, caves, water: ideational landscapes of the ancient Maya, v: Wendy Ashmore – A. Bernard Knapp, ur., Archaeologies of landscape, Oxford: Blackwell, 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 (prev.: 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. V: E. P. Benson, ur., Mesoamerican sites and world-views, Washington: Dumbarton Oaks, 143-215.
- Sosa, J. R., 1989, Cosmological, symbolic and cultural complexity among the contemporary Maya of Yucatan. V: A. F. Aveni, ur., World archaeoastronomy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 130-142.
- Villa Rojas, A., 1986. Apéndice I: Los conceptos de espacio y tiempo entre los grupos mayances contemporáneos. V: M. León-Portilla, Tiempo y realidad en el pensamiento maya, México: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 119-167.
- Adams, R. E. W., M. J. MacLeod, eds. 2000. The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas, Vol. II: Mesoamerica, Parts 1 & 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Šprajc, I., 2018, Astronomy, architecture, and landscape in prehispanic Mesoamerica. Journal of Archaeological Research 26 (2): 197-251.
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.
Short written assignment (20 %), presentation (20 %), final examination (written/oral) (60 %).