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Holistic Science Programme Structure

MSc Holistic Science - programme structure

Programme Structure

MSc full and part-time

The MSc may also be taken on a part-time basis over two years, using the following Programme Pathways:

Programme Type
and Length


Full Time

100 credits and 
80 credit dissertation

Part Time: Over 2 years

Year 1: 60 taught credits
Year 2: 40 taught optional credits and dissertation

PG Certificate: Full Time 60 taught credits


PG Certificate

Students studying this PG Certificate programme will take the three core modules, each worth 20 Masters Credits. Students enrolled on to the PG Certificate will study exactly the same material as the Masters students  during the first term, from September to December. Masters and PG Certificate students will live and study together, so there is no separation between the programmes.

There is no part-time option for the PG Certificate.

Introductory Week

The first week of the course is dedicated to learning about each other’s life journeys which have brought us to the MSc in Holistic Science and to meeting the students on our sister Masters courses at the college.
During this week we also begin to locate our learning journey in a contemporary context by examining the shape and texture of the sciences today. We learn how we came to be where we are, beginning with the medieval view of an ensouled cosmos through to the scientific and industrial revolutions which gave us our current separation between mind and matter and our increasingly specialised, detached sciences of today. We turn our gaze on science as a cultural, contextual practice which evolves hand in hand with social norms and world views, identifying gaps, needs and possibilities in the sciences of today.

Core Modules

Core Module One: 20 credits
Science with Qualities: New Scientific Methodologies.

“We cannot stand back to get an overview of the whole. The only way to encounter the whole is to go deeply into the parts, since this is where the whole appears.”
~ Henri Bortoft Philosopher, scientist and teacher on the MSc from 1998 to 2012. (1938–2012)

In this module we’ll explore the philosophy and methodologies of an expanded science that values qualities as much as quantities. This way of doing science cultivates ethics together with rational thought as a means of understanding and interacting with the natural world.
One of the pioneers of a science with qualities was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) the distinguished poet, playwright and scientist. Goethe recognised important limitations in our rational approach to knowing the world and instead sought a path of science that is in tune with the subtle qualities of nature.  You will practice his scientific method during this module with accomplished teachers who will help you relate to nature through the cultivation of your intuition, sensory experience and feeling.
Goethean science provides a role for imagination, inspiration and intuition in science, differing markedly from contemporary science which consciously cultivates only rational and numerical thought processes. Instead of distancing itself from a given phenomenon under study, Goethe’s methodology cultivates a continuous stream of connection between observer and the phenomenon being observed, resulting in a richly textured appreciation of the living qualities of the phenomenon - a knowing that arises between oneself and nature.
In this module we learn how to apply Goethean science to a variety of phenomena, including colour, the form, shape and development of plants and animals, and its application to the human social realm. We also discover Free-Choice Profiling, an innovative tool pioneered in the animal welfare field which bridges the gap between quantitative and qualitative sciences in fields ranging from the study of landscapes, coral reefs and wild animals.

Assessment: Students are required to produce an essay of 3,000 – 3,500 words, or a creative project of equivalent standing.

Core Module Two: 20 credits
Chaos and Complexity

“The sciences of complexity suggest why we cannot control the processes that underlie the health of organisms, ecosystems, organisations and communities. They are governed by subtle principles in which causality is not linear but cyclic; cause and effect are not separable and therefore manipulable. These systems are the causes and effects of themselves, involving ever increasing loops of mutual dependence.”
~ Brian Goodwin (1931–2009) Professor of Biology at the Open University and co-founder of the MSc in Holistic Science.

Until recently, science has been limited to the exploration of supposedly totally predictable ‘linear’ systems, thereby providing a vanishingly imprecise description of the universe at large. Modern computation has allowed mathematicians to peer beyond this veil into the surprisingly emergent and self-organising world of nonlinear geometry and form in nature. They explore these nonlinear dynamics through chaos and complexity theories which describe patterns of relationships rather than merely focussing on a given system's smallest component parts. As a discipline with the Holistic Science programme, the complexity approach will enable you to develop a scientific approach to nature that integrates quantities with qualities.

In this module you’ll engage in a vivid exploration of the most stimulating discoveries in science through the lens of holism rigorously integrated with chaos and complexity theories. Topics such as quantum theory, relativity and information theories and complexity in the living realm are introduced to provide you with a firm foundation in modern scientific thought and practice. Throughout the module, the boundaries of these theories are brought into question, giving you the opportunity to cultivate a creative appreciation of scientific discovery at the very edges of reason. We’ll apply chaos and complexity theories to living systems such as bee colonies, the structure of the universe and the dynamics of human organisations.
Sessions are held through a synthesis of rational and intuitive methods of enquiry. In order to ground some potentially abstract concepts you will explore the foundational tenants of these intricate theories through artistic, contemplative and group exercises. Additional teaching sessions are available to students who wish to further explore the finer details of the module’s content and deepen their mathematical / computational understanding.

Assessment: Students are required to produce an essay of 3,000 – 3,500 words, or a creative project of equivalent standing.

Core Module Three: 20 credits
The Living Earth

“Life clearly does more than adapt to the Earth. It changes the Earth to its own purposes. Evolution is a tightly coupled dance, with life and the material environment as partners. From the dance emerges the entity Gaia”.
~ Professor James Lovelock, author of the Gaia theory, teacher on the MSc from 1998 to 2009.

In this module you will develop a deeply participatory understanding of the living dynamics of the Earth by combining rigorous scientific analysis with intuitive experiential work outdoors on Dartmoor, on the Dartington estate and on the South Devon coast. We’ll engage in a detailed exploration of James Lovelock’s Gaia theory, which suggests that tightly coupled feedbacks between living beings and their non-living environment give rise to emergent self-regulation at the level of the Earth.

According to Hesiod (700 CE), the ancient Greeks related to our living planet as Gaia - the Mother of All - the principle divinity of Earth and the Cosmos. Gaia found her way back into modern culture in the 1960’s and early 1970’s through the work of British scientist James Lovelock who was employed by NASA in their quest to find life on Mars.

The science of Gaia pioneered by Lovelock concerns itself with the study of the Earth as a superorganism in which living and non-living components act as a single self-regulating system involving complex feedbacks between life, atmosphere, rocks and water. The self-regulation arising from this tight coupling is seen as an emergent property that could not have been predicted from knowledge of biology, chemistry, geology or physics as separate disciplines.

Building on what we’ve learnt in the previous core modules, in this module we’ll use a synthesis of cognitive, intuitive and experiential approaches to develop a deeply felt personal connection and identification with the life of our planet as a wider manifestation of our own life and experience. 

We’ll explore key Gaian topics such as ancient images and myths of Gaia, the history of  Gaian insights in science, the qualitative behaviour of Gaian computer simulations; how globally stable states emerge from complex interactions between life, rocks, atmosphere and oceans; the role of life in the global cycles of Gaia’s key elements, such as carbon and oxygen; the role of biodiversity in maintaining the health of ecological communities and the Earth; the role of cooperation as well as competition in evolution, and climate change from seen from a Gaian perspective. We use strongly integrative experiential processes to ground this learning within your own body and psyche, with time spent in nature on field trips, Gaia-inspired meditations and solo time in the woods around the college. Throughout the module we explore the ethical and life style implications of the theory through the lens of the deep ecology approach.

Assessment: Students are required to produce an essay of 3,000 – 3,500 words, or a creative project of equivalent standing.


20 credits each

In addition to the core modules, you’ll select two elective modules from a list of four or more approved electives relevant to holistic science.  The electives are three weeks in length. Students from the MA in Economics for Transition will join you in some cases.  You will work with the main teaching staff on the electives to explore the relevance of the course material to your particular trajectory with the Holistic Science programme.

Dissertation Module

80 credits

By December, you will have chosen and defined your research topic in which you will have the chance to apply your knowledge of Holistic Science and its methodologies to a real research problem or question. From the New Year onwards you will focus on completing your two electives and on your research, which is submitted as a final 15 -20,000 dissertation word at the end of August.

Each student receives research supervision from a primary supervisor based either at Schumacher College or elsewhere.  Research work can be conducted individually or in teams.
Students have used their research projects to explore a diversity of themes from the perspective of holistic science. They have written dissertations on, for example, renewable energy, Goethean science, molecular biology, organic agriculture, reforestation, alternative medicine, ecological education, patterns in nature, children in need, Gaian science, ecopsychology, and business and sustainability.

General Guidelines for Assessed Work

As this Masters degree encourages novel approaches to scientific investigation, we recognise that a classic analytic-synthetic approach to learning need not be the only form it takes. Holistic investigations in science may result in very different outcomes to traditional styles of research and reporting, especially as one of the objectives of the course includes paying attention to intuitive insights and feelings that arise in the course of the work, giving significant insights into the problems being explored.

Dissertation and coursework may accordingly include alternative creative formats alongside those used in scientific writing. This includes personal narrative and experiential material woven into the written account of the investigation, and artwork related to this.  A blend of the analytic-synthetic and narrative-experiential is therefore encouraged, the one extending and complementing the other in a coherent, holistic manner.