Courses Overview >> Short courses >> Evolution and Spirituality in the West – Three Week Intensive

Evolution and Spirituality in the West – Three Week Intensive

Course dates: 
Monday, 11 June, 2018 to Friday, 29 June, 2018
Evolution and Spirituality

With Joana Formosinho, Dr Matthew T. Segall, Dr Stephan Harding and Dr Andy Letcher

Though the Origin of Species was published over one hundred and fifty years ago, we still live with the unsettling consequences of the Darwinian revolution. Natural Selection places the human squarely back in nature but leaves us morally and metaphysically in the wilderness. Must it lead to atheist materialism, as its most vocal champions demand, or are other positions possible? Where is the room for spirituality in a post-Darwinian world? What would it mean to develop a sense of our evolutionary self?

In this three week intensive we will examine the Darwinian paradigm to tease apart scientific theory from modern myth. For, as philosopher Mary Midgley argues, evolution has become “a powerful folk-tale about human origins”, replete with symbolic force but one that is nonetheless unable to answer our most searching questions. We will explore a range of alternative scientific, metaphysical and theological interpretations of evolution to see how they place the human in relation to the world and to assess their relevance in our imperiled times.

This will be an intensive that brings together theory and practice, critical thinking and direct experience. You will be joined by a number of students from Schumacher College's postgraduate programme in Ecology and Spirituality which will allow for rich interaction and discussion.

In the first week, Joana Formosinho will introduce evolution as both foundational scientific theory and dominant origin myth of our times. She will tease apart its metaphors, such as 'the survival of the fittest', 'natural selection', the 'tangled bank', as well as iconic images such as the ‘tree of life’ and the 'ascent of man’. She will ask how evolution – as theory and myth – can make our individual lived experience more meaningful.

In the second week, Matthew T. Segall will introduce several important 19th and 20th century philosophical and theological responses to evolutionary theory, looking especially at the German philosopher Friedrich Schelling (1775-1854) and the British physicist turned philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947). Can we square metaphysics with evolution and cosmology? Could such a philosophy open the way to a scientifically informed spirituality?

In the final week, Stephan Harding will explore some recent cutting edge ideas from evolutionary science, such as biosemiotics, epigenetics, and symbiosis. Together, these suggest that a richer and more fulfilling understanding of evolution requires a far deeper appreciation of the connections between organisms, their psyches and their environments than currently provided. How can this new understanding of evolution restore a sense of purpose, meaning and wholeness to our lives?

Dr Stephan Harding FLS

Stephan Harding

Stephan oversees the MSc in Holistic Science, teaching on the core models and as part of several of the short courses at the College. Stephan was born in Venezuela in 1953, and  came to England at the age of six with his father and housekeeper, with whom he spoke Spanish (his mother tongue).  Since childhood Stephan has had a deep fascination with the natural world, and his scientific cast of mind lead him to do a degree in Zoology at the University of Durham and then a doctorate on the behavioural ecology of the muntjac deer at Oxford University. After completing his first degree he returned to Venezuela where he was a field assistant for the Smithsonian Institute, studying mammalian diversity in the rainforest and in the lowland plains. After Oxford Stephan was appointed Visiting Professor in Wildlife Management at the National University in Costa Rica, where he lived for two years before becoming a founder member of Schumacher College in 1990.  The College’s first teacher was James Lovelock, with whom Stephan has maintained a long-lasting friendship and scientific collaboration that lead to their joint appointment as founding chair holders of the Arne Naess Chair in Global Justice and the Environment at the University of Oslo.  At Schumacher College Stephan has taught alongside many of the world’s leading ecological thinkers and activists, including Arne Naess, Fritjof Capra, Vandana Shiva, David Abram, James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis.

Joana Formosinho

Joana is a zoologist with a passion for exploring ways of knowing that are at once relational and rigorous, and do not objectify living subjects. As a research student at the University of Cambridge, Joana spent time with baboons in the Namibian semi-desert. Tracking a troop dawn to dusk, day after day, she aimed to understand how their behaviour evolved in relation to landscape over evolutionary time. It was here, human and non-human primate taking step after step together through an inhospitable landscape, that Joana first glimpsed a rich world of understanding that comes from active participation in life: following the eyes of another and letting them tell us what matters to them, letting facts inhabit living stories.

Joana's career has included applied animal behaviour research at the Universities of British Columbia and Bristol, as well as work as a writer for the animal welfare NGO sector and developer of science training courses for the business sector. In 2013/14, Joana arrived at Schumacher College as a student on the Holistic Science MSc, specialising in Goethean Science. Joana teaches on two of the Masters programmes; she also facilitates wildfulness workshops, bringing people closer to the parts of themselves that awaken through contact with hills, soils, roots and leaves.

Dr Andy Letcher

Dr Andy Letcher is writer, performer and scholar of religion who began life as an ecologist, completing his D.Phil in Ecology at Oxford University. After a spell as an environmental activist during the 90s, especially during the anti-roads protests, he moved across to the humanities, completing a PhD at King Alfred’s College Winchester. He is an expert on contemporary alternative spiritualities, especially modern Paganism, neo-shamanism and psychedelic spiritualities. A writer known for his critical approach, he is the author of Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom and a range of academic papers on subjects as diverse as fairies, animism, folklore, bardism and Druidry. He wrote the companion volume to The English Magic Tarot. A folk musician, he plays English bagpipes and Dark Age lyre, and for ten years fronted psych-folk band, Telling the Bees.

Matthew T. Segall

Matthew T. Segall

Matthew T. Segall is a process philosopher who teaches courses on process-relational thought and German Idealism for the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness program at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, CA. His most recent course is ‘Process and Difference in the Pluriverse’, which applies process-relational metaphysics to the present social, political, and ecological crises. He has published articles on a wide-array of topics, including philosophy, Gaia theory, religious studies, psychedelics, and architecture, and his most recent book is titled Physics of the World-Soul: The Relevance of Alfred North Whitehead's Philosophy of Organism to Contemporary Scientific Cosmology (2016). He blogs regularly at

£ 2 200.00
Course fees include all vegetarian meals, field trips, materials and all teaching sessions. The programme will run from Monday of the first week to Friday afternoon the last week, and includes twenty nights private accommodation from the first lunchtime you arrive through until the lunchtime before your departure. This course is an elective on Schumacher College's MA Ecology and Spirituality postgraduate programme. It is open to external participants who would like to deeply explore this subject material and can join us for the whole three-week programme.