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objective

My research interests are very diverse, but the dominant theme is the history of cosmology, in which 'cosmology' is defined in the widest sense as knowledge about the structure, workings and origins of the natural world on all levels, from subatomic particles to galaxies.

This includes the history of science proper as well as what may be called traditional cosmology - prescientific conceptions of the world defined more by cultural tradition than direct observation and logic. Of special interest to me are the earlier or more archaic belief systems, such as premodern astronomy and global mythology, and the potential evidence they contain of transient natural events in the real world. The latter may range from objectively innocuous solar eclipses or localised earthquakes and meteorite falls to more surprising and impactful phenomena on larger scales, traditionally the reserve of catastrophist thinkers.

One long-term project concerns the emergence of planetary astronomy, primarily in the ancient Near East and the Graeco-Roman world. Another is the reconstruction of a global template of 'creation mythology', with possible physical explanations for its origins.

character

These subjects are of an interdisciplinary character, combining aspects of the history of science, the history of religions, art history, comparative mythology, archaeology, anthropology and several other fields on the humanities side with geology, astronomy, physics and other sciences.

They are also sensitive on both sides of an ideological divide. On one hand, specialists are often wary of any combination of myth and catastrophism, due to a track record of pseudoscience in this area. On the other side of the fence are those who feel my approach is too conservative as long as I dismiss such notions as alien visitations, numerology, a flat, young or hollow earth, divinely revealed scriptures, and so on. It is a fine line to tread, but the method is simple: a courageous, dispassionate use of the scientific method, relying solely on adequate evidence and logic.

sources

'Traditional information' refers to any ideas or practices that were passed on collectively within one or more societies, often imbued with a sense of sacrality and veridicality. Myths and legends, rituals, designs and images of portable objects (such as pottery, religious statuary and costumes) and ones fixed on the ground, on natural walls or in architectural monuments (such as petroglyphs, geoglyphs, stone circles, pyramids, stūpas and cathedrals) are replete with references to the natural world and its past. This traditional information is often available to us directly, for example in the form of extant archaeological ruins, artefacts or oral tradition. Another repository from which it can be retrieved is that of written historical records. These frequently contain observations of the sky or the landscape and interpretations thereof.

As far as the celestial aspect of nature is concerned, such traditional information has been the subject of disciplines variously labelled archaeoastronomy, cultural astronomy, the history of astronomy and other sciences, and the history of ideas or of religion, depending on geographical and chronological scope. Geomythology addresses any geological and indeed palaeontological implications and applications of the cultural and historical data.

utility

The study of historical information about the natural world is useful in a variety of ways. It is of interest in its own right, facilitating our understanding of past cultures and their outlook on the world. This is especially felt in cases where recent discoveries in science shed fresh light on historical data that had previously been inscrutable. On a deeper level, a study of historical information about the realm of nature also helps to clarify the nature and origin of religion as a whole.

Conversely, historical sources have much to contribute to modern science, as they can complement the scientific reconstruction of the past, specifically the recent history of planet Earth. Areas that stand to gain much from historical input include reconstructions of the sunspot cycle and other aspects of solar activity; appearances of aurorae, comets, meteor showers, meteorites, the zodiacal light and so on; extreme weather events and climate changes following the Last Glacial Maximum; past earthquakes and volcanic eruptions; changes in biodiversity; and changes in human consciousness and cultural institutions.

future projects

Apart from the occasional publication of articles in journals, often peer-reviewed, I am in the process of producing a series of volumes on the catastrophist origins of myth, two of which have so far appeared. The remaining volumes - about five in number - have been completed in draft, including the illustrations, but still need to be prepared for publication. A small number of other monographs are in the works, notably one on the widespread symbol of the ourobóros or 'tail-biting serpent'. Also planned is a fully referenced compilation of all my contributions to the 'Thunderbolts Picture of the Day' project.

I would also love to set up a free publically accessible and multilingual database of primary sources on cosmological traditions, with an emphasis on myths of cosmic creation, structure and destruction. Such a resource does not currently exist and would provide a useful service insofar as the original sources of myths are generally difficult to identify, often involving old chronicles, missionary reports or anthropological diaries, or other publications that few people are able to access or read. A database of traditional cosmology would also be most timely in view of the dawning era of renewed scholarly interest in caenocatastrophism - the study of catastrophes within human memory, reaching as far back as the last glacial period. The many thousands of research notes that I have already gathered in the course of my research over the past 20 years would provide an ideal starting-point for the project.

Unfortunately, these planned activities are now contingent on the availability of funding. Without exaggeration, I fear that the hard-won material I have already amassed or composed is too valuable to disappear into obscurity with me. I have not been able to interest publishers in the projected books. Self-promotion on social media, in blogs or in video format is not my cup of tea; I'm old-fashioned and the delightful research itself takes up all of my working time, just as it does for most academicians. I will be happy to discuss this further with anyone able to see the value of this type of work and to make a difference.

Marinus Anthony van der Sluijs
2000-2021