Toward a Gaian Humanistic Pedagogy: Teaching Cultures as Complex Adaptive Systems

Dr. Thomas I. Ellis
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This essay describes a model I’ve developed for organizing the curriculum of a college-level introduction to the humanities. The model is based on the premises of Gaian humanism, a contemporary worldwide philosophical movement synthesizing epistemology and ecology. Drawing on theoretical foundations laid by such Gaian thinkers as Gregory Bateson, Francisco Varela, Ken Wilber, and Stuart Kauffman, I model human cultures as complex adaptive systems, grounded in diverse ecological conditions, that share seven basic attributes, which can then be used as bases for comparison as students encounter different cultures.

Of these seven, the first three, Foundation, Life of the Community, and Religion, form the vertical axis (correlated with the basic human needs of survival, socialization, and self-knowledge). Knowledge of these constitutes the asymptotic goal of humanistic inquiry, while the other points on the circumference refer to the artifacts through which we interpret the above three: verbal artifacts (mythos and ethos), and perceptual artifacts (art, music, performance, and design). One advantage of this model is that it is inherently polycentric; it does not privilege Western or any other culture, but rather can be used as a lens for studying and comparing the artifacts, interactions, ecological foundations, and spiritual aspirations of any culture on Earth.

Keywords: Curriculum, Model, Polycentric, Cross-Cultural, Cultural Ecology, Pedagogy
Stream: Philosophy, Ethics, Consciousness, Teaching and Learning, Religion, Spirituality
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Toward a Gaian Humanistic Pedagogy

Dr. Thomas I. Ellis

Associate Professor, Department of English, Tidewater Community College

I received my BA from Ohio Wesleyan University and my MA and Ph.D. from the University of Oregon. I have taught English as an adjunct at Linfield College in Oregon, the University of Michigan, Wayne State University, and Washtenaw Community College, and full-time at Hampton University and Tidewater Community College in Virginia. I have also taught at the American College of Greece and the Sichuan Institute of Foreign Languages in China, as well as summer courses in Bath, England, in a program affiliated with University College, Oxford. My area of expertise is English Renaissance and Baroque, but I have also designed curricula and taught a Sophomore-level Honors Humanities program at Hampton University. My outside interests include choral music and environmental advocacy.

Ref: H06P0190