Online Courses on Cosmology and Ecology Offered as First Yale MOOC Specialization

Note: Yale School of the Environment (YSE) was formerly known as the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES). News articles and events posted prior to July 1, 2020 refer to the School's name at that time.

A series of F&ES online courses examining the nexus of cosmology and ecology is now available to global learners through Coursera, the world’s largest provider of massive open online courses (MOOCs).
The four six-week courses, which weave the discoveries of evolutionary science with the humanities — such as history, philosophy, art, and religion — are the School’s first MOOCs and the first online “specialization” offered by Yale University.

Offered under the theme, “Journey of the Universe: A Story for our Times,” the specialization is taught by Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, senior lecturers and research scholars at F&ES and the Yale Divinity School. Tucker and Grim co-produced the 2011 Emmy Award-winning film, “Journey of the Universe,” which premiered at F&ES and was broadcast on PBS. The film and the book, published by Yale University Press, provide the source material and inspiration for the online courses. (Tucker co-authored the script and the book with evolutionary cosmologist, Brian Thomas Swimme.) A series of interviews Tucker conducted with scientists, historians, and environmentalists — called “Journey Conversations” — is also a rich resource for the classes.

These courses will be offered throughout the academic year.
Enrollment is now open to anyone.

There are two ways to participate in this specialization

  • For free: This audit option is for those looking to explore course videos, discussions, readings, and ungraded assignments without earning a certificate.
  • For a small fee: This option is available to those who wish to purchase a specialization certificate for successful completion of the graded assignments across the four offerings. Students can pay by course or purchase all four at once for a 10-percent discount. Financial aid is available through Coursera for those who are eligible.
The first course is based specifically on the film, “Journey of the Universe,” which presented a story of evolution as an epic narrative drawing on modern scientific research. The second course is framed around the 20 interviews featured in “Journey Conversations,” which illustrate the connections of cosmology and ecology.
A third course, “The Worldview of Thomas Berry: The Flourishing of the Earth Community,” examines the insights of the late cultural historian Thomas Berry (1914-2009). Berry, who called for a “new story” that would situate humans in a dynamic evolving universe, provided a basis for a broader appreciation of ecology and a more comprehensive environmental ethics.
For those wishing to complete the specialization for a certificate, the series culminates with a capstone course that encourages students to integrate their learning in a final project. This project could involve natural and social sciences (ecological problem-solving or policymaking), environmental humanities (arts and literature), or education (curriculum planning).
“As environmental and social issues press upon us, the question is how we can align our ecological work with the dynamic forces of ecosystems arising out of an immense evolutionary process,” Tucker said. “This alignment has the potential for evoking the energy for change in areas such as restoration ecology for example.”
The epic story of the universe and Earth gives us a larger sense of our place and our role.
— John Grim
“Our goal is not to preach to people about the environmental destruction we’re seeing, but to create a sense of empowerment,” Grim added. “The epic story of the universe and Earth gives us a larger sense of our place and our role.”
Tucker and Grim hope the specialization will attract learners from across the globe, including educators, environmentalists, political organizers, non-governmental organizations, and those interested in social and eco-justice issues.
“Hundreds of thousands of people are doing what Thomas Berry called ‘the great work of transformative change’ in the face of challenges that can feel discouraging and disempowering,” Tucker said. “Our hope is that perspectives offered in this specialization can enhance this engaged work around the planet.”
– Kevin Dennehy    203 436-4842