Journey of the Universe is a project that is more than three decades in the making that is comprised of a film, book, conversation series, and set of three online courses.
Journey of the Universe is in the lineage of Thomas Berry’s call for a “New Story” that appeared in his article for “Teilhard Studies” in 1978. Berry felt that we needed to bring science and humanities together in an integrated cosmology that would guide humans into the next period of human-Earth relations. Ten years later, “The New Story” was included in Berry’s book Dream of the Earth. This inspired a ten-year collaboration between the evolutionary cosmologist Brian Thomas Swimme and Thomas Berry, resulting in The Universe Story, which was published in 1992. This is the first book that narrates evolution as a story with a comprehensive vision of the role of humans in the narrative. Journey of the Universe is the first time this story is told in film. It also was the result of a decade-long collaboration.
Working with scientists and scholars from the history of religions, Brian Thomas Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker wrote the film script and book. They organized several week-long summer workshops with scientists and humanists at the Whidbey Institute in Washington State to discuss these ideas.
After completing the script, they made three trips to the Greek island of Samos to film with the director, David Kennard, who was part of the Cosmos film series with Carl Sagan. John Grim, a co-producer, was an advisor to the film, along with Thomas Berry. Patsy Northcutt edited the film in post-production and was assisted by Catherine Butler. In addition to the film, Northcutt produced the 20 part Conversation series of interviews with Adam Loften. These include 10 scientists and historians relating the story of evolution. In addition, there are interviews with 10 environmentalists illustrating how the story inspires the Great Work of change in the areas of economics, energy, education, food systems, cities, and race.
The film was completed in 2011 and premiered at a conference in March at the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. This conference brought together scientists and humanists to reflect on the cosmological implications of Journey. Since that time, the film has been shown in film festivals, museums, universities, libraries, as well as religious and community organizations. Journey premiered on KQED television in San Francisco in June 2011 and has since been broadcast on 77 percent of the PBS stations in the United States. In June 2012 Journey won a regional Emmy Award in Northern California for best documentary film. It has been shown on every continent and has been translated into Chinese and Spanish.
Journey of the Universe is entering its next stage of development in the form of online community. Journey now has a monthly newsletter, YouTube, social media channels, and interactive website to help nurture and celebrate our quickly growing community. Journey community members are directed to our online course specialization hosted by Yale and Coursera. Through these courses, individuals can learn more about this dynamic unfolding universe and gain insight into how to foster a flourishing Earth Community.
Journey of the Universe continues to celebrate screenings hosted by communities around the world. To host your own, visit our Hosting page here, where we have programmed automated responses based on the materials you plan to screen.
We appreciate your understanding that while we are happy to provide general instructions and materials, we do not have the capacity to co-produce events with individuals hosting local screenings of Journey.
Journey of the Universe narrates the 14 billion year story of the universe's development, from the great flaring forth at the universe's inception to the emergence of simple molecules and atoms to the evolution of galaxies, stars, solar systems, and planetary life of greater complexity and consciousness. This is a story that inspires wonder as we begin to understand such complexity through science and appreciate such beauty through poetry, art, history, philosophy, and religion. It also awakens us to the dynamic processes of evolution that are chaotic and destructive, as well as creative and life-generating.
The Journey of the Universe is a cosmology, although not just in the scientific sense of the study of the early universe. Rather, it is a cosmology in the sense of being an integrated story that explains where both humans and life forms have come from. All cultures have had such stories. We now have the capacity to tell a comprehensive story drawing on astronomy and physics to explain the emergence of galaxies and stars, geology and chemistry to understand the formation of Earth, biology and botany to envision life's evolution, and anthropology and the humanities to trace the rise of humans. Journey draws on all these disciplines to narrate a story of universe, Earth, and human evolution that is widely accessible. This is the first such telling of the story in film form and, no doubt, there will be other expressions, both scientific and artistic.
Journey weaves science and humanities in a new way that allows for a comprehensive sense of mystery and awe to arise. This is in alignment with the call of the environmental ethicist, J. Baird Callicott, to “reintegrate science and its epistemology into the wider culture by expressing the new nature of Nature as revealed by the sciences, in the grammar of the humanities.” Such an approach expands the human perspective beyond an anthropocentric worldview to one that values life's complexity and sees the role of humans as critical to the further flourishing of the Earth community. Thus Journey does not rely on reductionistic scientism, which tends to see the universe and Earth as simply composed of mechanistic processes.
Journey, however, recognizes that evolution is governed by natural laws discoverable by scientific methods and empirical observation. The self-organizing dynamics of evolutionary processes are part of the remarkable creativity of evolution, which humans are discovering. While humans are gifted with the creativity of symbolic consciousness, we know that different kinds of self-organizing creativity abound in the universe and Earth - the formation of galaxies and stars, the movement of tectonic plates, the chemistry of cells, the biological complexity of photosynthesis, the migrating patterns of birds, fish, turtles, and caribou. Creativity is also closely aligned with chaos and destruction as the universe unfolds on the edge of a knife.
Journey, then, is a cosmological story of the unfolding of the universe and Earth in which life and humans emerge. This story is told in a poetic manner while relying on our best knowledge from modern science. Scientific facts and poetic metaphors are interwoven so that viewers of the film or readers of the book can understand how they arose from these creative processes and participate in them. This weaving is in the spirit of Loren Eiseley, the American anthropologist and nature writer, whose books and voice are a major influence on Journey of the Universe.
Such a cosmological perspective is both ancient and modern - embedded in certain aspects of world philosophies and religions and revealed anew in the scientific story of the universe. Thus science along with philosophy and religion help us to recognize ourselves as participating in a larger integrated whole. Humans are the microcosm of the macrocosm - they are the mind and heart of the vast evolving universe.
In this spirit, images and metaphors from the wisdom traditions of the world religions and philosophies are woven into Journey of the Universe. Indeed, there are numerous affinities between the world religions and Journey, some of which are described in the talks that were delivered at the Chautauqua Institution conference on “Our Elegant Universe” in June 2013. (www.journeyoftheuniverse.org/conference-at-chautauqua/)
A conference at Yale in November 2014 drew over 400 people to explore “Living Cosmology: Christian Responses to Journey of the Universe.” This was published as a book in 2016.
Indeed, the extensive work of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale is a complement to Journey of the Universe as both these projects are concerned with our growing ecological crises. As such they are trying to awaken humans to recognize our dependence on nature's remarkable intricacy and to find a way forward amidst the unraveling of ecosystems. This work began with 10 conferences at Harvard and 10 resulting volumes in which some 300 scholars illustrated that the religions of the world have theoretical and practical contributions to make to our ecological crisis. In this spirit, our culminating book Ecology and Religion (Island Press, 2014) illustrates how religious ecologies and religious cosmologies have woven humans into nature and the cosmos both historically and at present.
Journey of the Universe is more than an awe-inspiring story, it is a functional cosmology, as Thomas Berry suggested. This is because it harnesses the energy of awe and wonder for the multiple efforts of humans to contribute to the flourishing of the Earth Community. This is what Berry called the “Great Work” in which humans will become a mutually enhancing presence for Earth's systems and societies. He felt this work would assist in the transition from the Cenozoic era to what he termed a life sustaining Ecozoic era. Many geologists, such as Paul Crutzen, are naming our present period the Anthropocene because of the immense effect of humans on Earth's ecosystems.
There are hundreds of thousands of people around the planet who are participating in this transformative work for the environment, energy, agriculture, economics, education, the arts, sustainable cities, and improved racial and gender relations. Some of these specialists are inspired by the comprehensive perspective of Journey of the Universe, and some are interviewed on their work in the 20 part educational series of Journey Conversations.
To participate in this transformative work we are not suggesting that it is necessary to be informed by the Journey of the Universe. We are, however, noting that are many people are moved to action by seeing themselves as part of a larger whole, namely a vast evolving universe. Indeed, some environmentalists, such as the Australian rainforest activist, John Seed, have been reinvigorated because of the perspective found in The Universe Story and Journey of the Universe.
In the field of education, Montessori teachers draw extensively on this evolutionary story, relying on books by Jennifer Morgan who learned from Thomas Berry. Both Thomas Berry and Brian Thomas Swimme have spoken at the Montessori teacher conferences and encouraged nature-based education as a way to tell the story. Thomas Berry was a major source of inspiration to Richard Louv in his environmental education for children, especially outdoors. This is because all of Berry’s writings reflect a profound understanding of the natural world and our participatory role in it.