Despite fears of a doomsday Dec. 21, the world didn’t end. Looking back, many are wondering why so many Americans in particular were consumed by the idea. The 2013 C. P. Snow speaker, Anthony Aveni, professor of astronomy, anthropology and Native American studies at Colgate University, will share his opinion about why this was the case.
The C. P. Snow Lecture Series, which began in 1964, brings in one guest speaker each year to address the value of interdisciplinary dialogue and thought. The series was inspired by Charles Percy Snow, a man dedicated to bridging the gap between the sciences and the humanities.
Aveni’s lecture at 7 p.m. April 10 will focus on why Americans were so interested in the Mayan end of the world theory, as well as the aftermath of what he calls “American pop culture’s love affair with apocalyptic endings.” Aveni will also show how American religiousness ties into the “love affair” by referencing his 2009 publication “The End of Time: The Maya Mystery of 2012.”
Staff Writer Lisa Famularo spoke to Aveni about his lecture and previous research.
Lisa Famularo: Could you talk a little bit about your research and/or publications prior to the hype about the Mayan end of the world theory?
Anthony Aveni: I’m an astronomer, trained originally as an astronomer, astrophysics, and I got interested in the Mayan calendar a long time ago back when we started “J term” here at Colgate … The whole month of January used to be one course, and students used to go with a professor and do something special, something different. I started taking students to Mexico studying ancient Mayan and Aztec astronomy. I got interested in that and kind of made a career shift, and I ended up writing in journals that have to do more with archaeology and anthropology, the study of culture — in particular Mayan culture — than written by the profession in which I was trained. That’s where the liberal arts get you — you end up learning new things and changing directions. I got interested in that and did a lot of research on the orientation of pyramids and ancient codices and calendars. In particular the Mayan calendar always fascinated me, because it was so precise and so arranged according to astronomy.
LF: Can you provide a brief overview of your recently published book, “The End of Time: The Maya Mystery of 2012?”
AA: I started out by talking about what it is that we’re scared about … The end of the world as we know it, as I say in my book, is either going to be a big blow-up or a big bliss-out. In other words, the world was either going to blow up from some earthquake or get hit by a meteor or some terrible thing, or it was going to be a bliss-out, which means that we would all suddenly be catapulted to a higher plane of human consciousness and get beamed by some kind of galactic alignment. Then I spend quite a large amount of time talking about the Maya and their calendar and their prophecies and what they say, which I conclude has very little to do with the end of the world. There’s not a single Mayan inscription that we know of — neither in books or written on monuments — that says the world is going to end. Then in my last chapter, titled “Only in America,” I begin to muse about the fact that, well, why is it that the Chinese and the French aren’t concerned with this Maya end of the world? What is it about us? And there is where I start getting into American religion.
LF: What do you hope that those who attend your lecture will take away from it?
AA: I think that what they ought to take away from it is that studying history is very important. We’ve been doing this date setting, and it’s like in politics and in war and in everything else: we need to learn the lessons of history, we need to read more about the past. And I think above all, and I’ll stress this because this is a C. P. Snow lecture, that a liberal arts education isn’t such a bad thing.