Cosmology of Religions
While those graduate school days focused on historical and textual developments in the world's religions, Thomas encouraged us also to explore the cosmology of religions. Under his guidance we related rituals, texts, teachings, and commentarial studies to the stories of creation and metaphysical speculation about the world. We struggled to understand the history, anthropology, and sociology embedded in those stories. Thomas forged ahead articulating broad understandings of historical interactions and cultural relationships.
Gradually, we began to appreciate his interest in cosmology as that which orients humans to the universe and to nature itself. “With a story,” he would say, “people can endure catastrophe. And with a story they can gather the energies to change their lot.” For him the first place to look for story was in history. He began with Western history and later moved to Asian history. He was part of the early group of world historians seeking to define the contours of our human movement across the planet. He mused that the West was in search of a comprehensive story and cited historians such as Oswald Spengler, Arnold Toynbee, Christopher Dawson, and Eric Vogelin to give nuance to his views. He drew on the philosopher of history, Giambattista Vico, stitching his arguments together with a sense of the sweeping ages of human and Earth history. In Vico, he found a perspective on deep paradigmatic change in history so that human action could not be simply equated from age to age. It was because of his remarkable grasp of world history that he could eventually make the transition into evolutionary history.
In his classes he would grope for a thought, searching for a word that could capture the transition between the great ages of evolutionary time. And, then, he would cough. That cough became emblematic for us of his search for articulation—his looking for the words to move into a new and deeper understanding of our historical moment. Gradually Thomas connected his study of history and evolutionary cosmology to the environmental issues of our day. This came slowly, maturing like fine wine that carries the texture and taste of soils, sun, grapes, air, and aging.