Holistic Science

MSc | PGDip | PGCert
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  • This long-running and dynamic course, with an emphasis on experiential learning, equips students with the knowledge and skills to address our many challenges through an understanding of holism and the emergent properties of whole systems
  • For students with an interest in science, who want to explore the implications and ramifications of scientific discovery, who want to challenge the status quo and work towards presenting alternative solutions.


MSc: 1 year FT, 2 years PT.
Other routes are available, including online options – see ‘Learning Pathways’


start date: january

full Term dates

There are two terms of timetabled teaching periods when you must live on site (or nearby in Totnes or the vicinity) and participate in the learning community. We have a limited number of residential places available for international students. Apply as early as possible.

2022 Term Dates

Welcome Week: 3-7 January 2022
Term 1: 10 January – 1 April 2022
Term 2: 25 April – 1 July 2022
Dissertation Deadline: 22 October 2022

onsite teaching weeks

Term 1: 10 January – 1 April 2022
Term 2: 25 April – 1 July 2022

next application deadline

All upcoming application and decision deadlines can be found here.

Learning pathways

Our degree programmes are designed to suit the complexities of modern life, allowing you to live where you live and work where you work, whilst studying the subject you are passionate about as a member of our wide-reaching learning community.

Some qualifications are offered part-time – these are indicated below. Please note that we do not offer online-only pathways for this course. More about flexible learning at Dartington >

Master's of Sciences (ft/pt; 180 credits)

A 6-month residency programme with 6 x 20-credit modules and 1 x 60-credit Dissertation or Major Project module.

The course is available full time over one year (UK, EU or international students) or part time over two years (UK students only).

Postgraduate Diploma (ft/pt; 120 credits)

A full-time (1 year) or part-time programme (2 years, UK students only) with 6 x 20 credit modules. Students taking the full-time option will study all four modules during the first two terms.  For full details on part-time pathways, please contact us.

Postgraduate Certificate (60 credits)

A full-time programme with 3 x 20 credit modules. Students will study both modules during term one.

course content

At this moment of climate emergency, of extreme ecological and social challenges, the practice of Holistic Science questions the role of science as cause and solution to the world’s problems. It presents a rigorous inquiry into the methods, techniques and philosophical underpinnings of science, to address whether they can take us beyond mere explanation to a deeper understanding of the world and our place within it. It asks if there is a way science could be done differently.

Our Holistic Science programme offers a unique opportunity to explore the practices, philosophy, and history of holistic science through an interdisciplinary learning journey suitable for students of all academic and vocational backgrounds. Our innovative holistic approaches — refined during more than twenty years of delivering this revolutionary course — take you into the very heart of nature and provide you with the best possible insight and preparation for tackling the many problems and challenges we face in these times of crisis.

Holistic science can be characterized as ways of knowing that strive for understanding rather than stopping at explanation. For example, we can explain the order of colours in the rainbow by reducing colour to a property of light, but this does not really give us an understanding of why the colours are in the order that they are — for that we need a holistic approach. Similarly, we can explain the differences between species of mammals in terms of their genetic material, but this doesn’t give us much of an understanding of the differences we see when we encounter the animal as a whole. The planet too can be understood as a living whole that goes beyond an explanation in terms of its diverse parts.

Holistic science does not diminish the importance of scientific explanations and the incredible research that has given us profound knowledge of mechanisms that underlie natural processes. Rather, it opens up, explores and critically evaluates diverse approaches that go beyond reductionistic or mechanistic explanation. Mathematics itself provides a shining example of the kind of understanding we seek, and holistic science is based on the premise that this kind of understanding is possible even outside the realm of mathematics. Examples of such approaches include Aristotle’s biology, medieval alchemy, Goethe’s science of nature, chaos and complexity theory, Gaia theory, and deep ecology.

By engaging in holistic scientific practices we develop for ourselves holistic ways of knowing. By reflecting on our practices we develop philosophical understanding of these methodologies. And by engaging with such practices from the history of science we can gain an understanding of science not as something fixed, but as something that is itself evolving. Moreover, this embodied exploration of the history of science brings us to experience an evolution of consciousness reflected in the history of science. We can experience how the scientific revolution that offered us mechanical explanation also offered us a particular consciousness of the world; a consciousness of the world as something separate from us, as something alien — a consciousness based on what Max Weber aptly characterized as the disenchantment of nature. Engaging in holistic practices allows us to develop ways of knowing that bring alive and deepen our participation in nature, that re-enchant nature. This new ecological consciousness then becomes the foundation for our action in the world, the foundation for bringing about change from a place not of separation from nature, but of participation within nature.

programme structure & modules

There are two terms of timetabled teaching periods when you must live on site (or nearby in Totnes or the vicinity) and participate in the learning community. We have a limited number of residential places available for international students. Apply as early as possible.

Term One Modules

Module 1: Science of Qualities

The aim of this module is to engage in the practices, philosophy and history of holistic science in an embodied way so that we can develop a participatory relationship with nature. For example, on the basis of a deep and sustained engagement with colour phenomena we will contrast Goethe’s qualitative approach to colour with Newton’s quantitative approach. Such contrasts allow us to critically examine the fundamental principles of modern science and explore alternative qualitative and holistic approaches. Through explorations of gestalt psychology, projective geometry, general relativity and quantum physics we will develop a concrete understanding of scientific paradigms and how paradigms change.

Module 2: Chaos and Complexity

In this module we will explore theoretical and practical principles of chaos and complexity theories for understanding life using experiential enquiry and mathematical and geometrical modelling. We will develop skills in applying complexity theory to our participatory investigations of plants and animals, in order to better understanding the dynamic principles that underlie the emergence of order at various levels of organisation. Through these explorations we will gain familiarity with how chaos and complexity theories can open up the idea of a participatory view of the universe.

Module 3: The Living Earth

This module examines the principles of complexity and emergent order at the level of the Earth by experiencing the life of Gaia through a science-based participatory pedagogy. We will explore how globally stable states can emerge from complex interactions between life, rocks, atmosphere and oceans; the carbon cycle at different time scales and its effects on Earth’s temperature; biological modification of the Earth’s albedo; and critical steps in the evolution of the Earth. Through exploring symbiogenesis and symbiosis as integrative principles in the evolution of the Earth and the regulation of atmospheric oxygen as a Gaian process, we will develop an understanding of the role of biodiversity in maintaining the health of ecological communities and the earth and climate change from a Gaian perspective.

Term Two Modules

Module 4: Contemporary Issues in Holistic Science

This module enables an in-depth study of a selection of contemporary issues within the purview of holistic science that have not been covered elsewhere in the programme. The issues we will investigate come from relevant, pressing topics that are influencing contemporary science. Through these studies students will gain a working knowledge of a diversity of perspectives and will probe and critically examine the underlying assumptions and any ethical implications.

Module 5: Mind in Nature

The aim of this module is to investigate holistic approaches to the so-called ‘hard problem of consciousness’ – how it is that physical systems produce consciousness. By exploring the main trajectories of Western thought regarding the nature of consciousness with a particular emphasis on science and philosophy, we will explore major developments regarding the nature of consciousness. Through this exploration we will consider questions such as whether consciousness is uniquely human or distributed more widely – even fundamentally – through the world and whether consciousness is something static or in a process of evolution.

Module 6: Philosophy and Ecology

This module considers key ideas in the development of thought within the intersection of philosophy and ecology and engages in embodied practices of participation in nature and the world. Through a theoretical and participatory engagement with participatory philosophies such as deep ecology and archetypal psychology, we will critique the relationship between humans and the world at large and critically engage with philosophies that do not place humans at the centre of the cosmos.

Dissertation (60 credits)

Discover research methods through workshops for the purposes of peer-support around similar or supervisor, with supervisory support focusing on clarifying the enquiry, the research methodology and literature review.

watch: why study holistic science at schumacher college?

entry requirements

Qualification(s) required for entry to the MSc

BA/BSc (Honours) Degree
Where the first degree is not a 2.1, or in an unrelated subject, further support of the application or experience may be required.

Other non-standard awards or experience
A willingness to engage with the field of Holistic Science. Candidates will be considered with prior credited learning and prior experiences subject to interview.*

Interview requirements
All applicants are required to attend an interview, either at the College or online. During the interview we will look for: evidence of intellectual clarity during interview; a clearly formulated purpose for taking the course; focused interests and a clear understanding of the ethos and philosophy of the College; readiness and ability to live and work in a communal setting.

*For further information please contact our admissions team at admissions@dartington.org.


For full details on our fees, plus information about scholarships, student loans and bursaries, click here.


Stephan Harding

Dr Stephan Harding


Stephan is a Deep Ecology Research Fellow and has been teaching on the MSC Holistic Science programme since its inception in 1998.

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Troy Vine

Dr Troy Vine


Dr Troy Vine is Programme Lead for MSc Holistic Science.

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Graduates leave to work in:

  • Higher education
  • Research: at doctoral level and beyond
  • NGOs: especially those tackling climate emergency
  • Permaculture: the application of holistic thought to land management and community
  • Economics: analysing how markets responds to various stressors
  • Design: finding solutions to complex problems
  • Business and healthcare: from start-ups to consultancy.

alumni stories

Nigel Topping

High Level Climate Action Champion, COP26

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Emma Kidd

PhD researcher in Sustainability, Glasgow Caledonian University

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Tom Rivett Carnac

Founding Partner, Global Optimism

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Louise Livingstone

Director at Heart Sense Research Institute

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live chats & open days

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latest news, blogs and more

Holistic Science Online Talks

A series of free monthly talks on the subject of Holistic Science, organised by Schumacher College in collaboration with the Field Centre.

In addition to ongoing live talks, you can catch up with previous talks online.