By Theodore Kalmoukos
ST. LOUIS, MO – Greek-American professor Michael Cosmopoulos was inducted into prestigious European Academy of Sciences and Arts. Dr. Cosmopoulos is the Hellenic Government-Karakas Foundation Professor of Greek Studies and Professor of Archaeology at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. Two other Greek professors were also inducted: Dr. Costas Synolakis from the University of Crete, Class of Technical and Environmental Sciences and Dr. Nicholas Christoudoulou from the European University of Cyprus Class of Medicine.
Cosmopoulos studied Greek Archaeology, Ancient History, and Classical Languages at the University of Athens (BA, summa cum laude, 1981), the University of Sorbonne-Paris IV (D.E.U.G., 1983), and Washington University in St. Louis (MA 1986, PhD 1989). He also holds a Diploma in Underwater Archaeology from the Council of Europe (1984).
In an interview with The National Herald he said “election to the Academy is an honor, in the sense that it represents recognition of my work. At the same time it also carries a great deal of responsibility, as it necessitates continued and active participation in the Academy’s efforts for the advancement of interdisciplinary research.”
He knew that he had been nominated “but the criteria for election are very strict and there were not any guarantees that the outcome would be positive,” he said.
Descripting the induction, he said “the ceremony took place at the seat of the Academy, at the University of Salzburg, in Austria. Academy President [Felix Unger] introduced the new members according to the Class in which they were elected. The Academy has seven classes representing different fields: I was elected in Class I- Humanities and presented to each new member a diploma and a pin that the members of the Academy wear. The ceremony also included speeches and a concert.”
He explained what attracted him to the humanities and the Classics: “I grew up under the shadow of the Acropolis, surrounded by Greek myths and ancient Greek culture. It was not hard for me to fall in love with ancient Greece and to want to dedicate my life to its study.”
His focus nowadays is on the excavations at Iklaina, “one of the capitals of the Mycenaean world. The importance of Iklaina consists of the study of the formation of the first states in Western civilization – in fact, it appears that at Iklaina we have one of the earliest states with a two-tiered form of government, a precursor to our federal system of government.”
Speaking about similarities between the ancient Greek religion and Christianity, he said “Christian dogma was not born in a vacuum, but was to a large degree shaped by the cultural and social conditions of the last centuries before Christ and the first centuries after Christ. That was a time when Greek civilization was dominant. The Church Fathers found in Greek language and Greek philosophy the vehicle that allowed them to express the Christian truth in such a way, that it would become comprehensible by the wider population.”
Regarding the Greek Studies in the US today professor Cosmopoulos said “they are at a turning point. With each passing generation the Greek element in America is in increasing danger or losing its identity and it falls on academic programs in Greek studies to preserve this identity. The challenge for us academics is to avoid introversion and to reach out to the wider public, in order to showcase the importance and relevance of Greek culture for modern American life”.
He said that there is interest by the Greek-American and also the American students and added that “at the University of Missouri St. Louis the interest is stronger by Americans who are not of Greek descent. This is good, as it allows us to create a new generation of philhellenes who are passionate about Greece. It is truly moving to hear students who return from our programs in Greece say that they don’t just miss Greece, but that they feel “homesick” for Greece.”
Professor Cosmopoulos also said that “unfortunately we live in an era in which the humanities are under attack. There is a general mentality that universities should focus on technical skills, because these skills will allow young people to find jobs. To me, this mentality is off-base: the fast pace at which technology develops means that the technical skills acquired today will be obsolete tomorrow. In other words, the skills that we teach our youth will be useless within a short amount of time. In the long term this will push our students to marginalization and unemployment. The real skill they need is the ability to adapt to new situations, to apply critical thinking, to develop their creativity, to pursue life-long learning, and to develop persistence and grit in order to overcome the difficulties that life will throw at them. These are the skills that really matter and these skills can only be taught in strong liberal arts programs, with a very strong Greek component.”
Asked what Hellenism is for you, Cosmopoulos replied “it is a way of life and a philosophy of life, centered on humanity. Hellenism has shaped modern society and we find its impact everywhere, from science and medicine to politics and sports. As someone has said, we live and breathe Greece every day! For me, however, the true contribution of Hellenism is humanity: the understanding of human nature and the awareness of our character and personality, as well as of the greater forces that affect our lives. Especially in modern society it is vital that we develop our humanity to keep pace with the speed of our technological progress.”
Regarding Greece’s crisis, is it solely economic, or are there other dimensions? “Please allow me to return to the notion of humanity. I think that the economic and political crisis that has hit Greece is the result of a deeper crisis in ideas and values. Simply put, I think that we are following the wrong path, carried away by the excessive desire for material goods and the loss of those values that bring true happiness.”
He thinks that the Greek-American Community “is doing well from the material point of view. From the point of view of Greek identity we need to be vigilant so that we will be able to safeguard and bequeath this identity to our children.”