Citation: Huitt, W. (2015). Citizenship. Cosmic-Citizenship. Atlanta, GA: Community Development through Academic Service Learning. Retrieved from

Return to: | Developing Curriculum for Global Citizenship | Becoming a Brilliant Star | EdPsyc Interactive |

Discussions regarding citizenship have received extensive attention in recent years as humanity moves rapidly into a new era of globalization (e.g., Isin, 2000; King, 2000; Peters, Britton, & Blee, 2008; Roth & Burbules, 2007). 


There are at least three issues that should be of concern to educators: identity, loyalty and responsibility, and rights.

In many ways, one’s concept of citizenship is an essential element of one’s self identity.  At the earliest stages of human evolution, the group affiliation that provided a source of one’s identity was the family or band, which then evolved into tribe, city state, and empire (McNeill & McNeill, 2003).  These changes in affiliation and identity took tens of thousands, then thousands, then hundreds of years.  While most people had an identity at only one of these levels at any given time, the concept of world citizen (derived from the Greek word kosmopolitês) had its advocates even in antiquity (Kleingeld, 2006).  The geographical explorations of the world in the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries (McNeill, & McNeill, 2003), the rapid changes in technology in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Huitt, 2007), combined with an increased diaspora that is expected to continue (Castles & Miller, 2003; OECD, 2008), has created a complexity of affiliation and identity seen only in isolated individuals in the past (Banks, 2007; Grimshaw & Sears, 2008; Marshall, 2009).  Unfortunately, recent attempts to make sense of these changes result in contradictory views.  One such example is found in the statements that the world is flat (Friedman, 2007) and the world is curved (Smick, 2008).  Townsend (2009) argued that this particular contradiction results from a change in focus--either on the whole (flat) or the differentiation of the parts (curved)--and that in the postmodern world, people (especially leaders) need to think and act at both levels and all of those in between.  Abrams and Primack (2011) make the case that one's identity should have a relationship to the cosmos as each human being, at least his or her material form, is a direct result of the evolution of the cosmos.  This is the perspective taken by Brown (2007) and Christian (2005) in their development of the concept of big history.  A major advantage for those advocating a local-global mindset (Bell-Rose & Desan,  2006; Townsend, 2009) is that people are able to understand one level above where they are able to act (Perry, 1999; Reimer, Paolitto, & Hersch, 1983).  Developing an identity as a global citizen will be easier for those who identify themselves as citizens of the cosmos.

Another issue involves the contradictions of loyalty (Hansen, 2010) and responsibility (Karlberg, 2008).  On the one hand , individuals owe certain loyalties and have responsibilities to their communities, as they are the primary contexts with which individuals have daily contact (Shinn & Toohey, 2003).  In fact,  it is neighborhoods that are the first level of community and serve as a developmental context, especially for children in poverty (Vaden-Kierman, D'Elio, O'Brien, Tarullo, Zill, and Hubbell-McKey, 2010).  However, at least in the USA, individuals are becoming more isolated and detached from their neighborhoods and immediate geographical regions (Putnam, 2000).  Turkle (2012) suggested this is a direct result of being tethered digitally throughout every waking moment of one's life.  With the spread of wireless technology and the use of  smartphones and other mobile devices throughout the world (Corasaniti, 2010; International Telecommunications Union, 2011), this phenomenon is likely to increase.  While it is advocated that people spend more time "untethered" (Bourg Carter, 2012), perhaps having a sense of loyalty to the cosmos as a cosmic citizen will encourage people to develop their full potentials as a means of being loyal to the cosmos into which they were born and using their competencies in the development of their local communities.

The reality is, however, that in the modern world, the nation-state is the focus of one's loyalties and responsibilities (Koczanowicz, 2010).  At the same time, the populations of the nation-state across the world are morphing rapidly as there is an unprecedented number of foreign-born individuals within a specific nation state (OECD, 2009).  This is putting tremendous pressure on nation states to both prepare their citizens to interact with and perhaps live and work in other countries while at the same time integrating non-native people into the society (Koczanowicz, 2010).  To make matters even more complex, the various relationships are nested (i.e., individual within local community within province, state, or region within nation within international region within world), and there are reciprocal (i.e., back-and-forth) relationships at all levels (Huitt, 2012a).  The fluidity of people's movements in, out, and through these various relationships is unprecedented in human history, at least on a global basis, making it very difficult to define one's loyalties and responsibilities.

Another contradiction is the discussion of whose rights should be central to the concept of citizenship: that of the individual (Hall, Coffey, & Williamson, 1999) or that of the community (Stevenson, 2010).  While there are excellent rationales provided for both of these as a focus for identifying rights of citizens, there is also an advocacy that the most important consideration is to provide a dynamic balance between the perspectives of individual autonomy and collective benefit (McIntyre-Mills, 2009).  This theme is adopted in the United Nations (1948) Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Pykett (2010) suggested that discussing the tensions between individual freedoms and social order is crucial to developing a sustainable view of citizenship education and guiding social reforms.  At a time in history when society is in great flux, a lack of a coherent policy results in jumping back and forth between these two advocacies in a manner that is neither satisfying nor effective.  Again, having an identity as a cosmic citizen can impact the development of a concept of human rights from a global perspective.

In summary, the need to define citizenship in all of its complexity and preparing young people for citizenship is a daunting task.  President Clinton (2010) advocated that the major job of citizens is "to build up the positive, and reduce the negative, forces of interdependency" that are exhibited in today's global sociocultural context.  At present there are a wide range of views on how to do this, none of which appears to be satisfactory for all (Philippou, Keating, & Ortloff, 2009).  The next section will discuss how one's view of citizenship is related to one's worldview or view of reality.

Citizenship and One’s View of Reality

One’s concept of citizenship is tied to one’s worldview or view of reality and one’s relationship to it (Huitt, 2015).  Scientific discoveries have been influential in this process, especially in the last 400 years.  Based on work from contributors such as Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler, in the seventeenth century Newton formulated a view of reality that guided scientific exploration for the next three hundred years and is still influential today (Ulanowicz, 2009).  However, discoveries in the twentieth century by Planck, Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr and many others are challenging the worldview proposed by Newton and used by Darwin in his theory of evolution (Stapp, 2007).  These scientific explorations provided a view of reality that includes understandings derived from work at the subatomic level based on quantum theory as well as the macro level of cosmology (Abrams & Primack, 2011; Brown, 2007; Christian, 2005).  Philosophers have been hard at work creating a set of organizing principles for this new paradigm (Laszlo, 1996; Ulanowicz, 2009).  McIntosh (2012) and Schacker (2001) have both described how the phases in the movement from a medieval worldview to the mechanistic, reductionistic worldview are now being repeated in the movement to the organismic, holistic, complex adaptive systems worldview.  Individuals and organizations use these ideas regularly in guiding development of their concepts of citizenship (Beck & Cowan, 1996; Snyder, Acker-Hocevar, & Snyder, 2008; Wheatley, 2006).  Thus, it is apparent that while the moving target of scientific understanding presents a challenge to the discussion, it is a critical element that needs to be included.

Both scientists and philosophers show how recent findings demand a revision of humanity’s relationship to both the microscopic and macroscopic views of reality.  Stapp (2007) offered a concise statement about the necessity for a reformulation of beliefs about human values and behavior:

Each of us, when trying to establish values upon which to base conduct, is inevitably led to the question of one's place in the greater whole.  The linkage of this philosophical inquiry to the practical question of personal values is no mere intellectual abstraction.  Martyrs in every age are vivid reminders of the fact that no influence upon human conduct, even the instinct for bodily self-preservation, is stronger than beliefs about one's relationship to the rest of the universe and to the power that shapes it.  Such beliefs form the foundation of a person's self-image, and hence, ultimately, of personal values (pp.4-5).

As discussed previously, Abrams and Primack (2011) took up the challenge of this reformulation using a scientific/materialistic worldview and advocated the conceptualization of a cosmic society and cosmic citizenship as an important next step in the sociocultural evolution of the planet.  Extending Townsend’s (2009) thinking, this would require an advocacy of thinking and acting on the local, global, and cosmic levels.  But exactly what would that mean?  Dowd (as cited in Huitt, 2012) suggested that, at a minimum, it means comprehending the simple act of breathing (taking in oxygen and nitrogen that originated when a red giant star collapsed billions of years ago) connects the physical body of every human being to the cosmos.  It also means that the body of every human being on the planet is a direct result of a physical-chemical-biological evolutionary process that is at least 13.7 billion years old and continuing.  The physical features of human beings connect individuals not only to each other, not only to every living being on the planet, but also to every type of physical entity in the cosmos.  Most importantly, Stapp (2007) and others (e.g., Combs, 2002; Schwartz & Begley, 2002) described how the recent insights generated through quantum theory contribute to an understanding of humanity’s potential for influencing this evolutionary process, especially in its psychological, sociocultural, and behavioral aspects.  This is an especially important component in the discussion of citizenship.  As stated previously, not only are the relationships of various levels of citizenship nested, but there are reciprocal relationships at all levels (Huitt, 2012a).  When change occurs at any level (whether intentionally or unintentionally), it influences changes at higher and lower levels of organization which, in turn, influences changes in a reciprocal manner.  To the extent those changes are intentional, allow one to better thrive and flourish, are prosocial in that they do the same for others, and diminish the negative aspects of global interdependency, the context within which one lives becomes more capable of even further positive growth and development.  Thus, one’s concept of citizenship has the potential to impact ever higher levels of context within which the individual is developing.


In addition to significant increases in scientific knowledge and the major paradigm used to organize those data, there have been attempts in recent years to reconcile these new understandings with cosmic-spiritual worldviews and worldviews inspired by interpretations of religious teachings (Dowd, 2008; Green & Palmer, 2005; Lewis-Williams, 2010; Polkinghorn, 1998; Wilber 2007).  There are detractors who proclaim there is no need for a reconciliation of science, spiritual reality, and religion as science is the only reasonable alternative (Dawkins,2006; Harris, 2005; Hitchens, 2009).  However, there are substantial disagreements among those involved in this discussion (Green & Palmer, 2005) and the discussion continues unabated.  At this point it would seem that any discussion about the source of knowledge related to views of citizenship would need to include representatives from all of the various scientific paradigms as well as those who espouse a cosmic-spiritual or religious worldview.

Educating for Citizenship

Fortunately, there are many efforts to provide education and schooling to prepare children and youth for their roles as citizens.  For example, Diaz, Massialas, and Xanthopoulos (1999) proposed that citizenship education should help students to develop thoughtful and explicit identifications with their cultural communities and their nation-states.  It should also help students to develop clarified global identifications and deep understandings of their roles in the world community.  One of the best known approaches is the curriculum developed by Oxfam GB (2006).  In addition to identifying specific knowledge, dispositions, and skills necessary for global citizenship for the entire K-12 system, Oxfam also provides activities and resources for addressing these in the classroom (see

Beyond working with classroom teachers, Cordry and Wilson (2004) advocated working with the family as parents are the first teachers of children and initial understandings of citizenship are developed there.  Woolley (2008) stated it is critical to influence student teachers as they are the future of the schooling profession.  Townsend (2009) advocated starting with school leadership, as they are influential in setting the schooling agenda.  Karlberg (2008) advocated that the community should be the focus of the effort to define citizenship as that is the context within which discussion about the elements of identity takes place while Doherty (2000) concluded the focus should be on efforts to connect families and communities.

The perspective taken in the Brilliant Star framework is that all of these are correct statements.  Efforts must be made to simultaneously address each level, from the individual, through the family and schools, to the levels of communities, nation states, and the entire planet.  Humanity is redefining itself and this includes affiliations and identities related to citizenship.  Each of these needs to be addressed in an integrated and systematic manner.  Additionally, the voices of those holding a secular/materialistic, cosmic-spiritual, or God-centered worldview need to be sought out and included so that there is buy-in from all segments of society who will be influenced by whatever alternatives are formulated.  Unity of thought about citizenship will not occur unless there is universal participation in its conceptualization and practice.


Cordry, S., & Wilson, J. (2004). Parents as first teacher. Education, 125(1), 56-62.

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