Cultural Literacy for Religion: Everything the Well-Educated Person Should Know

Experience the historical, theological, and cultural components of the world's religions as an award-winning Professor takes you on a tour of our world and its religious cultures.
Cultural Literacy for Religion: Everything the Well-Educated Person Should Know is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 82.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Instructive and "Attention Holding" I have often wondered about what goes on in other religions - and now I know. Lecturer was unbiased, clear and concise, not the first course I've taken with him.
Date published: 2021-03-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from a perfect primer! This course is so true to its title that it often becomes amazing, almost eerily amazing. It is as if the professor knows everything I always wanted to know about religion but couldn't ask anybody because nobody I know was interested in topics of religion. This will be a perfect first course to take for someone who has been a non-believer, who does not know much about any religion, but is beginning to take serious interests in religion. The way course material is organized is excellent. While there isn't any real depth in what is covered (which is not to be expected from a course like this), the material never gets dull and trivial; it always comes with respect and real understanding. A great plus is that the professor is really easy to listen. As a non-native English speaker, I don't think I fully understood the expression "easy to listen" (because all listening requires a degree of sustained concentration). Listening to the professor of this course, I often thought, this is what "easy to listen" means.
Date published: 2021-03-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent overview of world religions I found this to be an excellent overview of the history, beliefs, and traditions of most world religions. I particularly liked the lecture on religion and the law in the United States.
Date published: 2021-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good review for reminding one of our roots See other views of the ways Views of other people’s make us happier people.
Date published: 2021-02-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent overviews; unsuitable for the areligious I bought and listened to this course thinking it might make a good gift for someone I know who grew up in mainland China and therefore has absolutely no concept of God or religion. However, the professor assumes that his listener already understands what one means by "God." This concept is never explained in a way that someone who grew up in a society where any religion was considered backward and superstitious could get it. That's a strange blind spot for a course purporting to explain world religions. With that said, his summaries of the history, practices and beliefs of the main world religions seemed informative and interesting. The narration of the life of the Buddha was especially compelling, as was his discussion of Zen. In the lecture on Chinese traditional religion, though, he gave a very misleading portrait of the extent to which those ideas remain prevalent in mainland China. The Maoist period was very successful in stamping out many traditional ideas. For example, Feng Shui is much more well-known now outside China than inside. But mainlanders remain skittish about the number 4 (which is a homophone for "death") and still consider the number 8 lucky. The lectures on Judaism contained one significant mistake. Traditionally, being Jewish passes down only through the mother, not the parents, as the professor said. This matters a lot because someone who has a Jewish father but a non-Jewish mother will have trouble finding a rabbi who will marry him/her in a Jewish wedding ceremony, whereas someone with a Jewish mother but non-Jewish father will have no such trouble. I was surprised to hear him classify Mormons as Protestants. The Mormons I know say they are Christians but not Protestants. I found the last two lectures irrelevant to his main themes and verging on inappropriate. Why? The lecture on religion and American law was too parochial (Great Courses have many non-American listeners), and the discussion of religious violence seemed to be trying to tame the concept of radical Islam without specifically focusing on it. The professor is very well-spoken, but he speaks so slowly that I put my audio player on its fast speed to listen to him, and that pace was just right for me. That is the first time I've had to do that for any Great Course, and I've listened to well over 40 of them by now.
Date published: 2020-08-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating and well organized I should be taking notes as I am learning so much! Great course.
Date published: 2020-04-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best Yet The instructor, Mark Berkson, was knowledgeable, articulate, well organized, thorough and personable. My wife and I benefited greatly from the course.
Date published: 2020-04-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good overview When a person speaks of teaching religion in public school (middle school to high school) this is the type program that I think is needed in the US today. Clearly, this is a survey course meant to cover the 'bare bones' of the world's major religions. Many people today just don't know much about religious dogma...including their own...sometimes. These lectures are about religions while not being religious...but the lectures are only a start. Misunderstanding another's religious views and practices could lead to trouble. When all a person know about a religion is the bad stuff, they naturally are biased against it and all who practice. Admittedly, Dr Berkson stresses only the 'good' news in his clear and well-organized lectures hitting only the high points and ignoring the sometimes ugly history. I just realized that I'm being a bit redundant, but, what the heck, we all need to be a bit more open minded and accepting of other's beliefs. These lectures are just the first step.
Date published: 2019-11-17
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When does the Jewish Sabbath begin? Who are Vishnu and Shiva? What are Buddhism's Four Noble Truths? What are the Five Pillars of Islam? Cultural Literacy for Religion: Everything the Well-Educated Person Should Know is your chance to experience the breadth and depth of the world's religions from all angles-historical, theological, and cultural. Over the course of 24 engaging lectures, award-winning Professor Mark Berkson of Hamline University takes you on a tour of our world and its religious cultures. Your journey will introduce you to the beliefs, symbols, and practices of other traditions, and it will provide you with new insights into your own.


Mark Berkson
Mark Berkson

Religious traditions should be approached not merely as objects of analysis, but also as challenges to be experienced subjectively. A deep encounter with another religion engenders intellectual and spiritual exploration and growth.


Hamline University

Dr. Mark Berkson is Professor of Religion at Hamline University. He earned a B.A. from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, an M.A. from Stanford University in East Asian Studies, and a Ph.D. from Stanford University in Religious Studies and Humanities. He has twice received Faculty Member of the Year awards and has received multiple fellowships for his work in Asian religions. A world traveler, he has lived in China and visited religious and pilgrimage sites in countries such as India, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, and Greece. Professor Berkson has given well over 100 presentations at conferences, universities, community meetings, and churches, and he has also appeared on radio and television news shows in segments dealing with religious issues. His scholarly work has addressed topics such as comparative religious thought, religious ethics, death and dying, and interfaith dialogue and has appeared in books and in such prestigious journals as the Journal of Religious Ethics, Teaching Theology & Religion, and Buddhist-Christian Studies.

By This Professor

Cultural Literacy for Religion: Everything the Well-Educated Person Should Know


Religion-Its Meaning and Importance

01: Religion-Its Meaning and Importance

Start by reexamining basic questions: Why does religion matter? What makes a religion? As you explore the answers, you'll embark on a journey toward a better understanding of the world, its histories, and its cultures, as well as a better understanding of yourself and what it means to be a good citizen in a diverse global community....

32 min
Facets of Religion-Divinity and Devotion

02: Facets of Religion-Divinity and Devotion

God. Divinity. Ultimate Reality. Start your journey by looking at how different religious traditions approach the concept of "God." In addition to exploring the concepts of divinity, you'll also look at key components of religious devotion: scripture, ritual, ideas about good and evil, and doctrines of salvation....

30 min
Hinduism-Foundational Texts and Teachings

03: Hinduism-Foundational Texts and Teachings

Explore the history of what some scholars consider the oldest living religion. You'll begin with the Indus River Valley civilization, and then you'll learn key elements of the Aryan and Vedic traditions, including scriptures, the pantheon of deities, and the social caste system. Then turn to the soul-Atman-and the concept of rebirth....

31 min
Hindu Gods and Devotional Practices

04: Hindu Gods and Devotional Practices

In this lecture, uncover new insights into the nature of divinity by studying the variety of fascinating Hindu deities, including Vishnu and his avatars, the many forms of Shiva, and forms of the goddess Devi. You'll also look at ways Hindus worship, from chanting in temples to festivals such as Diwali....

30 min
Gita to Gandhi-Yogas and Modern Hinduism

05: Gita to Gandhi-Yogas and Modern Hinduism

Examine Hinduism's many paths to spiritual liberation, from the teachings in the Bhagavad Gita to the many types of yoga. Your study of Hinduism concludes with a survey of its role in the world today: Hindu nationalism, modern democracy of India, and the influx of Hindus to the United States....

30 min
Waking Up-The Buddha and His Teachings

06: Waking Up-The Buddha and His Teachings

The life of Siddhartha Gautama-the Buddha himself-is a fascinating journey from a wealthy and sheltered upbringing to an understanding of Samsara, the cycle of rebirth and perpetual discontent. After meditating beneath the bodhi tree, he woke up with Buddhism's key to liberation: the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path....

30 min
Vehicles to Nirvana-The Schools of Buddhism

07: Vehicles to Nirvana-The Schools of Buddhism

Take a look at the three major schools of the Buddhist world: Theravada Buddhism, with its five precepts of ethical behavior; Mahayana Buddhism, the "great vehicle" that created new paths to Nirvana for its practitioners; and Vajrayana-including Tibetan-Buddhism. Also, explore the history of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, and the Tibetan Book of the Dead....

31 min
Chinese Religion and Cosmology

08: Chinese Religion and Cosmology

Travel east to China to survey the elements of Chinese cosmology that have shaped Chinese thought for millennia: the forces of yin and yang, and the metaphysical notions of qi and feng shui. You'll see that the goal of Chinese cosmology is to restore harmony to the world, and the focus is on family, nature, and the home....

30 min
Confucianism-Rituals and Relationships

09: Confucianism-Rituals and Relationships

Professor Berkson charts the life of Confucius, whose impact on East Asian thought is impossible to overstate. Born in the 6th century B.C.E. during a time of chaos in China, Confucius's religious tenets emphasized learning, self-cultivation, and human relationships in this world-rather than the supernatural, revelation, or life after death....

31 min
Daoism-Harmony, Nature, and the Way

10: Daoism-Harmony, Nature, and the Way

Learn about China's second major religion through the Dao De Jing, a collection of sayings that advocate a life of simplicity and contentment. Consider how Daoism's process of unlearning complements Confucianism's emphasis on learning, and see how to practice effortless action-or wu wei....

31 min
Kami and Spirits-Shinto and Shamanism

11: Kami and Spirits-Shinto and Shamanism

Professor Berkson takes you to Japan and the tradition of Shinto. Here you'll see how the Kami (gods/spirits) relate to everyday life in Japan, including agriculture and the role of the emperor. You'll then explore Shamanism, especially the characteristics of the Korean and Hmong traditions....

30 min
East Asian Buddhism-Zen and Pure Land

12: East Asian Buddhism-Zen and Pure Land

Conclude your journey through the Asian traditions with a study of Zen and Pure Land Buddhism. Chinese Buddhism gave rise to the "laughing Buddha," which affirms the joys of the world. Japanese Zen, with its emphasis on "just sitting" and its famous koans, has drawn practitioners from other traditions and given rise to Zen-Christians....

31 min
Judaism-God, Torah, and Covenant

13: Judaism-God, Torah, and Covenant

Your voyage through the Western traditions begins with the world's oldest monotheistic religion: Judaism. Explore the nature of the Jewish people, who have both a religious and an ethnic identity. At the heart of Judaism is the Torah, and you'll examine its stories, its laws, and the major figures who shaped the religion....

29 min
Varieties of Jewish Thought and Practice

14: Varieties of Jewish Thought and Practice

Witness the history of the Jewish people, from the first destruction of the temple 3,000 years ago to the aftermath of the Holocaust. You'll study the varieties of Jewish culture in diaspora, from the tenets of Orthodox Judaism and Hasidism to the views of Conservative and Reform Jews....

31 min
Living a Jewish Life

15: Living a Jewish Life

This lecture explores the rhythms that shape Jewish life: the weekly Sabbath and annual Jewish holy days, including Yom Kippur, Passover, Chanukah, and Purim. You'll also learn about specific customs and rituals of Judaism, such as kosher food, what happens at a bar mitSTah or bat mitSTah, and the wedding ceremony....

29 min
The Life and Commemoration of Jesus

16: The Life and Commemoration of Jesus

Return to the ancient world and uncover the life of Jesus. The writings of the New Testament show a man who preached love, forgiveness, and turning the other cheek. You'll witness the major events of his life, from his birth and baptism to the story of the Passion, and see how these events are linked to major Christian holidays....

31 min
Catholic and Orthodox Christianity

17: Catholic and Orthodox Christianity

How did Christianity flourish in its early years? Discover the process that led from Paul's letters in the 1st century to Constantine's conversion in the 4th century and the eventual formation of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Then look at the theology and sacraments of Catholicism....

33 min
Protestantism and Christianity Today

18: Protestantism and Christianity Today

Encounter the Protestant Reformation and its central tenets-justification through faith, a priesthood of all believers, and a focus on the Bible. You'll also look at the major denominations that developed, such as Lutheranism and Methodism. Then consider various nondenominational movements in today's world: evangelicalism, fundamentalism, and liberal Christianity....

32 min
Muhammad, Qur'an, and Islamic Civilization

19: Muhammad, Qur'an, and Islamic Civilization

Islam was founded in the 7th century by Muhammad, who received the revelation of the Qur'an. In this lecture, discover the depth and diversity of this major world religion. Along the way, hear the poetic qualities of the scripture, learn about the customs of Islam, and explore its connection to Judaism and Christianity....

33 min
Unity in Islam-The Five Pillars

20: Unity in Islam-The Five Pillars

Despite its diversity, Islam is unified by the Five Pillars. Examine each in detail and witness the beliefs and rituals of Muslims: the nature of God, the ritual of prayer, the importance of giving alms, the fast during Ramadan, and the pilgrimage to Mecca. Then uncover the truth about jihad and Islamic law....

30 min
Forms of Islam-Diversity among Muslims

21: Forms of Islam-Diversity among Muslims

Learn the history of Sunni and Shi'a Muslims, which began with the question of who would succeed Muhammad after his death. Follow the historical narrative through the 18th and 19th centuries, when Muslims were forced to grapple with Western values, then finish with an analysis of Islam in the world today, from the Middle East to America....

33 min
Jains, Sikhs, and Baha'is

22: Jains, Sikhs, and Baha'is

This lecture takes you beyond the most widely practiced religions and shows you the self-discipline and renunciation of the Jains, who are committed to non-harming; the highly influential Sikhs, who make up only 2% of India's population; and the Baha'i faith, a growing, pluralistic religion with roots in Shi'a Islam....

31 min
Religion and Law in America

23: Religion and Law in America

Return to America, where an important piece of cultural literacy involves understanding the Constitution and the relationship between church and state. You'll learn how the establishment and free exercise clauses have influenced both education and the freedom of religious practice by taking a closer look at several fascinating (and controversial) Supreme Court cases....

31 min
Religion Today-Trends, Challenges, and Hope

24: Religion Today-Trends, Challenges, and Hope

Religion is a moving target, constantly changing in our modern world. This lecture examines four demographic trends and how they impact the health of both religious traditions and society at large. The lecture concludes with a consideration of the relationship between religion and violence-how violence emerges and how it can be reduced....

36 min