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Great World Religions: Hinduism

Great World Religions: Hinduism

Course No.  6104
Course No.  6104
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Course Overview

About This Course

12 lectures  |  30 minutes per lecture

Terms we associate with Hinduism—"Hinduism," "religion," and "India"—are all Western labels, terms that for most of history did not accurately reflect the thinking of those who practice this ancient faith. In fact, one of the primary themes of Professor Mark W. Muesse's lectures is the difficulty of studying Hinduism without imposing Western perceptions on it.

In Hinduism you will find a religion that is perhaps the most diverse of all. It worships more gods and goddesses than any other, and it rejects the notion that there is only one path to the divine.

A Window into All Religions

These lectures provide a window into the roots of, perhaps, all religions. You will explore over the course of Hinduism's 5,000-year journey:

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Terms we associate with Hinduism—"Hinduism," "religion," and "India"—are all Western labels, terms that for most of history did not accurately reflect the thinking of those who practice this ancient faith. In fact, one of the primary themes of Professor Mark W. Muesse's lectures is the difficulty of studying Hinduism without imposing Western perceptions on it.

In Hinduism you will find a religion that is perhaps the most diverse of all. It worships more gods and goddesses than any other, and it rejects the notion that there is only one path to the divine.

A Window into All Religions

These lectures provide a window into the roots of, perhaps, all religions. You will explore over the course of Hinduism's 5,000-year journey:

  • The Indus Valley civilization
  • The sizable variety of Hindu gods and goddess
  • The sacred writings in the Vedas, Bhagavad Gita, and Upanishads
  • Ritual purity rites
  • The Aryan language of Sanskrit, whose roots can be seen in English words such as "divine," "video," and "ignite."

The story of Hinduism is the story of very non-Western traditions—arranged marriages and the caste system—that have survived and thrived for thousands of years; and of a wealth of gods, terms, and practices—karma, Krishna, yoga, guru—that have found a home in Western lives and language.

The course also explains that Hinduism rejects the notion that there is only one path to the divine, and at its best, it honors all seekers of truth.

Understand the Oldest Religion

Hinduism is the world's oldest living religious tradition, with roots deep in the early cultures of India. These ancient cultures, the most important of which were the Indus Valley civilization and the Aryan society, combined to create a highly diverse family of religions and philosophies.

The series moves chronologically through the history of Hinduism, from its earliest precursors through its classical manifestations to its responses to modernity. Along the way, Dr. Muesse discusses salient aspects of Hindu life and places them in historical and theological context.

The journey begins with an examination of the early cultures that most significantly shaped the development of Hinduism.

  • Dr. Muesse makes a brief visit to the indigenous culture of northern India, the Indus Valley civilization, before introducing the migration of the Aryans from Central Asia.
  • Hinduism received from the Aryans its most sacred and authoritative scripture, the Veda, which is explored in detail.
  • After the Vedic period, classical Hinduism formed many of its basic ideas and practices, including the notions of transmigration of the soul, reincarnation, and karma. Major social arrangements were established in Hindu culture.
  • The classic phase strongly influences the present day. Social stratification and gender relations greatly affect the nature of spiritual life for all Hindus. Professor Muesse discusses the caste system, and the different life patterns for men and women.

The Way of Action, ye Way of Wisdom, the Way of Devotion

Hinduism is religiously and philosophically diverse. It affirms the multiplicity of the divine and acknowledges that there are multiple paths to divine reality. Dr. Muesse outlines:

  • The Way of Action, the spiritual discipline pursued by most Hindus, aims to improve an individual's future lives through meritorious deeds, according to the Hindu belief in reincarnation. The lectures look at several examples of such action, including ritual, festival, and pilgrimage.
  • The Way of Wisdom is a much less-traversed pathway to salvation because it is so demanding and rigorous. Gaining wisdom means to understand the unity of the soul and ultimate reality, and to live one's life accordingly.
  • The Way of Devotion, or bhakti, is oriented toward faith in a deity of personal choice. It is a widely chosen road to god among Hindus. Your introduction to bhakti practice comes through one of the most important and beloved Hindu texts, the Bhagavad Gita, a wondrous story of a warrior's dilemma and the counsel of the god Krishna. It has been a treasure trove of spiritual enrichment for Hindus for centuries.

Dr. Muesse also explores the functions of images in Hindu worship and how Hinduism can be both monotheistic and polytheistic. You learn about devotion to the Goddess and her many manifestations in the Hindu pantheon, and investigate some of the theory and practice of Tantra, a yogic discipline associated with the Goddess.

Hinduism Today

Modern Hinduism faces challenges from Islam and from Western culture. Theological differences between Hinduism and Islam have generated tense relationships between Hindus and Muslims, frequently erupting into outright violence.

Dr. Muesse describes the British Raj and the Indian independence movement led by Gandhi, includes examples of Hindu missions to the West, and discusses the tensions between Hinduism and modernity.

The many paths of Hinduism involve very different conceptions of divine reality, and Dr. Muesse explains how such divergent views coexist within the Hindu tradition.

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12 Lectures
  • 1
    Hinduism in the World and the World of Hinduism
    Reflection on the subject and the methods used to examine it are very important when one begins the study of Hinduism, a very old and complex religion. This inaugural lecture describes how Hinduism will be studied in this series. We examine the words "Hinduism," "religion," and "India," discussing why they are problematic yet useful for the study of our subject. x
  • 2
    The Early Cultures of India
    Hinduism is an amalgamation of elements from several cultural sources. This lecture focuses on two major contributors, the Indus Valley civilization, and the Aryans. The discovery of the Indus Valley civilization in the 19th century revealed a sophisticated and long-forgotten culture. In this lecture, we examine the artifacts left by this civilization and contemplate their import for its inhabitants and for the subsequent emergence of Hinduism. x
  • 3
    The World of the Veda
    In this lecture and the next, we explore the Aryan contributions to the emergence of Hinduism. Our guide is the rich collection of Aryan texts known as the Veda, today regarded by Hindus as their most sacred and authoritative scripture. We shall examine how these texts envisioned the world and its creation, some Vedic gods and goddesses, and the Veda's understanding of the nature and destiny of human beings and their place in the world. x
  • 4
    From the Vedic Tradition to Classical Hinduism
    This talk discusses the emergence of classical Hinduism and its views. We examine the place of ritual in Aryan life, their purposes, and their performers. In the central centuries of the first millennium B.C.E., remarkable changes raised doubts about the time-honored Vedic tradition. These doubts spurred the emergence of Hinduism. We see how philosophers came to see the human as an immortal soul encased in a perishable body and bound by action, or karma, to a cycle of endless existences. x
  • 5
    Caste
    In addition to new ideas about life, classical Hinduism is defined by evolving social arrangements. This lecture and the next discuss the social foundations of Hinduism. We observe how Aryan society is transmuted into an exceedingly complex caste system. Rules regulating behavior within and between castes were developed and joined to the emerging ideas about the soul. These regulations had—and have—tremendous impact on Hindu social life, governing matters such as one's work, marriage, diet, and hygiene. x
  • 6
    Men, Women, and the Stages of Life
    Like caste, patterns of behavior became a fact of life during the emergence of classical Hinduism. We examine the roles of women and men and the social mores governing relationships. We see how regulations formed in classical Hinduism prescribed particular stages of life to be followed by men and women of caste. We give special attention to the householder stage, marriage, the patterns of family life, and the final stage of life, often widowhood for women and renunciation for men. x
  • 7
    The Way of Action
    Classical Hinduism established the central problem of human existence for Hindus—samsara, the cycle of continual transmigration of the soul. Hinduism offers three ways to deal with this problem. This talk focuses on the first: the path of action, the most important religious discipline for most Hindus. The principal features of the path of action are performing meritorious religious deeds, including rituals, festivals, and pilgrimages. x
  • 8
    The Way of Wisdom
    Changes that precipitated classical Hinduism also caused transformation in Indian religious practices. Numerous movements rose in response to these developments. This lecture will discuss the sages who tried to continue the Vedic tradition by maintaining the authority of the Veda. These sages produced practices and philosophies to address transmigration and karma. We explore the new solutions from within the orthodox Hindu tradition with a study of the highly valued Upanishads. x
  • 9
    Seeing God
    Early Western interpreters regarded Hinduism as a crude and hopelessly idolatrous religion. In this lecture we explore the dynamics of Hindu theism in theory and in practice. We see how the pantheon of Hinduism and devotion to images avoid idolatry, and we explore some of the rituals associated with worshiping the god(s). We focus on Siva, one of the most widely revered Hindu deities. x
  • 10
    The Way of Devotion
    Hinduism affirms the multiplicity of the divine as well as the multiplicity of paths to divine reality. In this lecture, we will look at the path of bhakti, or devotion. Oriented toward faith in a personal deity of choice, the path of devotion is a widely traversed road to god among Hindus. Our entry to bhakti practice will be through one of the most important and beloved of Hindu texts, the Bhagavad-gita. This wonderful story of a warrior's dilemma and the counsel of the god Krishna is a treasure trove of spiritual enrichment for Hindus. x
  • 11
    The Goddess and Her Devotees
    In this lecture, we study features of Goddess worship, a long-established tradition in India known as Saktism. We examine manifestations of the Goddess as consorts to the great gods and as autonomous devis. We learn that the feminine energy revealed by the Goddess is essential to Hindu theology. The lecture also explores the practices and concepts of Tantra, an esoteric yogic discipline with origins that may date to the Indus Valley civilization. x
  • 12
    Hinduism in the Modern Period
    Modern Hinduism has been challenged by Islam and Western culture. Both incursions into India have left profound and lasting imprints. In this lecture, we discuss Islam's effects on Hinduism; we discuss how theological differences have formed tense relationships between Hindus and Muslims that frequently erupt into violence. We consider the effects of British expansion into India and religious responses to British presence, and the religious philosophy of Mohandas Gandhi. We examine the articulation of Hinduism to the West and its movement beyond India. x

Lecture Titles

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Mark W. Muesse
Ph.D. Mark W. Muesse
Rhodes College

Dr. Mark W. Muesse is W. J. Millard Professor of Religious Studies, Director of the Asian Studies Program, and Director of the Life: Then and Now Program at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. He earned a B.A., summa cum laude, in English Literature from Baylor University and a Master of Theological Studies, a Master of Arts, and a Ph.D. in the Study of Religion from Harvard University. Before taking his position at Rhodes, Professor Muesse held positions at Harvard College, Harvard Divinity School, and the University of Southern Maine, where he served as Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. He is a recipient of the 2008 Clarence Day Award for Outstanding Teaching, Rhodes College's highest faculty honor. Known for his experiential teaching style, Professor Muesse was honored for his effective use of imaginative and creative pedagogy as well as his ability to motivate his students toward lifelong study. Professor Muesse has written many articles, papers, and reviews in world religions, spirituality, theology, and gender studies and has coedited a collection of essays titled Redeeming Men: Religion and Masculinities. He is currently compiling an anthology of prayers from around the world. Professor Muesse is a member of the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Indian Philosophy and Religion and has been Visiting Professor at the Tamilnadu Theological Seminary in Madurai, India. He has traveled extensively throughout Asia and has studied at Wat Mahadhatu, Bangkok, Thailand; the Himalayan Yogic Institute, Kathmandu, Nepal; the Subodhi Institute of Integral Education, Sri Lanka; and Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey.

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Reviews

Rated 4.1 out of 5 by 38 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by Brilliant introductory course... A masterful, authoritative introduction to the fascinating world of Hinduism which is so very different from Western life. Dr Muesse's explanations of "religion", "India" and "Hinduism" are hypnotic, providing a perfect start to this wonderful series on one of the world's leading religions -- one with which most of us in the West are not very familiar, perhaps other than knowing it has a caste system and considers the cow to be a holy animal. A pantheon of 330 million gods may come as a surprise! The professor has a compelling, naturally-flowing, moderately-paced style which truly makes listening easy and enjoyable; he goes into important detail on critical points, as time permits. His 12 half-hour talks are carefully constructed and sequenced. When you finish this course, you will have a solid basic grounding in Hinduism; you will undoubtedly view its followers in a whole new light; you will have new understanding and appreciation, and you will indeed know what Hindus "believe". On balance, of course, it is important to remember that this is an introductory course. A major achievement, one of Great Courses' best, and easily earns top recommendation. June 26, 2014
Rated 4 out of 5 by Great Overview of Hinduism: A Super Large Task This was great course as well. It was the 4th course of the great world religions that I listened to and I thought that it was excellent. Dr. Muesse did an excellent job. I don't know if he's a practitioner of Hinduism but he seems very involved in it. I did a search for him on google and he's very involved in meditation as it is practiced in India, and has been a teacher at Tamilnadu Theological Seminary in Madurai, India. I'm not sure exactly what that means but it sounds like a good recommendation that he understands Hinduism. I'm not sure how old this lecture set is. I'm listening to it again, and it was given to me as a gift a while ago. He talks about the destruction of a Mosque as a recent event showing the tension between Hinduism and Islam. I had to research that as well and it says that it happened Dec. 2 1992, so maybe this is a very old set of lectures. However, I think this is a perfect illustration of the Islamic subjection of people. They build their mosques in areas designed to be as offensive to the subject people as possible. What could be worse to Hindus than to have a mosque built on the site of the birth of their God King Rama? I did a search on Prof. Mussee to see if he's taught any more courses and he has; Confucius, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad and Religions of the Axial Ages. I can remember that I didn't like the set on Confucius and Religions of the Axial Ages was one of the first sets that I ever purchased and can't really remember it. I'll have to listen to them again and review them. Anyway I really enjoyed this lecture series and would highly recommend it. February 22, 2014
Rated 1 out of 5 by Well presented, good overview, but just too exotic I belong to a group of retired people who take great courses together. We have studied, art, history, music and now religion. This time around we decided to do ALL of the Worlds Great Religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. I am going to leave our overall rating for each course in each of the five reviews I am writing here. Our final order as it turned out is the same order in which we viewed the courses: Judaism (4 Stars), Christianity (3 Stars), Islam (3 Stars), Hinduism (1 Star), Buddhism (No Stars), Here is a case where the professor was interesting. lively, engaging, and comfortable. He presented a well formulated and clear study of the origins, texts, beliefs, and practice of Hinduism. But the experience was just too far from our own, too exotic for us to make a connection except as observers of a tradition with roots so different from ours that we could not connect to it. As a group our hope was to discover the core of the faith that attractive other human beings to it.....it never clicked....for us. The bottom line was that the content was good, the professor capable and pleasant but overall effect was less than the sum of its parts. February 14, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Excellent but far too short An very short but interesting introduction to a vast subject. Given the number of Hindus in the world it would make sense for the Teaching Company to offer a longer course on this subject. Professor Muesse makes a brave effort in cramming some 3000 years of a culture into 6 hours of lectures. July 4, 2013
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