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Great World Religions: Hinduism

Great World Religions: Hinduism

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Great World Religions: Hinduism

Course No. 6104
Professor Mark W. Muesse, Ph.D.
Rhodes College
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Course No. 6104
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Course Overview

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
 |  30 minutes each
Year Released: 2003
  • 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

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Your professor

Mark W. Muesse

About Your Professor

Mark W. Muesse, Ph.D.
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,...
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Reviews

Rated 4.1 out of 5 by 46 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by Good introductory course to the history and concept of HInduism July 24, 2016
Rated 5 out of 5 by Hinduism: History, Sociology, Spirituality This is a very good overview of the history, sociology, politics and spirituality of Hinduism. This course needs to be much longer because there is so much to cover. I am most interested in the the spiritual and philosophical beliefs of Hindus. Less so in their politics and modern life. The professor does a good job in presenting a balanced view of such a complex subject. May 26, 2016
Rated 4 out of 5 by A Dharma in progress Audio download... This is a tough review...if you're thinking of a course that will give you a strong introduction to Hinduism, presented by a clear-speaking, well prepared lecturer...this is a good one and I recommend it. The history of this fascinating religion is quite long, with origins possibly as old as 3500 BCE, long before any of the religions that we in the 'west' are most familiar. However, I was a bit disturbed by some of the aspects of Hinduism in general, since some of the values it eschews are completely foreign to me (especially lectures 5 and 6). It only shows that I'll need to dig a bit deeper into this subject. Admittedly, this is my first exposure into Hinduism, and I probably don't really understand the spiritual world of Trīmārga...I probably will try to listen to more of the lectures from Dr Muess ('Religions of the Axial Age' seems to be a good place to start) and try to wrap my mind around a religion that is the way of life for over a billion people. Improving my (good) karma may yet become my dharma. Wait for a sale and a coupon, and be patient...apparently you have as many lives as it takes. March 22, 2016
Rated 5 out of 5 by Six Solid Hours video download version Professor Muesse covers everything from the the Indus valley civilization to how Hinduism is being affected by(and effects) the West today in 12 short lectures. Perhaps more than any of the other religions surveyed in this series, he has the most daunting task. In part because some of the other religions (notably Judaism and especially Christianity) are probably familiar to most taking these courses, or because Islam has a presence in the West and is much in the news, or because Buddhism, while sharing many of the traditions of Hinduism, does not have the plethora of Gods with which to wrestle, nor as long a history. To his credit, Dr. Muesse manages his survey admirably. He hits the high points, and even manages some in-depth discussion on a few of them. Along with other reviewers, I learned more about the caste system and why it is so much a part of Indian culture even today, that I had not previously known. Regrettably there was not enough time for professor Muesse to discuss much about the great epics, but perhaps the TC will give full courses to the Ramayana or the Mahabharata in the future. At least this course does devote some time to the Bhagavad-gita, a work that I wold like to have even more time devoted to. While I did know of the central problem of continual rebirth in Hinduism, I was unaware of, and particularly impressed with the discussion of the three ways to address this central problem. These three lectures really helped me to sort out a great deal of confusion in my mind about this issue. Although the professor apologizes at the end of the course as to how much he had to leave out, I for one was impressed with how much he managed to include in this short course. His style is not particularly dynamic, but is slow and measured and very easy to follow. I'll purchase other courses that he presents. Recommended March 2, 2016
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