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Sacred Texts of the World

Sacred Texts of the World

Professor Grant Hardy, Ph.D.
University of North Carolina, Asheville

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Sacred Texts of the World

Course No. 6160
Professor Grant Hardy, Ph.D.
University of North Carolina, Asheville
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4.8 out of 5
40 Reviews
97% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 6160
  • Audio or Video?
  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video version enhances your learning through a well-illustrated presentation featuring visual depictions of many of the gods, goddesses, and prophets of the world's religions and portraits and photos of important figures in comparative religion. On-screen text is also used to emphasize key points throughout the course.
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Course Overview

Throughout history, religious expression has been an essential human activity, deeply influencing the development of cultures and civilizations. Today, even after centuries of scientific empiricism, the world’s major religions are as active as ever, continuing to speak profoundly to their believers’ self-conception and ways of living.

With few exceptions, humanity’s religions are grounded in their sacred texts—foundational writings that crystallize the principles and vision of the faiths, forming the basis of belief and action.

The worldwide library of sacred texts is a vast and extraordinary canon that includes a large number of the most impactful books ever written. Beyond the Hebrew and Christian scriptures and Islam’s Qur’an, jewels of the world’s sacred writings include the Hindu Vedas, the Buddhist Sutras, Daoism’s Daodejing, and the Analects of Confucius, as well as the revered texts of traditions such as Zoroastrianism and Jainism, and modern faiths such as Baha’i. These are texts that people around the world live by and, at times, are willing to die for.

Remarkable in their centrality and enduring appeal, sacred writings offer a uniquely revealing window into global thought, culture, and history. A familiarity with the diverse body of world scriptures offers you

  • a penetrating look at how people from different traditions have viewed the cosmos, the world, and human beings;
  • a grasp of the core values and beliefs of the world’s highly influential faiths;
  • a deep sense of the worldview, cultural themes, perceptions, and concerns driving the societies that produced the texts;
  • direct knowledge and understanding of a towering body of world literature, reflecting richly varied traditions; and
  • the words and insights of some of the wisest human beings in history on the self, the mind, ethics, morality, and meaningful living.

At their core, sacred writings take you to the essence of the world’s faiths as they give meaning and inspiration to countless millions of people around the globe. In doing so, the texts provide a significant bridge to understanding other peoples and ways of life, and an opportunity to look at our own traditions and assumptions with fresh eyes and a greatly enlarged perspective.

Now, in Sacred Texts of the World, Professor Grant Hardy of the University of North Carolina at Asheville takes you deeply into the world canon of sacred writings that have played an integral role in human culture and history. Covering a wide spectrum of texts, the course examines the scriptures of seven major religious traditions, as well as nine lesser-known or smaller faiths, including sacred writings from the ancient Egyptian and Mayan civilizations. These 36 lectures provide rich insights into world cultures and the meaning of religious faith.

A Global Richness of Sacred Traditions

Within each faith studied, the lectures provide an overview of the full range of sacred writings, focusing on the texts that are the most significant and relevant for comprehending the tradition.

In addition to extensive study of the scriptures of the Judeo-Christian and Islamic worlds, you’ll discover religious texts from vastly differing cultures, including these iconic writings:

  • The Hindu Upanishads:Within a broad look at the huge Hindu canon, study the spiritual arguments and dialogues of the Brihadaranyaka and Chandogya Upanishads, core wisdom texts elaborating the underlying unity of brahman (ultimate reality) and atman (the self or soul).
  • The Adi Granth of Sikhism: Unpack this most unusual text, the beloved heart of the Sikh religion; study its precepts expressed in hymns, poetry, and prayers; and learn how devotees treat the book as a living guru.
  • The Buddhist Mahayana Sutras: Among six lectures on seminal Buddhist texts, taste the Mahayana tradition’s Lotus, Diamond, and Heart sutras, and their compelling expressions of emptiness, non-duality, and “no-self.”
  • The Zoroastrian Avesta: Grapple with the challenging theology of this ancient Persian religion, embodied in the Avesta’s hymns, religious codes, and spiritual debates between the priest Zoroaster and the creator god, Ahura Mazda.
  • The Classicsof Confucianism: Delve into the Confucian notions of self-cultivation, right action, and harmony with the cosmos; contemplate texts including the Analects,the Mencius, and the renowned Yijing; and trace their profound influence on Chinese culture.
  • The Mayan Popol Vuh: Uncover this remarkable text of the ancient Mayan culture, comprising creation stories, religious ritual, and sacred mythological narratives.

Scriptural Treasures of the Abrahamic Faiths

Among the major world religions, you’ll devote a full third of the lectures to the emblematic texts of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Here, the inquiry covers not only these faiths’ most central writings, but other key texts that illuminate the monotheistic traditions.

In Judaism, you’ll study the roots of the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) and the great texts of its constituent parts—the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings—discovering how the ancient Jews, scattered geographically, were bound together by their scriptures. Within Christianity, you’ll trace the complex origins of the New Testament and dig deeply into the Gospels, Acts, and Letters. You’ll also study the formation and contents of Islam’s Qur’an, sampling excerpts of its majestic poetry and diverse suras (chapters).

Building on your knowledge of the core scriptures of these faiths, you’ll investigate these important related texts:

  • The Jewish Mishnah and Talmud: Grasp the role and significance of the Mishnah, an elemental text teaching critical thinking, and of the Talmud, a vast literary commentary on Jewish life.
  • The Christian Apocryphal Gospels: Discover four noncanonical versions of the life of Jesus, containing revealing and often provocative stories and teachings.
  • The Hadith of Islam: Contemplate this revered body of texts narrating the actions and sayings of Muhammad as they speak critically to Muslim life and culture.

Expanding the inquiry beyond the most long-standing faiths, Professor Hardy invites your consideration of the sacred writings of more recent religions. Among these, you’ll encounter the Japanese Tenrikyo and its distinctive scriptures of poems, songs, and revelations. You’ll also study the monumentalBook of Mormon and Mormonism’s other core texts, and read foundational Baha’i writings on the oneness of God and the unity of religions.

An Inquiry of Extraordinary Scope and Dimension

As an integral element of this course, Professor Hardy offers thought-provoking perspectives on the meanings of the texts and their cultural roles, and how studying them can bring sharp focus to our own assumptions. In comparing writings of different religious cultures, you learn these distinctions:

  • While Western monotheists have placed great emphasis on printing and translating their scriptures, traditions such as Hinduism and Zoroastrianism have held that holy words must be spoken aloud to be actualized, viewing writing and translation as diminishing what is most sacred.
  • The Western distinction between “religion” and “philosophy” doesn’t apply in some major traditions. Daoism, for example, addresses both political problems—matters of government and leadership—and a path to inward spirituality and transcendence.

In taking you to the heart of the texts, Professor Hardy suggests persuasively that many of the values of China and Japan don’t make sense until you’ve thought carefully about the Confucian Analects and the Daodejing, just as reading the Qur’an critically illuminates what is going on in the Middle East and much of Africa.

Throughout, Professor Hardy illustrates the lectures with striking images depicting religious history and the texts themselves, bringing the story of the writings alive in visual terms. His teaching reflects a remarkably wide-ranging knowledge of the texts and the societies that produced them, and he enriches the inquiry with fascinating and often surprising details of religious culture:

  • The Qur’an is not a book but the spoken words of the text; there is a different word (Mus’haf) for the Qur’an as a physical object.
  • For most of its history, India’s social stability came from the principles advocated in the Hindu Laws of Manu, rather than from external law codes.
  • Christian fundamentalism is a relatively new phenomenon; in past centuries, Christians read their scriptures from multiple perspectives.
  • The earliest collection of women’s literature, from the 5th century B.C.E., is the Buddhist Therigatha.
  • Until 623 C.E., Muslims prayed facing Jerusalem.

In Sacred Texts of the World, you’ll delve deeply into the sacred writings that have shaped the identities, mental worlds, and actions of large segments of humanity—texts that remain a formidable influence in today’s world. These richly informative lectures reveal a global legacy of faith, thought, and spirituality.

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36 lectures
 |  30 minutes each
  • 1
    Reading Other People’s Scriptures
    Throughout history, the world’s sacred texts have held profound significance for the cultures that produced them. Consider five key reasons for the importance of studying them, from their accessibility and centrality to their cultures of origin to the wisdom they contain and the enlarged perspective they offer on our own traditions. x
  • 2
    Hinduism and the Vedas
    Grasp the nature and roles of sacred writings within Hinduism, as contrasted with the Judeo-Christian tradition. Learn about the structure of the Vedas, comprising collections of hymns and commentaries, and their meaning and function in Hindu ritual. Read compelling excerpts from the Vedas, and learn how Western religious scholars have approached them. x
  • 3
    What Is Heard—Upanishads
    The Upanishads constitute the philosophical or wisdom texts of the Hindu Vedas. Study the composition of the Brihadaranyaka and Chandogya Upanishads, containing spiritual arguments and dialogues revealing the underlying unity of brahman (ultimate reality) and atman (the self or soul). Trace the Upanishads’ influence on Westerners. x
  • 4
    What Is Remembered—Epics
    A second body of Hindu sacred writings encompasses literature, texts that explore the nature of dharma, the eternal laws and principles that give meaning and shape to life. Here, discover two great Indian epics: the Ramayana, a mythic narrative of kingship; and the Mahabharata, a complex story of familial bonds and discord. x
  • 5
    Laws of Manu and Bhagavad Gita
    Learn about the huge canon of Hindu sutras, shastras, Puranas, and Tantra. Delve into two highly influential texts: the Laws of Manu, outlining rules, customs and guidelines for living for the four Indian castes; and the beloved Bhagavad Gita, which speaks to matters of spiritual insight, social obligation, and worldly success. x
  • 6
    Related Traditions—Sikh Scriptures
    Trace the evolution of the Sikh religion, and the lineage of gurus that produced the faith’s sacred text, the Adi Granth. Study the composition of the Adi Granth; sample its beautiful hymns, poems, and prayers; and learn how the book is treated by Sikhs as a living guru. x
  • 7
    Judaism—People of the Book
    In approaching the sacred texts of Judaism, learn the dramatic history of the Aleppo Codex, a historically significant copy of the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible). Track the origins of the Tanakh and its constituent sections—the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings—and grasp how the Tanakh became the focus of Jewish identity. x
  • 8
    Five Books of Torah
    Study the contents of the Torah—the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Then consider two kinds of responses to the text—the religious perspective that regards it as a repository of eternal truths, and the historical-critical perspective that approaches the text with the tools of the scholar. x
  • 9
    Prophets and Writings
    Through the Prophets, chart the unfolding of the political and religious history of ancient Israel. Then explore the rich spectrum of the Writings, containing stories, proverbs, poetry, psalms, and theological explorations. Contemplate the core themes of these texts, from ethical monotheism and the destiny of Israel to the nature of God and humanity. x
  • 10
    Apocrypha and Dead Sea Scrolls
    Taste the stories and historical narratives of the Apocrypha (included in Catholic but not Jewish or Protestant Bibles), noting their thematic emphasis on the spiritual and political challenges faced by the Jews. Learn what the Dead Sea Scrolls tell us about the community that produced them and the evolution of the Hebrew Bible. x
  • 11
    Oral Torah—Mishnah and Talmud
    Within Judaism, two central texts form the basis for devotion to God through study. Grasp the nature of the Mishnah, a body of legal judgments and maxims teaching students how to think critically. Then encounter the Talmud, a vast analysis and commentary on the Mishnah and Jewish life—a marvel of world literature. x
  • 12
    Related Traditions—Zoroastrian Scriptures
    Zoroastrianism envisions the universe as ruled by good and evil beings of equal status. Study its principal sacred text, the Avesta, comprising books of hymns, myths, and religious regulations promoting holiness. Sample the Gathas, dialogues between the priest Zoroaster and the creator god, Ahura Mazda, and trace Zoroastrianism’s influence on the monotheistic faiths. x
  • 13
    The Three Baskets of Buddhism
    This lecture introduces the huge library of Buddhist scriptures. Study the origins and contents of the three major Buddhist canons—the Pali canon, the Chinese canon, and the Tibetan canon. Learn about the devoted efforts through Buddhist history to preserve these texts, and the nature of their significance to Buddhists. x
  • 14
    Vinaya and Jataka
    Here, investigate two prominent types of Buddhist scriptures and how they are used. Delve into the Vinaya, regulations and stories comprising rules for living for monks and nuns. Then sample excerpts from the Jataka, the large body of stories concerning the Buddha’s past lives, used for teaching Buddhist morality. x
  • 15
    Theravada Sutras
    Among textual riches of the Theravada tradition of Buddhism is the Buddha’s teaching on the origins of suffering. Contemplate the Therigatha, poems of women’s enlightenment; the Dhammapada, verses of advice and inspiration; and the Discourse to the Kalamas, where the Buddha outlines a spiritual path of direct experience and observation. x
  • 16
    Mahayana Sutras
    The Mahayana Sutras are those of the East Asian tradition. Study the Mahayana conceptions of the perfection of wisdom and the nature of emptiness, non-duality, and no-self. Observe how these notions were expressed through the renowned Lotus Sutra, Diamond Sutra, and Heart Sutra, and how the texts were venerated as sacred objects. x
  • 17
    Pure Land Buddhism and Zen
    Two distinctive forms of Buddhism took root in Japan. Learn first about the Pure Land School, which directs spiritual efforts toward entering a celestial realm where seekers can learn the dharma. Through Zen scriptures and koans (paradoxical sayings used in teaching), contemplate the tradition’s direct, experiential approach to enlightenment. x
  • 18
    Tibetan Vajrayana
    In studying the remarkable and elaborate Tibetan canon, grasp how Vajrayana Buddhism combines the Mahayana philosophy of the perfection of wisdom with Tantra, secret rituals and practices that offer shortcuts to enlightenment. Also encounter the Tibetan Book of the Dead—in reality, a treatise on rebirth. x
  • 19
    Related Traditions—Jain Scriptures
    Jainism, a sister religion to Buddhism, maintains an unusual relationship to scripture. Explore the principles and ascetic customs of the faith’s two groups, the Shvetambara and Digambara, which reject each other’s scriptures as forgeries. Study excerpts from each group’s sacred texts, revered yet never held as the heart of the faith. x
  • 20
    Five Confucian Classics
    Here, confront the intriguing question of whether Confucianism is a religion or a philosophy. Learn about the Confucian canon and how it became the foundation of Chinese state ideology. Sample texts encompassing poetry, history, ritual, rules for living, and explorations of morality, and consider why we refer to them as “classics” rather than “scripture.” x
  • 21
    Four Books of Neo-Confucianism
    In a second look at Confucianism, investigate the renowned Yijing and how its system of divination has actual practical applications. Then delve into Neo-Confucianism, its principles of self-cultivation and harmony with humanity and the cosmos, and its embodiment in the texts of the Analects, the Mencius, the Great Learning, and the Constant Mean. x
  • 22
    Daoism and the Daodejing
    The foundational text of Daoism, the Daodejing, speaks of the Way (Dao), a transcendent order underlying all phenomena. In excerpts from the text, contemplate the Daodejing’s compelling expression of harmonious duality and its conception of effortless, spontaneous human action. Also sample the Zhuangzi, a related masterpiece of literature and philosophy. x
  • 23
    The Three Caverns of Daoist Scriptures
    The full canon of Daoism comprises roughly 1500 texts. Study seminal scriptures such as the Neiye, the Huainanzi, the Scripture on Great Peace, and the Declarations of the Perfected. Grasp how the Daozang, or complete canon, is organized into three “Caverns” or divisions, reflecting the major schools of Daoism. x
  • 24
    Related Traditions—Shinto and Tenrikyo
    Explore the customs and rituals of the Japanese Shinto religion, aimed at harmonizing the human and natural worlds. Study excerpts from its revered texts, comprising histories of Japan and ritual prayers, and learn about its integral role in Japanese life. Also encounter the Tenrikyo faith and its three distinctive books of scripture. x
  • 25
    Christian Testaments Old and New
    In approaching Christian scripture, trace the complex origins of the New Testament, beginning with the letters of Paul and the Gospels. Follow the proliferation of later Christian texts and how they were categorized, and study the composition of the first complete Christian Bibles in comparison with more recent versions and translations. x
  • 26
    Gospels and Acts
    The New Testament Gospels present four distinct accounts of the life of Jesus of equal authority. Compare the discrepancies between the four Gospels, taking note of key hypotheses regarding the sources and theological motivations underlying them. Continue with the Acts of the Apostles as it outlines Christian practices that serve to define the faith. x
  • 27
    Letters and Apocalypse
    Letters, as exemplified in the New Testament writings, were an important means of instruction in the early church. Study seven key letters written by Paul, speaking to theological understanding, challenges faced by early Christians, and essential doctrine. Conclude with Revelation and its dramatic vision of the coming kingdom of God. x
  • 28
    Apocryphal Gospels
    Alongside the four canonical Gospels, competing accounts of Jesus’s life emerged, which we now call “apocryphal.” Here, discover the Gospel of Peter, which directly portrays the Resurrection, and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, which recounts events of Jesus’s childhood. Finally, encounter Gnostic Christianity in the Gospel of Thomas, containing mystical sayings of Jesus. x
  • 29
    Related Traditions—Mormon Scriptures
    The Mormon religion offers its own unique scriptures, used in conjunction with the Christian Bible. Learn about the Book of Mormon, an epic religious-historical narrative, as well as its other sacred texts, including Mormonism’s oral temple ceremony, and grasp how they are used as expressions of the faith. x
  • 30
    Islam and Scriptural Recitation
    The remarkable oral tradition in Islam mandates that the Qur’an be recited and regards memorization as an act of devotion. Delve into the Qur’an’s origins in the life of Muhammad, the conception of its text as direct revelation, and its recitation as a sophisticated and esteemed art form. x
  • 31
    Holy Qur’an
    Study the Qur’an’s structure and contents, noting how the message of faith—revolutionary for its time—is spread throughout the suras (chapters). Read the beautiful poetry, explore the Qur’an’s major themes, and consider how its stories compare to the same stories as told in the Old Testament of the Bible. x
  • 32
    Hadith and Sufism
    The Islamic Hadith recounts the actions and sayings of Muhammad. Study the sources and composition of this revered body of texts, and observe how they provide guidance on essential matters of Muslim life. Also encounter the superlative poetry of Sufism, Islam’s mystical tradition, which employs refined spiritual practices to reach direct union with God. x
  • 33
    Related Traditions—Baha’i Scriptures
    Trace the 19th-century emergence of Baha’i, a distinctive faith with origins in Iran. Learn about the tenets of the religion and the huge canon of scriptures written by the faith’s founders. Read from foundational Baha’i texts as they speak to the oneness of God, the oneness of humanity, and the unity of religions. x
  • 34
    Abandoned Scriptures—Egyptian and Mayan
    This lecture explores the value of studying sacred texts from traditions that have not survived. Read striking excerpts from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, a compendium of spells guiding the deceased in the afterlife. Then discover the Popol Vuh, a text containing sacred mythological stories of the Maya. x
  • 35
    Secular Scripture—U.S. Constitution
    Here, uncover thought-provoking parallels between religious texts and certain secular ones. With reference to the key ways in which scriptures are received and employed within religious faiths, delineate how the founding documents of the United States have come to function as many sacred texts do in other cultures. x
  • 36
    Heavenly Books, Earthly Connections
    Conclude with Professor Hardy’s recommendations, from each of the major religious traditions, of specific texts with which to begin your own reading of sacred writings. Finally, contemplate the question of what difference the comparative study of sacred texts might make in our lives when we read them with empathy and understanding. x

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Grant Hardy

About Your Professor

Grant Hardy, Ph.D.
University of North Carolina, Asheville
Dr. Grant Hardy is Professor of History and Religious Studies and Director of the Humanities Program at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. He earned his B.A. in Ancient Greek from Brigham Young University and his Ph.D. in Chinese Language and Literature from Yale University. Professor Hardy has received a wealth of awards and accolades for both his teaching and his scholarship. At the University of North...
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Sacred Texts of the World is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 40.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting and Timely This is a very broad overview of some of the major sacred texts of the world. The professor had a genuine love of the topic and had an engaging style of presenting material.
Date published: 2017-04-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting comments, not just summaries. I've not had time to get beyond the first CD, but so far I find the course very good. The lecturer is succinct and easy to follow. As I had hoped, he goes beyond summarizing the scriptures and includes thought provoking comments.
Date published: 2017-03-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific presentation Prof Hardy does a fantastic job presenting the religions of the world. He does so with great reverence and respect for each of the faiths and their texts he reviews. He also precipitated in me an interest in learning more of the religious texts of the world. My investment in this course was well worth the money spent.
Date published: 2017-03-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent overview Working in hospice with different cultures, I found this review and discussion of sacred texts very useful in understanding the background of the many different people we serve. It was fascinating and the professor was superb!
Date published: 2017-02-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Sympathetic Discussion of World Religious Texts Professor Hardy has delivered a first-class lecture series. It is obvious from the very first lecture that he loves the texts that he will be discussing and that he has been able to bring some of their best ideas into his personal life and that he believes we would all benefit from learning what these texts have to say. Hardy is a flawless speaker and easy to listen to. This course is a great introduction to our world's religions by learning about the texts that they consider sacred.
Date published: 2017-01-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Very Good Survey of the World's Scriptures This is a very good survey of the world's scriptures for an interested non-scholar. It deals with both the history and theological underpinnings.
Date published: 2016-11-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Professorial This series is overly academic, presented as if to captive and deferential group of college students. He goes on at length describing the darlings of the academic world and their contributions to the literature. His delivery style is full of cliches of academic lecturers, ("so-and-so says, and I agree with him") that are pointless and tedious in context of a lecture presumable intended for a mature adult audience. Having said that, there is a lot of good content, well organized and thorough. It's a good review across diverse cultures, and Hardy brings richness of personal experience of having come from a religiously diverse family and having lived in the Middle East.
Date published: 2016-10-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from
Date published: 2016-10-04
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