Exploring the Roots of Religion

Course No. 3650
Professor John R. Hale, Ph.D.
University of Louisville
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Course No. 3650
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Course Overview

Stonehenge. Machu Picchu. The Acropolis. The Great Pyramids at Giza. Sites such as these have captivated the world for centuries—even millennia—since their creation. They are works of great beauty whose construction required spectacular feats of engineering, involved the efforts of hundreds of thousands of individuals, and incurred a tremendous financial cost on the civilizations that created them.

But why were these massive sites created? What impulse drove ancient cultures to devote such time and labor into these projects? Why are we so transfixed by their presence today? And what do these and other mysterious sites reveal about our ancestors—and about humanity as a whole?

The answer to these and other eternal questions is the dynamic force of religious belief. Religion, in its many forms, is among the most powerful of all human impulses. The philosophical and intellectual side of religious practice is well studied—but religion also manifests itself physically. From cave art to intricate burial chambers to grand hilltop temples, the material expression of spirituality is less understood but offers equally deep insights into why humans believe in something larger than themselves.

Now you can experience the thrill of discovery and learn the sacred secrets behind some of the world's most popular and mysterious ancient locales with Exploring the Roots of Religion. In 36 riveting and insightful lectures taught by award-winning Professor John R. Hale—a practicing archaeologist and masterful storyteller—you dig through the earth and learn how sacred buildings, complexes, tomb structures, artwork, and more have provided us with unparalleled knowledge about the varieties of early spiritual experience around the world. It's an experience that will add new levels of understanding to your knowledge of ancient history and especially to the integral role that religion played in some of these grand civilizations.

Get a Three-Dimensional Perspective on Ancient Sites

To look at these awe-inspiring sites without considering the vital importance of their spiritual contexts is to merely get a one-dimensional, postcard view of their true greatness. While these places were built with wood and stone, the mortar that held them together was the intricate rituals and belief systems of the cultures that built them.

But in instances where no written record exists or the historical record is incomplete, how can you understand the captivating rituals and systems responsible for them?

The answer: archaeology. This fascinating scientific field, which uses material remains to fill in gaps in the historical record, provides a useful way for us to grasp the nature of faiths and rituals that otherwise might have been lost in the mists of time. Using the unique tools and knowledge of their field, archaeologists can now determine the nature of a sacrificial ritual, compare the visible attributes of ancient deities, and map out the proper orientation of a particular temple or tomb.

And with its unique archaeological perspective on the nature of ancient faiths, Exploring the Roots of Religion offers you a vibrant, three-dimensional perspective on these sites—perspectives that not only show you why these places are important to us in the modern world, but why these places were so revered by the peoples for whom they were a part of everyday life.

Unearth the Roots of Religious Experience

Every expertly organized lecture in Exploring the Roots of Religion is an incomparable and comprehensive look at specific religious archaeological sites around the world. Using the same teaching skills that have garnered him acclaim from his students at the University of Louisville, Professor Hale takes you deep inside caves and crypts and leads you through vast deserts and ancient cities around the globe—from Turkey and Polynesia to Mexico and Sweden to Cambodia and even the American Midwest. And it's a journey you can enjoy without having to leave the comfort of your own home or car.

Professor Hale groups his lectures into six main "themes," each of which addresses a particular aspect of religious experiences in ancient times:

  • In the Beginning: Most of the basic elements of religion arose during the Stone Age. Each of the sites you explore in this section—whether burial caves in Iraq, rock art in the Kalahari Desert, or stone megaliths in France—served as the genesis for sacred ideas of art, rituals, landscapes, and more.
  • Quest for the Afterlife: How did early civilizations prepare their deceased for the mysteries of the afterlife? As you encounter the burial customs of the Sumerians, Celts, Vikings, and others, learn how archaeologists discovered what they know about this essential aspect of religious practice.
  • Reconstructing Ancient Rituals: Witness how archaeologists reconstruct and re-create religious rituals from the silent testimony of material remains. These rituals include the bull dance ceremony of the Minoans, the consultation of the oracle in western Asia Minor, and even human sacrifices in ancient Mexico.
  • Lost Gods and Fallen Temples: Equally important as a religion's rituals is its theology. At these six sites, encounter a vast pantheon of ancient gods such as Aten (the sun god made the sole Egyptian deity by a heretic pharaoh) and Quetzalcoatl (a feathered serpent who brought blessings to Aztec civilization).
  • Sacred Landscapes: Unlike individual temples, these archaeological sites are so vast that their sacred nature encompasses an entire landscape, sometimes even spanning hundreds of miles. The pyramids at Giza, the Nazca Lines in the Peruvian desert, and the temple of Angkor Wat are just a few of the stirring localities you investigate.
  • Communities of the Spirit: The sites in this final section deal with "revealed" faiths: those that originate with the message of a prophet or reformer. These include communities such as the Zoroastrians, the Jewish sect of the Essenes, and a Christian community that venerated their dead in the catacombs underneath ancient Rome.

Spiritual Insights into Popular Destinations

A majority of the sites you visit in Exploring the Roots of Religion have long been recognized as profound monuments to the grandeur of ancient history. With Professor Hale, you view these sites not as curious tourist attractions but instead as places of great religious and historical importance, packed with information about early forms of faith and the spiritual lives of our ancestors. These are among the sites you investigate:

  • Lascaux Cave: This cave in the Dordogne region of France is one of the places where art was born. But archaeologists also believe its engravings and paintings played important roles in the spiritual lives of Stone-Age hunters. A mysterious scene of a wounded bison, bird-effigy, and bird-headed man represents one of the earliest examples of religious iconography.
  • Machu Picchu: This ancient Incan city, located high in the mountains of Peru, is a marvel of urban planning—and also a potent example of a landscape suffused with spiritual meaning. Among its many buildings is an abstract stone altar—dubbed the "hitching post of the sun"—which marked the sun god Inti's presence at the site.
  • Stonehenge: The religious symbolism of this iconic site extends far beyond the megalith construction at its center. Additional features that provide insights into the spiritual beliefs of its architects include burial mounds, cemeteries, and long ceremonial avenues.
  • Easter Island: The giant stone heads dotting the landscape of this Polynesian island are more than just sculptural marvels. These gigantic statues of important ancestors or chiefs were originally erected on stone platforms (known as ahu), where they were the focus for sacred rites performed in memory of the honored dead.

Every lecture is dedicated to a thorough look at these and other breathtaking places. For each place, you

  • learn the points of interest that attract the attention of archaeologists and scholars;
  • survey the principal features unearthed during the site's excavation;
  • discover what evidence at the site reveals about the evolution of religion; and
  • compare findings with the beliefs and practices of other sites and civilizations.

Discover New Visions of Religion

Reconstructing ancient religious rituals from archaeological remains has been a cornerstone of Professor Hale's career. Trained at Yale and Cambridge universities, he has spent a wealth of time exploring Celtic rituals in England, sacred rock art in Scandinavia, pagan and Christian religious structures in Portugal, and more.

It is this breadth of experience, coupled with his contagious passion for the wonders of his field, that makes Exploring the Roots of Religion such an engaging and enjoyable way to mine fascinating new knowledge from some of the world's oldest remains.

By the final lap of your international journey, you'll have developed a new vision of religion and its crucial role in ancient history. You'll become more attuned to both spirituality's universal elements and its unique characteristics across different cultures. You'll discover clues into the early practices of religions that endure in the modern world, including Christianity and Buddhism. And you'll realize just how much credit religion deserves for the remarkable historical sites that continue to captivate the human race.

"Future generations will still wonder at the pyramids, mounds, standing stones, and temples of our remote ancestors when the remains of our secular world have crumbled to dust," Professor Hale notes. "It is perhaps a reminder that, in all realms, the spirit is more lasting than the flesh."

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Roots of Religious Experience
    This introductory lecture lays the groundwork for the archaeological adventures ahead. Professor Hale provides you with key definitions that will be of use throughout the course, briefly overviews the intriguing sites and religions that await, and reveals the importance of combing through the remains of these ancient faiths. x
  • 2
    Neanderthal Burials at Shanidar
    Visit the oldest religious site that we can vividly reconstruct: Shanidar Cave. Here, archaeologists uncovered a nearly 45,000-year-old burial site that provided a wealth of information on the cultural and religious practices of the Neanderthals—a controversial finding that revolutionized our understanding of our ancestors. x
  • 3
    Hunting Magic in Sacred Caves
    With their breathtaking paintings, prehistoric caves such as Lascaux mark an important new element in the development of human religion: the designation of a particular site as "sacred." In this lecture, Professor Hale walks you through some of these caves and helps make sense of their mysterious imagery. x
  • 4
    Myths of the Shaman
    Explore another example of early religious artwork, this time on rocks in the Kalahari Desert. Learn what these fascinating images reveal about the ancient shamanistic practices and beliefs of the San people—specifically their belief in animism, in which every element of the environment is endowed with its own spirit and identity. x
  • 5
    Realm of the Mother Goddess
    While excavating at a site in Turkey, archaeologists uncovered the enthroned figure of the Mother Goddess, one of the first representations of a single deity in history. Who was this Venus-like goddess? And what purpose did she serve in the religious life of a 9,000-year-old Neolithic community? x
  • 6
    Mysteries of the Megaliths
    Travel to a rocky region in France that is home to the world's most extraordinary collection of megalithic monuments. Not only do these breathtaking stone structures serve as memorials for the dead, they reflect Neolithic attempts to express a grand cosmic vision in stone—one that presages Stonehenge. x
  • 7
    Towers and Tombs of Sumeria
    Begin a six-lecture examination of burial customs, the most primordial element of religious practice. Your first stop: extensive cemeteries and a royal burial pit uncovered at the site of the ancient biblical city of Ur. This remarkable discovery reveals countless insights into ancient Sumerian views of the afterlife. x
  • 8
    Tomb of the First Emperor of China
    Peer inside the final resting place of Qin Shihuangdi: China's first emperor. His immense tomb—protected by a mass of life-sized terra cotta figures of men and horses—combines the desire to create a monument for everlasting worship with the desire to retain kingly attributes in the afterlife. x
  • 9
    Feasting with the Dead at Petra
    In contrast with the royal burial sites of the previous two lectures are the tombs and mausoleums of ordinary families in Petra, Jordan—one of the world's most famous archaeological sites. In this lecture, Professor Hale takes you on a detailed tour of these sacred spaces, laid out to resemble feasting halls. x
  • 10
    Druid Sacrifice at Lindow Moss?
    Meet the Lindow Man, the preserved body of a young Celtic man that dates back to the A.D. 1st or 2nd century. Follow along with archaeologists as they use revolutionary scientific techniques to discover that this 25-year-old was not murdered but was instead the sacrificial victim for a religious rite. x
  • 11
    Honoring Ancestors in Ancient Ohio
    Walk through the structures of Mound City, the site of the religious Hopewell cult that originated in what is now south-central Ohio. Beneath these mounds, archaeologists found large ceremonial houses where members of the cult would gather to honor their dead in elaborate ceremonies. x
  • 12
    A Viking Queen Sails to Eternity
    Conclude your look at the burial of the dead with a trip to an archaeological site in Norway. As you study the remains of a royal Viking burial ship intended for a queen, you strengthen your understanding of how this civilization launched its royalty into the mysteries of the afterlife. x
  • 13
    Dancing with Bulls at Knossos
    In 1900, the famed archaeologist Arthur Evans began excavating the Greek site of the palace of Knossos. What he found, among other things, was a grand fresco of men and women dancing with a bull. Here, discover the spiritual meaning behind this mysterious ancient ceremony. x
  • 14
    Oracle Bones in Ancient China
    Journey back to Bronze-Age China and examine divination rituals that employed the use of oracle bones: fragments of ancient animal bones inscribed with Chinese characters. Also, learn what fascinating information archaeologists and scholars gleaned from a detailed study of these curious bone fragments. x
  • 15
    Sun and Sexuality in Early Scandinavia
    While modern religions remove sexuality from their communal religious rituals, ancient Scandinavian communities gave sexuality a prominent role in their religious practices. Learn what petroglyphs—pictures on stone first studied in the 19th century—reveal about the fertility rites of these intriguing peoples. x
  • 16
    Apollo Speaks at Klaros
    From about 300 B.C. to A.D. 200, the oracle at Klaros was the most frequently consulted oracle in the classical world. In this lecture, investigate how recent archaeological work has provided us with a richly detailed look at what exactly went on during these mysterious divination ceremonies. x
  • 17
    Chalice of Blood in Ancient Peru
    Explore the idea of human sacrifice, a startling aspect of ancient religions. When archaeologists studied painted scenes on pots used by the Moche people of South America, they found depictions of priests engaged in a bloody sacrificial ceremony. Remains found at a later 1991 excavation in Peru matched the figures from these pots. x
  • 18
    Decoding Rituals at Palenque
    Rituals held at the Mayan ceremonial center in Palenque embraced many aspects of those covered in earlier lectures. Professor Hale discusses a variety of intriguing Mayan rituals, including sacred ball games that symbolized cosmic battles and fertility rites that involved both prayers and human sacrifice. x
  • 19
    Temple of the Goddess on Malta
    Between 1915 and 1919, a Maltese archaeologist excavated a massive, eight-foot-tall stone monument to a female deity. Just who was this commanding figure? Discover the intriguing answer in this lecture, which takes you back to the very origins of the concept of godhood. x
  • 20
    The Aten—Monotheism in Egypt
    During the 18th dynasty, the pharaoh Akhenaten revolutionized the polytheistic Egyptian faith by promoting the worship of a single god, Aten. Examine the story of this experiment in ancient monotheism through the hieroglyphic records discovered on tomb and temple reliefs from sites at Tell el Amarna and Luxor. x
  • 21
    Deities of the Acropolis
    Contrary to popular belief, the Athenian Acropolis was home to more gods than just Athena. Tour the grounds of this popular archaeological site, encounter the roster of deities who populated the Acropolis throughout its early history, and discover the intricate link between Athenian religion and statehood. x
  • 22
    Gods and Pyramids at Teotihuacan
    Here, visit the remains of Teotihuacan, the ancient Mexican "City of Gods." By examining the iconography of this prosperous and powerful city, gain insights into its god Quetzalcoatl, its twin pyramids dedicated to the sun and moon, and a mysterious cave that has provided archaeologists with new lines of inquiry. x
  • 23
    Sacred City on the Mississippi
    Another urban center—located right in our own backyard—is Cahokia, a mound site in Illinois created by a Native American chiefdom between A.D. 900 and 1200. Climb to the summit of "Monk's Mound," a 100-foot-high square pyramid that contains startling evidence of how these people worshiped their central sun deity. x
  • 24
    Sun and Shadow at Machu Picchu
    Travel to Machu Picchu, the famous abandoned city in the clouds first discovered by famed archaeologist Hiram Bingham in 1911. With Professor Hale as your guide, learn the truth about the importance of religion in Inca society and locate where evidence of the sun god appears around this astounding site. x
  • 25
    Celestial Gateway at Giza
    The Great Pyramids at Giza, built during the 4th Egyptian dynasty, are the only one of the ancient world's seven wonders to remain standing. What religious beliefs inspired their creation? And what meaning can you find encoded within the vast mortuary landscape they dominate even today? x
  • 26
    Cosmic Hub at Stonehenge
    Equally as famous and mysterious as the Giza pyramids is Stonehenge: the iconic Neolithic and Bronze Age structure that represents the pinnacle of the megalithic tradition. Explore the history of this impressive wonder and mull over various interpretations archaeologists have put forth about this sacred landscape's true purpose. x
  • 27
    Desert Lines at Nazca
    Created by the Nazca people in the early 1st millennium A.D., the Nazca Lines are more than 100 gigantic "line drawings" that span hundreds of miles along the Peruvian desert. Professor Hale reveals how these abstract symbols and realistic figures were created and explains the possible religious meanings behind the world's largest sacred site. x
  • 28
    Skywatchers at Chaco Canyon
    Discover the secrets of Chaco Canyon, an ancient Native American complex located in northwestern New Mexico. In addition to investigating its ancient roads, irrigation systems, and 800-room houses for storing ritual equipment, look inside the site's sacred meeting places—which contained supposed access points to the underworld. x
  • 29
    Mountain of the Gods at Angkor
    Investigate the religious symbolism behind Angkor Wat, the iconic temple designed to venerate the Hindu god Vishnu and serve as a mausoleum for the warrior-king Suryavarman II. Built between 1113 and 1150, the temple would later be stripped of its Hindu images and become venerated by Buddhists. x
  • 30
    The Stone Heads of Easter Island
    In this lecture, travel to Easter Island and study the more than 700 giant stone heads (moai) that dot the landscape and have captivated the world for centuries. Learn how these megaliths were created, the purpose they served in religious rituals, and the reasons they were mysteriously abandoned. x
  • 31
    Tending Zoroaster's Sacred Fire in Iran
    Zoroastrianism is among the world's oldest "revealed" religions and became recognized by three great holy fires that symbolized the power of the fire-god Ahura-Mazda. Peer over the shoulders of archaeologists as they sort through the ruins of an ancient city known as Adur Gushnasp. x
  • 32
    Writing the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran
    In the 1940s, young sheepherders made a startling discovery: a collection of several hundred scrolls from an ancient Jewish sect known as the Essenes. Here, explore the sensational discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and examine the numerous insights they provide into early religious reform movements. x
  • 33
    Taking Religions Underground at Rome
    Descend into the catacombs and chambers that lay underneath the city of ancient Rome and were home to the cult of Mithraism and early Christianity. Archaeological evidence illustrates why, among Rome's many competing religious groups that practiced their faith underground, Christianity eventually emerged triumphant. x
  • 34
    Forging Iron at Jenne-jeno on the Niger
    Before the rise of Islam, regions of West Africa were home to a religious cult whose members were united only by their occupation: blacksmithing. Discover how the work of archaeologists in the 1970s unearthed the remains of Jenne-jeno ("old Jenne"), an ancient city where this intriguing faith once flourished. x
  • 35
    Carving Monasteries at Ajanta in India
    Walk through an ancient Buddhist monastery carved into the hills of India's Deccan Plateau. The treasure trove of paintings, sculptures, inscriptions, and humble cells provide a breathtaking perspective on the lives and beliefs of the monks who populated the Ajanta Caves. x
  • 36
    Faiths Lost and Found
    Conclude the course by revisiting key questions with the knowledge you've learned. What are the common threads between ancient faiths? Why has religion served as such a cohesive force in human society? And finally: What does archaeology reveal about religious impulses that theological studies cannot? x

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Your professor

John R. Hale

About Your Professor

John R. Hale, Ph.D.
University of Louisville
Dr. John R. Hale is the Director of Liberal Studies at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. He earned his B.A. at Yale University and his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge in England. Professor Hale teaches introductory courses on archaeology, as well as more specialized courses on the Bronze Age, the ancient Greeks, the Roman world, Celtic cultures, the Vikings, and nautical and underwater archaeology. An...
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Exploring the Roots of Religion is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 68.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Bringing to Life Interest in Archeology attracted me to these lectures where I found human religions come to life from all ages and places. What Professor Hale has done here is to make a compelling story by intersecting literary references when available with archeological records, ethnological arguments, and social constructs to paint a picture so real and fascinating on religion's role in humanity. Most of the religions covered in this course are gone away for ages while these lectures bring them to life through heartfelt stories as if one is living with them. Highly recommended for viewers in need of an uplifting perspective to human condition. A definite 5 star course.
Date published: 2011-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Lectures The lectures combine history, philosophy and religion in a clear presentation that whets the appetite for more courses from Prof. Hale. A wealth of knowledge compressed into 36 thought generating lectures. Stimulating, I want to come back as an archaeologist in my next life. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2011-04-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from TOP TOP COURSE Having found Hale's archaeology and Persian War courses so strong, I purchased this course. Absolutely the best course ever, and that says something given TC ancient history offerings. Fascinating on neanderthal man, lascaux caves, connection between ancient and modern humans in religious thought. A must.
Date published: 2011-04-17
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointed! They should rename this course. It should be called Exploring the Roots of Archaeology. Overall there really isn't much information about religion. It has been very hard to maintain my interest. I think the right professor could do a great job with this subject, but this man is an archaeologist and religion is a sidelight to him.
Date published: 2011-03-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enthusiastic Storytelling Dr. Hale brings this subject to life! His passion for the subject creates a marvelous learning experience. Buy the DVD version so you don't miss out on the maps and photos - some of the photos are from Dr. Hale's personal collection. I could almost smell the dust from some of these archaeological sites as Dr. Hale described them. Great course!
Date published: 2011-02-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Education the way it should be Gifted teachers are knowledgable story tellers who adore their subject and want to make others love it too. That's the kind of instructor Prof. Hale is. I almost didn't buy this course because I'm not especially interested in formal religions or religious history, but I'm fascinated by archaeology so I took a chance. That turned out to be an excellent decision. Not only did I learn neat things about the various sites and digs all over the world, I came away with a new appreciation and profound respect for human beings' attempts across all cultures and all ages to find meaning in the mystery of life. Prof. Hale is very engaging. You can only wish that even one of your own college professors had been that good. If The Teaching Co. were selling a course of Dr. Hale reciting the ABC.s, I believe I would buy it.
Date published: 2011-02-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One surprise after another I have been teaching Humanities for well over 30 years, yet Prof. Hale's lectures kept me riveted and I learned a great deal from each one. He has a warm, personable style and interesting delivery. The computerized reconstructions are fascinating. Thank you for a stimulating and pleasurable experience.
Date published: 2011-01-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Investment I ordered this course because I'm interested in both religion and archaeology and the list of sites read a little like something from Ancient Astronauts. I wanted to see how my all time favorite professor could put them together in a rational way. I was amazed! This course is basically an exploration of the global human urge toward religion. The themes into which the course is divided help us explore the main types of religious expression such as care for a departed one, a ritual or sacrifice to influence the future, the building of temples as places to be close to a deity, the recognition of a particular piece of landscape for the same purpose, and lastly the building of communities devoted to Spirit. Our understanding of God has changed immensly, the form of sacrifice, the design of a temple too, but we remain the same in how we respond to the urge to acknowledge the Divine. We cry, we perform rituals, we sacrifice, we build, and we form communities of faith. A course that I can actually GET something like that out of, is a very special course.
Date published: 2010-11-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A mediocre course I found this to be a mediocre course. I found the "themes" an unsatisfying organizational structure to the material. Organizing the course chronologically or geographically would have been much easier to follow and much more satisfying. I also felt the professor spent too much time explaining superfluous details. The course content was fairly interesting, but I found the poor organization and presentaiton a little too much to get past. That said, this is not a terrible course, I just don't think it is quite up to the standards of other courses I have purchased. This is the only Great Courses course I have bought so far that I would not recommend.
Date published: 2010-07-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Course I loved this course! I looked forward to every lecture. Dr. Hale lectures entirely without notes, yet the lectures are nearly always very well organized. He is a story teller - there are stories from his own fieldwork experiences; stories of other archaeologists; stories from the historical record; and stories from his imagination as he works to make the sites "come alive." There are excellent pictures, maps, and computer graphics. The course does not take an historical approach - a viewer expecting that will be disappointed. Nor is it a course in archaeological method - Hale's course on ancient Greece and Rome is closer to that. This course is, rather, a series of case studies. The course is organized around six themes, which give it structure, Nonetheless, it is true that most (nearly all) of the lectures could each stand on its own. If one were going to visit Cahokia in Illinois (as I am now definitely inspired to do), one could view the lecture on Cahokia without viewing any of the rest of the course and find one's site visit greatly enriched. Viewing the entire course would marginally, but I think only marginally, deepen one's experience in visiting Cahokia specifically. I have been to a few of the sites he discusses - I wish I could visit them all.
Date published: 2010-07-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What a Great Set! I checked this group of CDs from the local library and was blown away at Professor Hale's excellent, "easy to listen to" approach and love for his subject. I will definitely be listening for him in the future. I have already encouraged all my like-minded friends to explore this group of CDs and explore the roots of modern religions. Outstanding!
Date published: 2010-07-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoroughly enjoyable Dr. Hale is such a fluid speaker, an excellent presenter with interesting sidebars and tidbits to make the history more personal but he never wanders too far and always brings the lecture to a nice close. Every lecture was well-planned, well-illustrated and concise while being filled with fascinating information on the past. His perspective as an archaeologist and anthropologist greatly helps to bring the subject to life. We have visited many of the places he describes but others were entirely new and exciting. We were inspired to visit these sites and to rethink much of what we thought we knew about them.
Date published: 2010-06-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My favorite of the courses I have watched! Lots of images, well-organized and well-presented.
Date published: 2010-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simply fabulous My first Dr. Hale course; certainly not my last. He is an eloquent lecturer, with a relaxed and friendly style. His lectures are very well planned, and have the best visual aids I have seen in a TCC course. Shame not to get this in DVD. For those who think this is more a would wide tour and explanation of the world's seminal archeological sites,rather than a treatise on development of religion; well OK. But I believe it is both. I also believe it is one of the top two course I have seen from the TCC (that's over fifty for me now). If you have any interest in ancient history, archeology, or the origins of religion it would be crime to miss this!
Date published: 2010-04-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Wide Ranging This course covers a lot of ground and is presented in an engaging and enthusiastic manner. What I particularly enjoyed was the fantastically diverse locales that were discussed, including sites in North America about which I was completely unaware. While I'm not sure the course was quite as cohesive as was hoped, it was, nonetheless, certainly worth the time spent. Not only was there new (to me) information, but also a fresh approach to the development and similarities of faiths, both ancient and newer.
Date published: 2010-04-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A nIce tour of sites, if that's what you want... This is the third course by professor John Hale, who appears to be one of the select core of encore lecturers in the Teaching Company repertoire. His first course was a survey of Classical archaeology, a compelling topic with wide-ranging lectures that he was able to tie-together with an overall coherent theme, to some extent. His second course was more of a narrative type, dealing the ancient Greek and Persian Wars. These lectures more naturally tied-in with one another, as part of the overall story. This course on ancient religion is back to the survey type of course, but it runs a bit thin in being able to tie the 36 lectures together, and for that reason, I think it's his least desirable course. John Hale is quite a lecturer. The teleprompter is never used, and he appears to have such a mastery of his subject matter, that he spontaneously pulls in examples or quick histories when he feels it necessary. In other words, it is really as if you have a personal tutor, giving you the information right in front of you, a standard quality of the best Teaching Company courses. Yet in this course, that seems to run a bit thin. First off, 36 lectures is far too much material to cover, without stressing the overall theme. Since that doesn't take place enough, although he does make an attempt, it turns into a course where each lecture stands too much on its own, getting lost in the time it take you to finish the course. It could turn into a course that is good for picking out a good vacation spot. Now I should say that in John's first survey course, he spells out his intent of taking us on a journey to a different archaeological site in each lecture. So the same is being done with this course, but without focusing enough on the overall theme, in the end, that's all it turns into, a different site each lecture. Now I can think of a few other professors where the same thing has happened. They make a few quality courses, but then have one that has the effort, but no the same high quality. John does put a lot of effort into this course, but it's more on giving us specific information on each site, than ancient religion itself. What about the history of the study of ancient religion itself? Perhaps other courses cover such a topic and fills in that gap, but this makes the course a bit too one dimensional in that case. I look forward to future efforts by John Hale, as he is one of my favorite lecturers. Perhaps concentrating on fewer sites and going more in-depth will prevent the travel-log feeling I get in this course? I will definitely be finding out, regardless of the case!
Date published: 2010-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best surveys I've ever encountered Prof Hale has truly an encyclopedic knowledge and the ability to impart the lessons well. This is a superb survey of archeological evidence related to the development of religions. Much of the archeology literature for the lay public consists of dry recitation of the factual findings of some dig or expedition, with possibly a limited interpretation along the lines of "the people who lived here at this time had pottery that resembled that of the residents of the next valley over", or "these people were pretty good at agriculture." Professor Hale's course, on the other hand, presents a very broad framework on the topic of development of religion. But also within each lecture, he presents superbly the specific archeological evidence to support his theses. His presentation manner is simultaneously eminently understandable and impressively articulate. I eagerly look forward to more courses by Prof Hale.
Date published: 2010-03-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really enjoyed this course I really enjoyed this survey course of early religious sites. Agree that a better title might be The Archaeology of Religion. Gives you lots of starting points if you'd like to delve deeper. Professor Hale has a very pleasant voice to listen to. I am sorry I didn't get the DVD as I suspect I missed lots of great images.
Date published: 2010-01-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Should be titled "The Archaeology of Religion." A very interesting course if you are the least bit interested in archaeology. And since much of what we know about ancient religions is from archaeology this is a course worth taking. I have studied a lot of history of religion and found this course better and deeper than most. Because of its focus it could go back much farther in history than most courses. Professor Hale explains clearly what can be implied from the various sites. With no written record in many cases, the purpose of some sites can only be implied. I usually buy the audio versions of TTC courses as most of the time I listen while driving. However, the Customer Service Rep, explained some of the features of the DVD version. I am glad I listened to him. The graphics were superb and I especially liked the "fly-overs." I could see graphically what the archaeology site would have looked like as the scene was rotated to show it from many angles, or what the person walking into the site would have seen. This enhanced the course significantly. Professor Hale is very knowledgeable about the subject, he being an archaeologist, and passed his passion onto me. However, somebody should help him pick out ties <bg,d&r>.
Date published: 2009-12-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from More about archeology than religion It's a good course, but the instructor is an archeologist first, and a scholar of religion second. I was looking for an exploration of the ideas of the religious sites more than the sites themselves. There was some of both, but the balance between the two was different than I was looking for. Even so, the lectures are interesting, if a little arcane.
Date published: 2009-12-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating For me this was the video equivalent of a page-turner. I was fascinated and eager for the next lecture, and the next. Let the purists and pedants moan and groan about little things. I like Professor Hale's style. I'll buy any course he offers.
Date published: 2009-11-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Disappointing I am a big fan of Professor Hale having devoured both of his previous TC Courses on Classical Archeology and the Greek and Persian Wars. I purchased this course the instant I saw it in the catalog because I thought that anything by this professor was bound to be great. I was wrong. I found the course to be extremely dry, annoyingly so at times. In addition to belaboring obvious points (mankind has been concerned with life after death for a long time) there were some glaring inaccuracies in the material, most notably mistaking Tutmosis III (Hatshepset's nemesis) for Tutmosis IV (he of the dream stela fame). I think part of the problem is that, unlike the classical period, which Professor Hale knows like the back of his hand, in this course he is lecturing about a large number of different cultures about which his expertise is limited. On the positive side Professor Hale is a genius at storytelling and those skills are put to good use in this course.
Date published: 2009-11-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course well taught by an exceptional professor. I will try to take every course offered by this professor.
Date published: 2009-10-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Plusses and minuses In general, Prof. Hale does an excellent job in presenting a fascinating topic. I strongly recommend the DVD version because of the visual nature of the course, the use of maps, photos, etc. To his credit, her takes a very broad approach, covering Native American religion in USA, Celtic/Druid sites in British Isles, ancient China, Mesopotamia, South America, ancient Greece, etc. His work is clear and organized. His enthusiasm and knowledge is superb. On the minus, the work is much more focused on archaeology than religion, or religious ideas. Prof. Hale does refer to the topic of "cognitive archaeology" which focuses on the belief systems themselves, and how they are suggested by the archeological findings. However, the emphasis is one the artifacts themselves. I would like more discussion on what the findings suggest about the development of belief, rather than focus on bones, burial chambers, etc. Personally, I found this detail boring but I would strongly recommend the course to those who are truly interested in the material aspect of archaeology. Another minus is the difficulty the professor has maintaining eye contact. His presentation style is distracting as a result. Nevertheless, I do recommend the course and was impressed with it.
Date published: 2009-10-04
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