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 4 out of 5 by from Great course, terrible packaging! I'm a clergywoman who loves anthropology, archaeology, and science. This course is really a lot of fun, and I plan to use it at church. The only problem is the terrible packaging. It's cheap, and completely unlike all the other courses we've ordered. I hope The Great Courses Company will go back to the old, very easy to use packaging. But the course itself is great.
Date published: 2018-05-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best Lecturer I have bought many great courses on both DVD and downloads. Dr. Hale presents his material better than any others I have heard. He seeks clearly without any notes and is very knowledgeable. As an emeritus professor at the University of California I have heard many teachers and he is one of the best
Date published: 2018-04-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Interesting Course I have studied history all my life but I never thought of archeology as more than a way to prove that historical events occurred, especially in the eras for which we have no real written history. I found this course to be very enlightening about past eras and about places that I have not studied. I found his lectures on The Tomb of the First Emperor of China and the Oracle Bones in Ancient China to be particularly good. I agree with the professor's conclusion that these ancient sites were probably built as religious sacred spaces and should be approached with that perspective rather than the traditional thought of looking at these sites for their intrinsic value and attaching religion to them as an afterthought. I found the professor to be friendly, warm and very knowledgeable, easy to listen to as the course progressed. I highly recommend this course to anyone who is interested in The Roots of Religion.
Date published: 2016-12-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Unique and Valuable Course The Archeology of religion is not just about religion but about the central role of spiritual belief systems in ancient cultures. Religious artifacts in the form of burials, tombs and monuments give us clues about how these ancient peoples lived and what they believed. Dr Hale takes us to a wide range of archeological sites and leads us to an understanding of how pre-literate societies expressed their culture through their religious beliefs. Ranging from Neanderthal burials to Stonehenge, Dr Hale also looks for patterns that bind ancient religions together, not through cultural diffusion but through a common need to make the chaotic nature of the world understandable and predictable. One of the aspects of this course that is unique is Dr. Hale's obvious enthusiasm and the outright joy that he finds in his subject matter. Of the dozen or so Great Courses I have purchased over the years, "Exploring the Roots of Religion" has been the most rewarding.
Date published: 2016-06-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting topic; lack of summation and synthesis Compared to other courses I've listened to, I'm sad to say that this course was my least favorite and I doubt I'll listen to all of the lectures. The topic is absolutely fascinating, but the course title and lecture titles over-promise a bit. I found that it's a fairly dry constellation of anecdotes of archaeological finds around the world - without much interpretation and analysis of what it means or might mean. Most difficult for me is that the material is presented deductively, as opposed to inductively. You don't know what the point is until he finally gets to it... at which point you still might miss it since it's not a big punchline. This will drive you crazy if you're a Myers-Briggs "N", in terms of approach to information acquisition. Unlike other courses, I find that, for me, this one can be a background drone while multi-tasking, and isn't dense enough to require my sole focus, and nor do I have the impulse to want to take notes. Additionally, I feel the concepts of spirituality and religion are sloppily conflated. Perhaps a 2nd edition with the contribution of a religious studies, anthropology, and/or history prof could do better justice to this interesting topic. I would more title this course "Thumbnails of selected global archaeological finds, which contain evidence of human spirituality".
Date published: 2016-04-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Glimpsing How Our Ancestors Believed This was the second course that I listened to with the Great Courses. I was listening to it when my interest in world religions was beginning to peak. I had read many books about the religions of today, but knew little about the non-Christian, Pagan religions followed by ancient peoples before them. What did they believe and how did they express their faith? I was expecting more on the side of religion than archeology in this course, but what I got was something more than that. This course is not only a combination of archeology and history, but also theology, language, and mythology. Exploring the Roots of Religion is an intriguing mixture of these disciplines. This course is organized thematically then chronologically. Structured around the six themes of ancient religious experience of pre historical beliefs, burial practices, sacred landscapes, rituals, ancient theologies, and communities of spirits. From there, Professor Hale looks at six different locations around the world and how the ancient people's who practice their specific religion found their own ways of expressing their faiths. Professor John R. Hale is just fantastic. I really hope he does more courses in the future. I loved both learning about new topics in ancient religious practices, like the bull leaping on Crete, the oracle bones form Shang China, and the underground religions of Ancient Rome. But Professor Hale includes such a substantial number of other topics that really add new flavors to my knowledge of the past. I knew little about Easter Island, Petra, and Angkor Wat, The stories behind these well known locations are just astounding, I won't explain why. You will have to find out for yourself. Of all the things that I got out of this course, the most important was respect. I can see that religion is one of the oldest and most important aspects in human society. Regardless of one's personal opinions, I think the study of religion is important to make one informed in this modern society. This course takes you on a wild journey through time and space to show how our ancestors believe.
Date published: 2015-09-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An interesting perspective across the millennia I bought this course expecting it to be an archaeology course and not one on religion. Dr. Hale made it clear right in the first lecture that this was not a course on religion, the philosophy of religion or the history of religion. He delivered on that promise and I give him full marks for that. There are many things I really liked about this course. First, its organization that followed pretty closely a chronological order of the different sites and cultures. That was key to the development of insights and the identification of links across sites and time. Secondly, its choice of sites which not only included the usual obvious ones like Stonehenge and Egypt's pyramids, but also some lesser known ones from North America and Europe. Lastly - and that explains the title of my review - I really enjoyed the insights that Dr. Hale either provided directly or caused me to develop while listening to his arguments and his analysis. From that point of view, I found the last lecture both interesting and disappointing. One one hand, he did summarize the key themes and links that one can find across those different sites and religious practices. On the other hand, his list was too short because there are many more conclusions and inferences that one can make out of his lectures. Overall, it was a pretty good course. Dr. Hale is personable and came across as genuine and passionate. Yes he rambles on a little and sometimes he goes on tangents or does not get to the point fast enough but most of the time it did not get on my nerves or distracted me from the content of the lecture. The content could have been made a little more substantial, with a little more depth from an anthropology point of view, i.e. a little more description of the people who practiced at those sites. Those are the reasons why I did not give this course the full marks it could have reached. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the course. I learned a fair number of things from it and it definitely caused me to think more clearly about the links across and the evolution of religious ideas over time. Thank you for that Dr. Hale.
Date published: 2015-09-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Gazetteer of world sites, little overview This is a clearly-expressed and entertainingly-delivered description of dozens of early religious sites, each presented independently. It is enjoyable and certainly worth purchasing. I naturally felt excluded when the professor kept referring to 'people in our own country', and his assumption that all listeners must be American. There were three issues of concern. First, when he spoke about certain places that I know intimately, I found such lectures were riddled with howling errors, leading me to wonder about the credibility of claims made concerning sites about which I knew little. For example more than once he emphasised that Stonehenge was designed to have plain unadulterated surfaces to convey its impact, whereas in fact it is plastered in huge numbers of (now worn) axe and dagger carvings. Second, after 35 lectures, only in the very last does he seek to find any commonality among all these world sites, and this is superficial. Thirdly, despite the title, there is almost nothing on the roots of religion, ie what, in terms of culture, brain development, anthropology and evolution drove people to religion (what are the links with comparable concurrent developments in art, music, language and understanding?). Despite these criticisms, and the inevitability that it will leave you begging for more, this is a thought provoking and inspiring course, and you are unlikely to regret its purchase.
Date published: 2015-05-25
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointed overall I thought the course was well laid out. The archeological finds were very interesting and covered very well. Early on when discussing Lascaux the comment was made "It was a scene that seemed to be enacting a ritual, or presenting a vision, or perhaps showing a myth. We're not sure...". What started out as and inquisitive search quickly turned into a justification for todays religion. Native Americans talked about "the spirits" which were turned into religion by the instructor. I kept asking myself throughout, how does he make that jump to "religion"? Over and over. There was no logical reasoning until the last chapter. When discussing what major factors shape or drive society, where religion is a minor factor, the instructor says "I want to go on record as saying to you I have come to believe that view is false. I believe that religion occupies a primary central place in human affairs." That explained it all. There are 2 types of "scientists". Those who are out to find the TRUTH as best they can, and those who are out to prove what they believe is accurate. Disappointingly, Prof Hale is the later. Much of the text reads like a bad episode of ancient aliens! I wished that he would have spent more time explaining the finds and less time in his religious twisting of it all.
Date published: 2015-04-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting, cowering soooo many topics It coweres so many religions! I was very satisfied. And the professor held my attention with ease. Also some very good pictures and graphics and models. It made it easy to follow.
Date published: 2015-03-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I want all of Dr. Hale's courses! I have taken 3 of Dr. Hale's courses: The Roots of Religion; The Great Tours: Greece and Turkey, From Athens to Istanbul; and Classical Archaeology of Ancient Greece and Rome. I cannot say enough great things about these courses; and I am eager to take his Greek and Persion Wars course, also. He talks to you in a very comfortable and knowlegeable way. After taking his course, I feel that I have learned immensely while thoroughly enjoying the experience. I borrowed the Roots of Religion course from the library, but I am planning on purchasing it soon because I want to watch it again.
Date published: 2014-12-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An archaeologist who 'gets' religion too Some of the reviews of this course suggest that Professor Hale falls short on his discussion of religion, but don't pay any attention to them. There are plenty of TGC courses on religion that take more time with definitions and terminology if that's what you're looking for. This is a brilliant course that utilizes Dr. Hale's knowledge of archaeology in order to make some educated guesses about very ancient religious practices around the world that have no written traditions. Considering his limited lecture time, he does an excellent job of doing this (and I have a PhD in religious studies, and an MA in anthropology, with 30+ years teaching university courses, so I do know a little about the subjects). I really enjoy the way he organizes his themes and his ability to provide comparative examples while keeping each lecture a stand alone topic. John Hale is a natural teacher, and he is a living example of the motto: 'Sometimes the enthusiasm of the messenger is more important than the message.' This guy is just a joy to learn from, and I wish I had been one of his students at Louisville.
Date published: 2014-09-03
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Too much story, too little religion The blurbs on Prof. Hale promote his story-telling skills. It's true. He is an excellent story-teller. Too good. Generally, the make-up of each lecture is as follows: he takes 20-25 minutes to present background on the archaeological discovery discussed in the lecture. Perhaps he tells how it was actually discovered (like the account of the little girl and her father discovering the cave art in France). Often (too often) he gives human interest stories related to the dig. More relevantly, he might outline previous scholarship as it relates to the period or the phenomenon, or general historical background. Then there are 5-9 minutes about the actual details of the find (he's very good at giving you a sense of the physical characteristics of artifacts). Finally, we receive (if we're fortunate) 1-2 minutes about its religious significance. Occasionally, he goes out of his way to give the find religious significance. The most egregious example is on Nigeria: he spends perhaps 10 minutes discussing Islam, because that is later the religion of the area. But when he discusses the actual archeological find, we discover that it came considerably before Islam, and Islam had no significance in the particular example. Clearly he felt the need to somehow include Islam in the course, and this was the only way of doing it. The religious component of the course is minimal. I wouldn't bother unless you are a complete neophyte on religions among tribal or ancient peoples. We learn that ancient religions provided assistance to ex-leaders in the after-life, including sacrificing people to go with them, motivated people to build amazing stone structures, venerated ancestors, and were concerned about understanding the patterns of the heavens, especially as it related to growing crops and knowing weather patterns. Well, yes. In no case should this course be included as a religion course. If you are interested in general archeology, and want to know interesting stories related to it, then you may find this course valuable.
Date published: 2014-05-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Religion through the anthropology lens I dragged my feet into this course and had the V8 moment of why it took me so long. This course adds the life and color to cultures that now only show us ruined buildings and old relics. Understanding how and why practices evolved gives a better appreciation to how religion and other cultural events in present day show us as a person, group and/or society. One of the better courses I have listened to here at the company. Disclaimer: I am an employee of the The Great Courses.
Date published: 2013-07-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exploring the Roots of Religion This course was truly excellent. It was well organized and particularly well presented. Professor Hale has obvious enthusiasm for the subject and his knowledge was also obvious but did not overpower the interest aspect of the talks. He kept it straightforward and simple. It was entertaining yet much there corrected assumptions some of our group held and led often to the comment, "I had never heard/read that!" Thank you, sir.
Date published: 2013-07-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Two Cheers for Hale Why only two? More on that in a moment. But first, the big strengths of this course are, first, Hale's captivating delivery (delivered extemporaneously, with no help from TTC’s godawful teleprompter), and second, its extraordinary breadth of scope, covering everything from prehistoric cave paintings to Indian burial mounds in Ohio, rock drawings in Scandinavia, and Buddhist temples in East Asia. This is a fine course, but it falls short of the standard Hale set with his outstanding lectures on classical archaeology, previously published by TTC. Although “religion” is his main operational concept, Hale makes no effort at all to define what religion is and is not. He should have done this in the first lecture, but instead he launches directly into his first archaeological example. His failure to define his terms permits him, in subsequent lectures, to identify anything and everything as religiously motivated or religiously significant, often with no apparent evidentiary support. Throughout these lectures, he speculates that such and such an archeological artifact “undoubtedly” or “must have” or “surely” had spiritual significance or a religious motivation behind its creation. Why posit religious motivation for cave drawings of oxen, for instance, when they might just as easily have been motivated by the simple pleasure of creating art? A minor quibble involves Hale’s overuse of the adjective “great.” As in his other TTC courses, almost everything he mentions is characterized as “great.” Needless to say, if absolutely everything is “great,” then the modifier loses all significance. This is a mannerism that Hale should become aware of and try to control in future lectures.
Date published: 2013-04-23
Rated 2 out of 5 by from With Respect, a Major Dissent I write with the greatest respect for the wonderful and extraordinary accomplishments of archaeology, as well as for the work of Professor Hale. I also recognize that I am apparently in a tiny minority of reviewers. - But, I cannot recommend this course. First, the very attractive aspect of the course: It provides an excellent and fascinating tour of many archaeological sites relating to early religion, some familiar, many entirely new, at least to me. I only wish that most of the course had been given to providing more in-depth descriptions of these diverse and remarkable places, where the earliest religious impulses of our ancestors seem indeed to have been expressed. Unfortunately, far more of the course is devoted to what has always seemed, to me, to be the obvious weak point in the archaeological edifice: the spinning of what often amount to "just so" stories, narratives of the actions and beliefs of humans who lived centuries to millenia ago, often on the flimsiest of evidence. Perhaps the most extreme example of this is in Lecture Fifteen, "Sun and Sexuality in Early Scandinavia." This describes "thousands of images [carved] into smooth granite rock faces" in what Professor Hale himself describes, quite accurately, as a "lively cartoon style." From these very simple, if multitudinous, stick figures a portrait of an entire culture is imagined. Other examples of such minimally supported, yet broad and deep, conclusions abound. Indeed, in a number of cases Professor Hale details for us the very different, mutually exclusive interpretations provided by various archaeologists, none of whom have close to adequate evidence for their suppositions. I also found it difficult to listen to Professor Hale's lecture style. The information density of the lectures is extremely low. This is due in large part to two major problems: First, he speaks in an almost stream-of-consciousness manner, allowing his thoughts to wander into many, many digressions, of quite variable relevance, from which he returns only some of the time. And second, the structure of his sentences is extraordinarily complex, but in a haphazard, disorganized way which makes him difficult and frustrating to follow. Finally, there is little in the way of insight into the actual roots of religion, although this may simply be due to the fact that these roots are mostly obvious: ancestor worship; burial rituals; sacrifices; temples and other holy structures; the afterlife; art; and, of course, the human need to posit explanations for the world around us, and the natural conclusion that the magnificence of nature must be due to the work of beings far more powerful than we are. So - I am glad that so many reviewers obviously found this course very worthwhile. I can only recommend it, however, to those who already have a specific interest in the archaeology of religion, and few other demands on their time.
Date published: 2013-03-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very dynamic and interesting presentation I enjoyed this course very much. Professor Hale is one of the most dynamic lecturers I have encountered in the Great Courses I have listened to. His knowledge of his subject is multi-faceted, and he combines history, religion, archaeology, anthropology and vivid story-telling to make these lectures come alive. This was one of the courses that I simply did not want to end.
Date published: 2013-03-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Religions of Our Ancient Forebears This is an exceptional course. I found it fascinating. To begin with, Professor Hale is an excellent lecturer - in the organization and mastery of his material, in the intensity of his delivery and in his pleasing quality of voice. The content's scope encompasses millenia and most of the occupied globe. The lectures deal with how our ancient ancestors viewed their lives, their universe and their place in it - questions, fears and yearnings with which humans of all ages, including our own, have grappled. The content is compelling and often dramatic. I sometimes listened to three lectures, one right after the other, needing hardly a break. The visuals, whether actual photographs, artistic scenes or three dimensional representations, are plentiful, quite impressive and helpful. After viewing this course, I am encouraged to purchase further offerings from Professor Hale. Excellent job!
Date published: 2013-03-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from World-wide tour of ancient sites This is a wonderful tour of ancient archaeological sites that have religious significance. From pre-historic times thru the present millennium, Professor Hale presents evidence of religious beliefs held by the people of the time. The most widely-held belief proposed by Dr. Hale is belief in after-life. He proposes that the power of nature (earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, etc.) established the presence of gods. As man became more knowledgable of science, these gods became lesser in importance giving way to monotheism or one god. The travelogue alone is worth the time spent with the course. However, this course is an excellent compliment to other religion courses available through the Teaching Company.
Date published: 2012-11-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from comprehensive, exciting, touching I found this to be a truly superb course; each lecture was enthralling. Starting with Neanderthals of 40,000 years ago and working through numerous cultures and civilizations worldwide, Prof. Hale does a masterful job describing what we know about their rituals, likely spiritual and religious significance, and how it's backed up by the available archaeology. Prof. Hale is particularly good in describing the archaeological sites. He really brings these cultures and rituals to life, such that I found many of the lectures to be quite touching. All in all, an excellent course -- one of the top 10 of the 70 or so that I have completed so far from TC.
Date published: 2012-08-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from interesting course, wrongly named As Prof. Hale said upfront, this is a course which investigates the roots of religion from an archaeological perspective. This is an interesting course in that it looks at religion in a very different way, and by that it taught a lot. Prof Hale is as usual excellent, but one could see that he is most comfortable with Greek, Roman and Scandinavian sites and much less so for Chinese, Indian and mesoamerican sites. He seems to be less enthusiastic in these areas and the excitement in his body language confirms so. I find the course setup to be very attractive, allowing an intro to many different sites and religious rituals. It is a quick glimpse but can provide enough insight so that the student can then go on his/her own to investigate further. Prof. Hale is undoubtedly one of the best (perhaps the best) teacher in the Great Courses lineup. Hopefully we will see more of his teaching soon.
Date published: 2012-06-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from FLUENT LECTURER MAKES LEARNING EASY The professor, clearly enamoured of his subject matter, presents it in a fluent, flowing manner that makes understanding ~ and remembering ~ so much easier. It's a pleasure to hear him speak, without the ers, ums, y'knows, etc of some other lecturers! As the topics move from place-to-place and time-to-time, Dr Hale handles it all with ease and precision, incorporating many disciplines and discussing many aspects. The fact that this course was recently recorded helps a great deal, for we are shown many pictures to illustrate and amplify the lectures, making the topics even more interesting and memorable. Very well done indeed, deserves a 5-star rating! Highly-recommended.
Date published: 2012-04-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I Love This Guy What a great course (no pun intended). Prof. Hale obviously loves the subject matter and discourses fluently and apparently without a script. He somehow manages to jump from era to era and continent to continent without losing the thread of his topic. He touches on linguistics, history, sociology, biology, and, of course archaeology and still makes it seem as if it's one subject. At the end, I'm not sure that I developed a thorough understanding of any of the subjects covered, but I certainly enjoyed the process of hearing about all of these things. Buy this course!
Date published: 2012-03-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Facinating Examination of Early Religion Anyone interested both in archeology and religion will find this course to be quite riveting. Covering religions from pre-history to the dead Sea scrolls, Professor Hale has produced a well-document survey of what we know about the start of religious thought. A must for all those involved in any sort of historical understanding of the actual roots of religion! I recommend it highly.
Date published: 2011-12-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thought Provoking and Informative Highly recommend this course! Rather than providing hours of definitions and chronologies, Prof. Hale weaves together the earliest human religious sites to paint a portrait of our common human soul, as religious practices developed independently around the world over the millenia. I appreciated his sensitive commentary on the various religious practices, many of which today we find awful, but when placed in context with the human social life wherethe Divine was sought, become at once understandable.
Date published: 2011-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging I truely enjoyed this course. I have been interested in the origins of religions and archeology for many years. This course brought these interestes toether and answered many questions I never knew I had. I am so glad I bought and studied this course. I intend to take this subject farther, much farther...
Date published: 2011-10-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The evolution of spirituality/religion When it’s all said and done, you do come away with an appreciation for the origins of religion and how it has evolved over millennia. With the thematic organization, you also get a sense of the timeless, universal elements that make up spirituality/religious experience. Ancient religions make up the greater part of this course; modern monotheistic religions get one lecture each at the end of the course. Based on other reviewers’ comments and my own experience, I recommend starting off by watching Lecture 36. You’ll be much better equipped to tie the lectures into a cohesive tour than if you begin with Lecture 1, which simply introduces the science of archeology and provides an outline of course objectives. Also, I suggest purchasing the DVDs rather than audio. The pictures definitely add a great deal to course. It’s really amazing to me as to how archeologists can reconstruct sites of ancient civilizations (caves, mounds, sacred landscapes, structures, etc.) and draw conclusions with a fair amount of confidence despite a lack of textual evidence. The sites Dr Hale explores are a mix of mostly familiar (Stonehenge, Easter Island, Angkor, Rome, Dead Sea Scrolls, Acropolis, Pyramids, Nazca, etc.) along with a few obscure ones (Ajanta, Jenne-jeno, Palenque, Lindow Moss, Bronze Age Scandinavia, etc.). My favorite lecture was the one on Easter Island. First off, it was utterly fascinating and presented a good deal of new information I wasn’t aware of. Second, it really got me thinking about the concept of trans-cultural diffusion. I’m still perplexed. That’s a good thing, so there’s value in this course for me.
Date published: 2011-10-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from 34 Random Dig Sites and their Religions As Prof Hale himself says at the beginning, this course should be called " Archaeological Dig Sites and What They Tell Us About the Religious Practices There" or some such. Each lecture analyses one archaeological site, and is a standalone lecture. Unfortunately, the lectures are organised by Theme (afterlife, temples, landscapes, etc), and the six examples/lectures within each theme are as diverse as possible. This means that you are bouncing around the world, and through time, a completely different place with each new lecture, with no obvious connection to the previous lecture. And no coherent picture of any religious thought, but 34 Snapshots of World Religions. Some listeners might like this.He covers a lot of ground and time. A good accompaniment to half-hour commutes to work.
Date published: 2011-10-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from THOUGHTFUL, COMPREHENSIVE, CHALLENGING This review refers to the DVD's which I believe are critical to full enjoyment of this series. Dr Hale takes us on an original journey among the relics and artifacts of religions from all corners of the world. Each example is brief by necessity to stay within the eighteen hours available. If you are like me, you will find many interesting and thought provoking subjects as he deals with obscure places (Chaco Canyon, American Mounds) as well as the standard ones (Acropolis. Stonehenge.) He shows the differences as well as some of strange similarities among civilizations around the world. He starts with the most ancient evidence science has discovered thus far, and what appears to be the patterns that can be discerned. He touches on the needs that what we call religion, in its many forms, appear to fulfill for humans. This can be discerned in burial practices, totems recovered, relics of structures, etc. Here,Dr Hale's archaeologist background is invaluable in assisting us to understand the universal human yearning for meaning in life. Although I thought the course would be more a philosophical survey rather than a practical look at the evidence of ancient religious practices on a world wide basis, I found it to be a 'mind expander' type of series. It was most enjoyable, and Dr Hale doesn't appear to have any axe to grind towards any particular religion or religious practice. He concentrates on the facts. It's recommended to everyone.
Date published: 2011-06-09
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