God and Mankind: Comparative Religions

Course No. 616
Professor Robert Oden, Ph.D.
Carleton College
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Course No. 616
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Course Overview

How do the major religions answer unanswerable questions? What can we gain from their answers? Why are we here? What is my purpose? Where do we go when we die? Will I be forgiven? Will we ever discover the source of the mystery? Each of these questions raises countless more.

God and Mankind: Comparative Religions by Professor Robert Oden is an ideal starting point for gaining some progress in considering these questions. And if you've been thinking about them for a while, as so many do, you will likely discover he has many fresh insights to offer you.

Professor Oden, who holds degrees in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, and Theology, has taught at Harvard University and Dartmouth College over a long and exceptionally distinguished career as both teacher and college president.

His lectures approach religious belief and ritual as possible answers to these most difficult and enduring questions, which have occupied humanity from the beginning.

An Ideal Starting Point for Inquiry

The lectures underscore both the unity and the diversity of religious approaches to life in a sweeping conceptual grasp.

Professor Oden begins with a discussion of the nature and study of religion, distinguishing between religion as both a matter of faith and as an appropriate subject of intellectual and academic pursuit.

In addition to discussing the four traditional views of religion, Professor Oden proposes another: a system of communication.

This serves as a crucial conceptual framework for exploring the thoughts of Mircea Eliade, a historian of religion, philosopher, and professor at the University of Chicago, who proposed that the best way to understand religions is to examine their views of how the world came into being and how it operates on a daily basis.

How Do We Reconcile Suffering and a Benevolent Deity?

Professor Oden continues with an investigation of the problem of reconciling an all-powerful and benevolent deity with the suffering and evil that are part of human existence.

You will also look at the dynamics of religious communities in general and the impact of the Puritan religious tradition on America.

The introductory lecture lays out a framework for the study of religion, beginning with the "what" and "why" of the matter, and moving to how religions have been compared with history, science, psychology, and society.

You learn that for religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism that see the world as old, salvation comes by escaping from the endless cycle of birth and rebirth. But Judaism and Christianity, however, see the world as relatively new, and the goal is to gain more chances at life, either collectively or individually.

Professor Oden addresses the centrality of myth in making sense of religious cosmologies, and he places special emphasis on the birth narratives of religious heroes, particularly the unusual circumstances surrounding their conception and birth.

Religious Heroes and Teachers in developing a framework for an extensive discussion of the ancient Sumerian myth, the Epic of Gilgamesh and its cosmological implications.

You explore the notion of the anthropologist Arnold van Gennep, later expanded by the American anthropologist Victor Turner, that the rite of passage theme must be understood as central for religious cosmologies in general.

As with Gilgamesh, this lecture looks at the stories of Moses, Jesus, Krishna, and Gautama the Buddha, unearthing in each a key point that aptly reflects the cosmology of the religion in question.

Professor Oden goes into a systematic analysis of the "theodicy" problem, which is: How can an all-powerful and benevolent deity allow innocent people to suffer while often success and happiness seem to come to those who are evil? All world religions have attempted to deal with this dilemma—and five answers have been produced.

The discussion of theodicy continues by examining the most famous example in the Western religious tradition—the book of Job—and two of the main sources of Christian thinking on the topic, the Apostle Paul and the 16th-century Swiss theologian, John Calvin.

By way of comparison, Professor Oden also discusses the Hindu and Buddhist responses to the theodicy question, including the Hindu doctrines of karmic law and transmigration of souls, and the Buddhist teaching that life is suffering, with the only release an acceptance of the impermanence of the universe and everything in it.

Ritual, Sect, and Church

In examining ritual, Professor Oden places special emphasis on its nature, importance, and ramifications for the religious community, and then describes the dynamics of the development of two types of religious communities: sect and church.

Professor Oden moves from the comparative sociology of religion to what might be termed the religious nature of a particular society: the United States. Drawing on the work of the Harvard scholar Sacvan Bercovitch, the lecture addresses the American identity with reference to its Puritan origins.

Taking the theme of America and Americans being "God's elect" and the parallels between America and ancient Israel, Professor Oden proposes an American civil religion whose themes include:

  • The "chosen" history of America
  • A strong notion of covenant, with America's fate emblematic of the world's
  • The idea that, in America, the ultimate sovereignty is not the people's, but God's.

In conclusion, Professor Oden discusses four aspects of today's American identity that seem to have come directly from the Puritan tradition:

  • An anti-intellectual bias toward individualism rather than collective experience and theory
  • A bias against ritual
  • The strongest fundamentalist tradition in the advanced industrialized world
  • A uniquely American anxiety over vocational and occupational calling that is not found elsewhere in the world.

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8 lectures
 |  Average 43 minutes each
  • 1
    Why Nothing Is as Intriguing as the Study of Religion
    The series is introduced with a definition of the word religion. Why should we study it? Dr. Oden establishes how we should best study and compare religions. x
  • 2
    Orienting Humanity—Religions as Spiritual Compasses
    The many ways religions explain the origin of the universe are compared. The effects of different theories of origin on other aspects of religious belief and even religious architecture are also analyzed. x
  • 3
    Religious Heroes 1—Gilgamesh and the Dawn of History
    With a brief review of the elements of religious myth, Dr. Oden discusses elements of the Mesopotamian myth The Epic of Gilgamesh: Gilgamesh's encounter with his equal Enkidu, the spiritual crisis brought on by Enkidu's death, and its resolution. x
  • 4
    Religious Heroes 2—Moses and Jesus
    Dr. Oden proposes that we should understand the lives of religious heroes in the framework of a rite of passage—the movement from ignorance to crisis to post-threshold awareness. Gilgamesh, Moses, and Jesus all fit this scheme. Jesus' argument is that life itself is a crisis presaging the threshold. Hindu and Buddhist belief are included in this analysis. x
  • 5
    Pondering Divine Justice—Do We Suffer for Naught?
    How can a benevolent God permit needless human suffering? The five answers of religion to this question are discussed, as is the Book of Job. x
  • 6
    Defending Divine Justice—Religious Accounts of Suffering
    Continuing the discussion begun in Lecture 5, Dr. Oden explains and examines the responses of St. Paul, Calvin, and Hindu and Buddhist theologians to the problem of human suffering in a world with God. x
  • 7
    Religious Rituals and Communities
    Dr. Oden first reviews the importance of ritual in defining a religious community. He examines the historical development of religious practices and how they are organized into distinct churches; the inevitability of sects which split off from the church and how these sects become churches; and the intriguing ways Buddhist and Hindu religious practices address the tensions that give rise to sects. x
  • 8
    Bringing It All Back Home
    This lecture explores the extraordinary impact of religious belief and thought on the American character. Dr. Oden makes clear the central importance of Luther, Calvin, and Puritanism on American political behavior, religious fundamentalism, and even career choice anxiety. x

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Your professor

Robert Oden

About Your Professor

Robert Oden, Ph.D.
Carleton College
Dr. Robert Oden is the former president of Carleton College and Kenyon College. He earned his bachelor's degree in history and literature magna cum laude from Harvard University, where he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Dr. Oden earned a Th.M. and Ph.D. with highest distinctions from Harvard Divinity School, as well as earning the Whiting Fellowship in the Humanities. He also earned an honorary master's degree from Dartmouth...
Learn More About This Professor


God and Mankind: Comparative Religions is rated 3.8 out of 5 by 66.
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not sure what I have taken from the course This is the first course that leaves me unsure what to say about it to other potential listeners. When I think of the other courses I have on my shelf I can look at each one and be able to say what I took from the course, or what I learned. My review of this course may simply be that nothing jumps out at me. Note that this course, possibly due to it being recorded quite some time ago, has a bit of a different presentation style than other courses on my shelf. You know that there is an audience as the professor will refer to them more interactively than usual and you will hear their laughing at times. Plus the Professor speaks more like I would do in a live event by giving 'disclaimers' about himself, his beliefs and the material which can be strangely distracting if you are accustomed to the more 'canned' courses I have gotten used to. I will say I was a bit surprised at the time spent on Christianity; I don't know if I would be exaggerating to say that up to 85% of a lecture would be spent on a Christian story relating to the lecture's topic and the other two religions seeming to be thrown in at the end. I will note that this may have been of necessity. The Professor points out that the other religions are quite simple and straightforward in their teachings whereas Christianity is so complex i.e. he had no choice but to spend more time on Christianity.
Date published: 2016-03-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from First Lecture is Worth the Price of Admission audio download version I'm both surprised and understanding at the number of negative reviews. But first a disclaimer: my son and my money went to Carleton College, so I have some obvious bias. I'm surprised at the negative reviews because I found the course fascinating. On the other hand, I acknowledge those who have commented that the course really focuses on Christianity and Judaism, giving short shrift to Hinduism and Buddhism and ignoring Islam. I also agree with those who take excepting to professor Oden's presentation style. It is parenthetical with many preparatory comments and asides and digressions. But for me, his style is right on. I felt all along that I was being included in a conservation as to how Dr. Oden viewed the world of religion and was giving us his insights. And what insights. His first lecture which might be titled "What is Religion and Why Should Anyone Care" held my attention throughout and i've listened to it more than once. It was particularly suited for anyone who does not consider themselves religious, bur is interested in the subject. And maybe more so for someone who thinks that they are not interested in religion or does not understand why a non-believer should care. After all who does not care about the nature of good and evil or has not asked themselves "why are we here?" The contents of the course let us in on what many major theological thinkers over the years have thought about these issues, not that there are any firm answers. I especially found the discussion the the 'theodicy' problem intriguing (and here I learned a new word). That is how could an all powerful and loving God permit such suffering to exist in the world. While I am not persuaded by, for example, John Calvin's answer, at least his answer is logically consistent. There i8s much more of interest in these eight, 45 minute lectures. I only wish that the course had been expanded or that professor Oden gives us another one that actually compares additional religions in detail. Highly recommended for those with an interest in the subject.
Date published: 2015-12-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from decent, but disappointing Of the seven Great Courses I have taken so far, this is the only one that has been disappointing—good, but disappointing. I learned something about how academicians study religion, but I learned little about how the teachings of the world’s religions compare with each other, which is what I expected, perhaps incorrectly. Because the story of Gilgamesh and the story of Noah are similar, and because there is a written record of Gilgamesh that predates any extant written records of Noah, Dr. Oden concluded that the story of Gilgamesh was almost certainly the basis of the story of Noah. I think that was flawed reasoning. Similarity does not necessarily imply derivation, and most ancient records have been lost.
Date published: 2015-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good, solid overview Excellent overview of major Eastern and Abrahamic traditions. Would like to see a similar course on native, aboriginal, and FIrst Nations spiritualities.
Date published: 2015-02-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Content Yes, Presentation No I have enjoyed many Great Courses. This one, however, was a chore due to poor presentation skills. The professor is rather unprofessional, especially with a maddening habit of repeating "a, a, a..." while forming his next phrase.
Date published: 2014-05-06
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Big Disappointment Of the many great courses I have listened to or watched, I think this was the biggest disappointment ever. Professor Oden spent so much time on apologies and parenthetical references that he covered very little substantial insights in what should be a fascinating topic. It wasn't worth the $10 I paid to get this on clearance, much less the time I wasted listening to it.
Date published: 2013-09-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Philosophy, religion, and storytelling ! CDs AUDIO ~~ a fascinating series of 45-minute lectures, apparently taken from addresses to a large audience some years back, judging from the audio quality and ambient noises. Dr Oden tackles head-on some of the deepest and most perplexing philosophcal questions that have challenged man for millenia: What is the purpose of our life? What happens when we die? Who or what is God? In fact, IS there a God? What are the origins of religions? I found these lectures highly entertaining as well as informative ~~ they comprise an ideal springboard for further study and research, as they touch on so many subjects and themes relating to religion including the question: What is the definition of a myth? In some ways Professor Oden's talks reminded me of the 1950s radio show "Art Baker's Notebook" which the older generations may recall with a smile. Dr Oden at times displays a fine sense of humour (with attendant audience laughter). His style is pleasant, friendly, but with far too many "ERs" in some lectures, I'm afraid. Lately I've run into several cases of professors with annoying oral tics; perhaps this does not deter or throw off some listeners, but it does affect me adversely. In any case, I strongly recommend this course to you: it is a "keeper" which I plan to run again perhaps next year.
Date published: 2013-08-13
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing Content was thin and superficial. Professor Oden's enthusiasm does not make up for this lack of substance. Additionally, the good professor suffers from "parenthetical psychosis," i.e. constantly opening up sentences to put more sentences into them, with the result of lots and lots of words with less and less focus. Amazing how many times he tells you what he is or isn't going to do. Just do it! Finally, he talks so fast, you begin to get the impression he is trying to outrun you or get away with something. I am a great fan of the Teaching Company and have listened and watched many, many courses, especially in the religion area. This is the first one I am seriously thinking about returning for a refund. Sorry. And, of course, only one person's opinion.
Date published: 2013-06-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Comparative Relgions it is not This essentially a philosophy course, and I don't like philosophy courses.
Date published: 2013-05-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great- But Not For Everyone First, what this course is not: 1. A detailed discussion of the theory or history of religion, 2. An even-handed review of major religious traditions, 3. A text-book approach to its subject matter. If you are looking for one of the above, or are annoyed by non-systematic presentation, these lectures may not be for you. However, I liked this course and gave it high marks. Although I appreciate the fact that the professor’s mercurial method is not to everyone’s taste, it didn’t bother me. This is probably a subjective matter. I think that the key point is that given the gravity of the subject matter even a handful of incisive points (and Dr. Oden made plenty) may change one’s outlook on life. For example, even if one is not religious we have all probably considered the issue of evil in the world at one time or another. Lectures 5 and 6 discuss this in great depth as the ‘problem of theodicy’. I doubt that any of us have actually considered all of, or even the majority of, the points that Professor Oden makes.
Date published: 2013-04-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Thought-provoking introductory course I originally bought this course back in the days of cassettes and the 45-minute lecture format. I recently "upgraded" to digital download to re-listen to this course. This course is an enjoyable introduction to the study of religions as a human phenomena, with a few lectures taking a deeper look at some cross-religion ideas such as theodicy. Through out the course, the professor refers to some titans in the field, such as Weber, Durkheim, Eliade, and Evans-Pritchard. I have many of those thinkers, and the professors summations of them are fair if not brief. Most of the study of religions falls into one of a few camps: (1) here is the history of a particular religion and how it developed, (2) here is the philosophy or theology of this particular religion, or (3) here are some great figures in this tradition. This course has a different approach: study some religious archetypes and see how different religions exemplify or do not exemplify that model. Here's an example from Weber: the idea of the charismatic founder, the formation of a sect, and its eventual evolution into church. A Western bias? I don't think so. Just a bias towards stories he thinks his audience will understanding. Should you get this course? Yes. Good introduction to a rewarding topic.
Date published: 2013-04-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Foundational for Serious Students of Religion Dr. Oden is one of the original contributors to the Teaching Company. The lecturer's academic background, anchored at some of the most prestigious educational institutions in the world, makes it seem easy for him to summarize the fundamental ideas necessary to undertake a true study of religion. Each lecture provides accessible, clear, and profound mental architecture to tackle the more comprehensive comparative religion courses offered by the Teaching Company. A perfect primer course for those willing to expand their minds.
Date published: 2013-01-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Entertaining I largely agree the 20 or so other recently written, sharply divided, reviews I read. I think 4 or 5 stars is deserved while at the same time I understand the reviewers who rated the course as only one star. There is indeed amazingly little on anything but Christianity (and Judaism) -- and the professor's acknowledgment of that does not really excuse the narrowness given the course title. Having narrowed his field, however, the professor is interesting and entertaining, although he discusses those two religions in a way that the faithful seem to find biased and even offensive. In an academic context that may be unavoidable, and the professor notes the obvious -- that the subject is a sensitive one for many.
Date published: 2012-12-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting Prof. Oden discusses several broad topics in religion. While he does primarily use examples from Christianity and Judaism (he states that he believes that his audience would be more familiar with those examples), he also discusses examples from other religions. Listening to this course opens a window into TTC's past. This course was apparently recorded in 1990. It certainly is not as polished as more recent courses from TTC. The background audience noise indicates that it must have been recorded in a large lecture hall. Based on this course and other older courses, TTC apparently used to give its professors wide latitude in what they recorded. The result, in this case, is a thoroughly enjoyable discussion into topics that a bright, well-spoken professor of religion feels are important. Prof. Oden chose his topics well. His discussions were entertaining and informative. I enjoyed his sense of humor. I particularly enjoyed the way that he tied his broader themes together by providing examples from a variety of religions. I also enjoyed his sense of humor. I would recommend this course to anyone interested in comparing religions. I would also recommend this course as an enjoyable adventure into TTC's past.
Date published: 2012-10-13
Rated 1 out of 5 by from It just irks me. This professor has an obvious bias, perhaps prejudice, against Christianity and Christians. He continually disparages the Faith and ridicules Biblical heros, as well as Paul, 1st century Christians and modern Christians.I tried to finish it, but I finally got so tired of it, in lecture 6 I turned it off.
Date published: 2012-05-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Broad Themes in Religion The course subtitle’s mention of comparative religion as a focus for these eight 45-minute lectures is somewhat misleading. Although there are portions of this collection that speak to the topic of comparative religion the course actually consists of a series of discussions on somewhat disparate broad themes in religion. These topics include the study of religion, religious heroes and their stories, the problem of suffering, and ritual and tradition in religion. Christianity is the religion discussed in most detail, followed by Judaism, with Hinduism and Buddhism trailing quite far behind. Other religions (Islam being the most prominent) are not included at all. In many cases the various religions are not compared and contrasted as you might expect from a true comparative religion course - rather, examples of how each religion defines the themes discussed are provided. However, if you can get past the fact that this is not really a comparative religion course, there is very much to like here. Professor Oden has clearly planned his approach to the lectures, although he does jump from topic to topic without a clear unified course focus, other than discoursing on a collection of interesting broad religious themes. Unlike professors of other Teaching Company courses on religious matters (Professor Ehrman comes to mind) that like to offer answers to many of the conundrums of religious study this professor seems to readily admit that the answers are not all that straightforward. He does, however, help define some of the toughest questions quite well. He is quite funny at times and has a quirky way of wandering away from the main theme for short periods. I actually liked his style and delivery but can see that it might irk some listeners. His lectures seem much less canned (or maybe polished is a better word) than other Teaching Company courses, almost as if he is coming up with new thoughts as he presents the material. His discussions of the Epic of Gilgamesh (and further thoughts on religious cosmology) and the Book of Job (and how it handles the theodicy or suffering issue) are excellent and worth the time spent with the material. This course is one of the earlier ones recorded for The Teaching Company. I remember listening to a cassette tape version of this same course many years ago. The discussion is quite clear and understandable but there does appear to be some background noise and even some editing of the lectures, as if the course was recorded for a more uncontrolled large group setting rather than that of a small studio audience. I recommend Professor Oden’s discourses for individuals willing to take the time and effort to think somewhat deeply about religious matters. It does require some independent thought and study and is not really suited to a quick superficial listen.
Date published: 2012-03-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A Missed Opportunity Eight lectures (six hours) in which to instruct and inspire eager, mature students on comparative religion: What an opportunity! Unfortunately, it is an opportunity that Professor Oden decided to forego. Instead, he gives us his professorial musings on Christianity with occasional references to some other religions, mainly Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. The lectures seem to be an unstructured stream of consciousness with only occasional deference to comparative religion. Out of interest, I timed Lectures Seven and Eight, and found that, combined, they devoted 2 minutes to Buddhism, 3 minutes to Hinduism and the rest (about 85 minutes) to Christianity. There are two lectures on theodicy (an interesting subject in its own right), the bulk of which is made up of what I can only call two sermons, one on the Book of Job and the other on Paul’s Letter to the Romans. The sermons raise questions but do not answer them. I could forgive the inaccuracy of the title if I had been left with new insights or new knowledge. Alas, there were none. Professor Oden’s course gets an “F" from me.
Date published: 2012-02-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good into to this subject-very thought-provoking I was able to get a copy of a video taped version of this class through inter-library loan. It was done is a lecture format with the professor on a stage in a large auditorium. There are no visual aides, so you are not missing anything by having only an audio version. I am not very familiar with philosophy or non-Judeo-Christian religions. I thought this class was wonderful. Prof. Oden does a good job of explaining terms with which somene new to this subject might not be familiar. I also thought his presentations were thought-provoking. He focused primarily on Christian and Jewish thought, which made the ideas more comfortable, but he also introduced ideas from Eastern religion as well. I actually enjoyed his litte "side-lines" which some reviewers did not like. I thought it made the concepts more real. But I guess that's just me. I thought the lecture on the book of Job was great, and I really liked his discussion of fundamentalism in America.
Date published: 2012-01-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from What? Where'd you go? I'm afraid I have to agree with the reviewer who described this as an example of untreated ADHD. Now, that's not a very kind way to describe the course, but it is fairly accurate. Oden has quite a penchant for sidetracks, tangents, and self-conscious qualifications. This greatly distracted from the core of the course. When he did stay on topic, I didn't find much of great value. Since I don't subscribe to Calvinism (though I am a Christian), I found the substance of his discussions on Christianity tainted by his basic assumptions. Overall, I found it difficult to extract much of value from the meandering "coffee shop chat" that one reviewer generously called this course. Oden is obviously bright and passionate. He would benefit from a greater economy of verbiage and a sharper focus on his topic.
Date published: 2011-12-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Good Starting Point This course truly is an "oldie," as reflected by the copyright date on the materials (1998) and some commentary by the lecturer that makes it sound as though this was recorded around 2000. Because this is, therefore, clearly a very early Teaching Company effort, we should make some technical allowances for issues in this recording that have long since been addressed and changed in more current courses. This course was apparently recorded at a genuine large-audience presentation by Professor Oden, as opposed to the more controlled environment of the Teaching Company's own studios in Virginia now used for current courses. There are a handful of technical issues that flow from this. First of all, the first lecture was edited quite heavily in order to cram its length into the allotted 45 minutes. I would speculate that the original lecture ran closer to an hour. To achieve this shorter length, the Teaching Company has literally cut out every pause, every breath, and every gap in the presentation. It sounds rather weird, and it takes a while to get used to the pace. Luckily, this only seems to be an issue with the first lecture -- later ones are presented in a fully natural manner without all this Procrustean editing. Second, there are some inevitable pops and gaps from the wireless microphone the lecturer was using in this live lecture hall. They are not intrusive. Third, it will be noted that the Teaching Company has spliced in some "canned" applause at the opening of each lecture in order to fit the standard format of current courses. This is not a serious issue. Really, the only serious issue is the first one, and it is just a matter of enduring the weird editing to get past the first lecture in order to reach the remaining ones. I got used to it after a while in any case. Now, as to substance: It may help to know that I am a lapsed former member of a Protestant faith. I am currently in the "could go either way" point in terms of my faith (or lack thereof), something like M. Scott Peck's "Stage III." But I have found myself increasingly drawn to learn more about religion and what it has to say about the world because of my intrigue from the science side, including books such as "Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design" by Stephen C. Meyer, and "The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next" by Lee Smolin. These have led me to want to hear more of the story of our existence and our surroundings from religion's point of view, and this course was a helpful starting point. Indeed, directly related to my particular interest, Professor Oden early on stated that one of the key aspects he believed worth studying in any religion was its cosmology -- its explanations for the origin of the universe, the planet, and the inhabitants of the planet. I knew then that I had come to the right place. Overall, this course reminded me very much of the approach taken by the professor in my first tax course in law school. That professor said that he was not so much interested in having us learn all the intricacies of the current provisions of the Internal Revenue Code. Rather, he wanted to stress (a) what the major issues (and arguments) are in discussing taxation, and (b) what vocabulary is used in carrying out those discussions. The specifics change constantly, he said, and different viewpoints tend to hold sway at particular points in time. Knowing the key issues, arguments, and vocabulary would equip people to address taxation regardless of the current situation. I believe Professor Oden has accomplished something similar in this course. Obviously it is not possible to do even minimal justice to several millenia of global religious thought in the span of eight lectures. But I believe he has usefully provided a framework for how to think about the key features of religions, and pointed out many of the key arguments (and areas of controversy) surrounding these features. In this regard, I thought his treatment of the theodicy problem -- how it can be that a benevolent and all-powerful God can allow the innocent to suffer -- was especially illuminating, particularly his extended treatment of the story of Job. It is true, as other reviewers have noted, that Professor Oden has a habit of wandering off on tangents concerning a figure of speech he is about to use, or other incidental matters. I did not find these overly intrusive, and many of them are quite funny. They probably amount to no more than a total of 20 minutes spread over the eight lectures, so it's not like a huge intrusion. I think perhaps they are more noticeable because he has a habit of injecting them just after announcing that he is about to state something important, and we want him to get to that. In any case, with the caveat that I am by no means an expert in religious study, and this was the first course of this kind that I had listened to, I found it worthwhile as an introduction to the field. It might not have much value for someone who is already well-versed in comparative religions, but it is a good starting point for curious newcomers like me.
Date published: 2011-12-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I rate it as a Coffee Shop Chat I would Say this is more of a Coffee Shop Chat discussion. I enjoyed the lecture but I would have to rate it as more of a Chat than a deep discussion of the subject matter. Professor Robert Oden is enjoyable to listen too with his own adds to the subject matter. I only wish it was longer and more in-depth.
Date published: 2011-11-27
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Example of Untreated ADHD? Passionate professor who needs to put some reigns on his intelligence. Annoyingly takes off on tagent and then takes off on a tangent upon a tangent! Very high chaff to wheat ratio. Not recommended.
Date published: 2011-11-08
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Good Lord. I found the course disappointing because it was so small minded and parochial. First of all, the speaker avoids all mention of Islam, which is surprising, since it covers over a billion people. Secondly, the speaker professes that the Roman Catholic faith could not strictly be monotheism, because of the role of 'Mary and the Saints.' This is cheap Calvinism, since the concept of Jesus being the Son of God, and also that of the Holy Spirit, gives us a grand total of THREE Gods, however much his beliefs allow him to shoehorn them into One God. To cirticise Catholicism without mentioning the three Gods of Calvinism is unmitigated gall. The treatment of Gilgamesh is good, as is the treatment of the Book of Job, and the discussion of Judaism is passable. But the discussion of Hinduism and the passing references to Buddhism and its marvellous ofshoot, Zen Buddhism were disappointing and lacking in richness and depth. I think we must wait for Great Courses to bring out a really great course on comparative religion. I suggest giving this speaker a pass.
Date published: 2011-10-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from 5 Excellent Lectures, 3 So-So This and a Greek course were the first 2 I purchased from The Teaching Company (my italics key doesn't seem to be working, my apologies to The Teaching Company). I listened to this one while driving, while I watched the Greek one on DVD. That should speak volumes for what I thought about this course considering I have purchased 7 courses since, and I'm in the process of purchasing 4 more. It's now time for the actual review. Professor Oden is not what I would call a rah-rah type of speaker, but he is the funniest professor I have heard so far. He had the room laughing several times. Here is why I gave my title and why I gave this course solid 4's and not 5's. With many other courses, the first one has very little info and not much substance. Already that's 12.5% of the course! A longer course could have better made up for the slow start. It picks up in Lecture 2 talking about Cosmology and in particular Egyptian Cosmology. The highlights of Lectures 3 and 4 were Gilgamesh, Jesus, and Moses, which were really good. Lectures 5 and 6 were as excellent as any lectures in any course I have purchased so far. In those courses, Professor Oden talks about the theodicy problem as to why seemingly innocent people suffer. He uses the story of Job, and talks about John Calvin's point of view on the subject. The Hindu and Buddist response to the theodicy problem was one influence in my decision to purchase more religion courses to look beyond what I had learned from this course. Unfortunately the last 2 lectures fell flat for me. Lecture 7 just didn't have any appeal to me. Maybe the religious rituals weren't my cup of tea, or possibly anything after lectures 5 or 6 would have been a let down. I thought Professor Oden should have elaborated more on the Puritans in lecture 8. I felt like I was waiting for something really interesting to come out of his mouth, and it never happened. Overall it was still a very good course. There is enough good material for this to be a starter course, and it's one of the least expensive courses in the catalog. It's well worth your money, and just like me, you will end up purchasing more courses.
Date published: 2011-09-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Oldie but a Goodie!! I have now listened to 33 courses from start to finish in the last year and a half and this is certainly one of my favorites. This is a wonderfully funny and knowledgeable professor.
Date published: 2011-06-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Truly Great Course I've listened to these tapes several times & always get more out of the course as well as being amazed by the coherence and depth of the information given. It's really great!
Date published: 2010-12-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Intriguing indeed Professor Oden’s course offers a short but informative and thought-provoking introduction to the study of religion. It is also entertaining so that rehearing it after a couple of years was again very enjoyable even though I had listened to a number of related courses in the meantime. Being a six-hour course it is obviously not meant to be comprehensive. However, the selection of topics (cosmologies, religious heroes, theodicies, rituals, United States as case study) leaves the listener with a good idea of what comparative religion is about (the first lecture also presents an excellent overview here) offering, to the interested, many suggestions for further study. I particularly enjoyed the two lectures on theodicy as expounded in the Book of Job and, for Christianity, by the Apostle Paul and Calvin. For the non-believer the acceptance, by the faithful, of such arguments appears incomprehensible, and Professor Oden does not attempt to make it comprehensible - we can describe religions but we cannot explain faith. Here, as throughout the course, he thus succeeds in keeping his own beliefs from tinting his presentation. The guidebook is excellent with a very detailed outline of all the lectures. While I’m not sure that “nothing” is as intriguing as the study of religion I do agree that Professor Oden’s course makes for an intriguing listening experience.
Date published: 2010-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An excellent course by one of my favorite profs Some of the TTC courses have excellent content presented by less-than-compelling professors; others have excellent professors but less-than-compelling materials; this one has excellent content, presented by an excellent professor. It is almost certainly a personal preference, but I find the courses in which the professor ties numerous threads together as he/she goes and does it in a familiar, inviting way to be the ones I get the most from. That is the approach Prof. Oden takes. In contrast to my experience with some lectures, I never drifted off, only to realize that I'd lost the train of thought being pursued by the Professor. This one felt as if he was speaking directly to a small group about a topic that truly excited him, which made me excited about the material as well.
Date published: 2010-06-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from God & Mankind An earlier reviewer was correct -- this is an early course. The first I bought, actually, and I still treasure the original six tapes. I am thrilled to discover an updated CD version. I listened to the tapes twice, enjoying it each time, and am ready to do so again ... but tape players are as ancient as Gilgamesh in these fast-changing times. What luck to find it again!
Date published: 2010-04-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved this course I own over 30 courses and I found this one of the best. The material is necessarily broad but given in segments easy to listen to and understand. Many TeachCo courses are so densely packed with information that they can become laborious to listen to, not this one. I loved style and deliver of Dr Oden; one of the best deliveries of any teacher on the roster. This is great course to begin the expansion of your religious studies. I wish he would make a follow up course.
Date published: 2009-12-30
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