Terror of History: Mystics, Heretics, and Witches in the Western Tradition

Course No. 893
Professor Teofilo F. Ruiz, Ph.D.
University of California, Los Angeles
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Course No. 893
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Course Overview

Western civilization is closely associated with reason and science, and with exceptional accomplishment in art, architecture, music, and literature. Yet it has also been characterized by widespread belief in the supernatural and the irrational—with mystics who have visions of the divine, and with entire movements of people who wait in fervent anticipation of the apocalypse.

In addition, Western culture has been the setting for repeated acts of barbarism: persecutions of certain groups such as Jews, or accused heretics and witches.

Why has this been the case?

This two-part series invites you to consider what might be called the "underbelly" of Western society, a complex mixture of deeply embedded beliefs and unsettling social forces that has given rise to our greatest saints and our most shameful acts. The "terror of history," according to Professor Teofilo F. Ruiz, is a deeply held belief—dating from the ancient Greeks to Nietzsche and beyond—that the world is essentially about disorder and emptiness, and that human beings live constantly on the edge of doom.

We see history as terrifying, so we try to escape it. One strategy is to withdraw through transcendental experiences. Another, unfortunately, is to shift our fears onto scapegoats such as lepers, nonconformists, and other outsiders whom we choose to blame for "the catastrophe of our existence," as Professor Ruiz puts it.

The Renaissance as a Time of Magic and Astrology

This course explores the concept of the terror of history through a study of mysticism, heresy, apocalyptic movements, and the witch hunting craze in Europe between 1000 and 1700. You will examine new sources and think in new ways about events in the centuries from the late medieval period to early modern Europe.

You will be introduced to texts with which you may not be familiar, such as the Zohar, the Book of Splendor, the text of Jewish Kabbalistic mysticism. Or the Malleus Maleficarum, The Hammer of Witches, a handbook for identifying, interrogating, and trying witches.

You will view the Renaissance not from the perspective that it was the beginning of modernity but that it was a time when many among the educated were fascinated by alchemy and magic, when the Pope depended on his astrologer, when the learned considered the Corpus Hermeticum—a mixture of magic and astrology believed to date from the time of Moses—to be a more valuable text than Plato's Symposium.

You will consider how social, economic, political, and religious climates—especially during times of change and stress—exerted tremendous influence on the prevalence of irrational attitudes and persecutions. For example, between 1000 and 1700, periods of economic trouble were highly correlated with a rise in apocalyptic fervor. Similarly, religious wars coincided with the persecution of witches.

This course is presented by a teacher who displays both exceptional mastery over, and endless enthusiasm for, his subject matter. Professor Ruiz has been named one of four Outstanding Teachers of the Year in the United States by the Carnegie Foundation.

Particularly valuable is his willingness to add his own perspective, both professional and personal, to his lectures. Whether discussing aspects of ancient mystical practices that were common in Cuba during his boyhood, or offering an opinion on whether witchcraft has ever truly existed, Professor Ruiz makes clear that history is a living thing.

Why Witches and Heretics Were Persecuted

Much of The Terror of History has to do with the concept of the "other"—those who are seen by society as different—often by virtue of their sex, economic status, or beliefs—and are frequently persecuted.

These lectures examine the concept of otherness in a variety of ways and examine how certain groups came to be seen as other. Often, this involved the creation of boundaries, either real or imaginary, between people.

For example, the enclosure movement of the 15th century fenced peasants off their land, and the Reformation created a new religious boundary between Catholic and Protestant. This made it easier to accuse those who were poor, or of the wrong faith, of being heretics or witches.

The witch craze provides a way to view the concept of other as women's history. Misogynistic attitudes and a growing antipathy toward the poor created a kind of profiling of witches. A witch was identified as someone who was a woman, past childbearing age, poor, lived on the edge of town, and often had certain kinds of esoteric knowledge, such as the use of herbal medicines. In Essex, England, 278 of 291 people accused of witchcraft were women, and all were over 40 years old.

You will also consider how authority—frequently an alliance of secular government and the church—used others for its benefit. The Inquisition and witchhunting were a means to create a sense of community and identity for the populations of emerging nations and to enforce orthodoxy.

Methods of execution, such as hanging, drowning, and burning at the stake, provided multiple benefits: spectacle and entertainment, a sense of shared public purpose, and powerful lessons about the fate of those who deviated from accepted norms.

Have we outgrown the terror of history? Is it behind us?

Professor Ruiz suggests that Western culture can be seen as a pendulum swinging between periods of rational thinking and periods of superstition and irrationality. If we look at the 20th century, it was certainly a time of enormous scientific and technological achievements. On the other hand, it was also the most violent century in history.

The pendulum swings. And the terror of history continues.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    The Terror of History
    A lecture introducing specific themes in Western tradition, and the manner in which men and women in medieval and early modern Europe dealt with wars, plagues, oppressive lordships, and injustice. To understand the pre-modern and modern West, we must understand the different perspectives from which Western men and women looked at the world. x
  • 2
    Politics, Economy, and Society
    This lecture overlooks the social, political, and economic contexts of European mysticism, heresy, and witchcraft between 1000 and 1650. The rise of mysticism and heretical movements in the 12th century and the beginnings of the witch craze in the late 15th century were grounded in local historical contexts: the rise of the nation-state, the end of feudal society, and the formation of new social ties among different classes. x
  • 3
    Religion and Culture
    The discussion of historical context turns to the role of religion and culture in the development of esoteric beliefs and doctrines. The lecture focuses on the religious reform movements of the 11th and 12th centuries, the growth of new forms of spirituality after the Black Death, and above all, the pervasive influence of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation on European mentality. x
  • 4
    Mysticism in the Western Tradition
    A close look at mysticism and the role of mystics in Western European history. The lecture examines the different types of mysticism, the stages of the mystical ascent to God, and the differences between Western mysticism and transcendental practices elsewhere in the world. x
  • 5
    Mysticism in the Twelfth Century
    We turn from a general discussion of mysticism to case studies of mystics and their roles in Christian society. In this lecture, we look at two specific mystics, Hildegarde of Bingen and Bernard of Clairvaux. x
  • 6
    Mysticism in the Thirteenth Century
    Here Professor Teofilo Ruiz examines the lives of Saint Francis of Assisi and Dante Alighieri, the author of the Divina Commedia. The lecture seeks to place these mystics in their respective historical contexts, and also examines in some detail Francis's reception of the stigmata. x
  • 7
    Jewish Mysticism
    A close and comparative look at one aspect of Jewish mysticism, we examine in some detail the writing of the Zohar, or "Book of Splendor," the main Kabbalistic text of the Middle Ages. We conclude with a review of the impact of Kabbalah on Christian thought and religion. x
  • 8
    Mysticism in Early Modern Europe
    The nature of mysticism in early modern Europe and its evolution as a response to the impact of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. The lecture also examines case studies of the two greatest Spanish mystics of the 16th century, Saint Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. x
  • 9
    Heresy and the Millennium
    An examination of the place of heresy and apocalyptic beliefs in Western Europe between 1000 and 1650. The lecture compares heretical and apocalyptic movements and assesses the significance of these movements in the development of Western culture. x
  • 10
    The Church Under Attack
    The emergence of specific heresies in 12th and 13th century Europe. The lecture explores the social and economic conditions in southern France that led to the rise of heterodox movements. In particular, the lecture describes the beliefs of Waldensians and Cathars. x
  • 11
    The Birth of the Inquisition
    An analysis of the meaning of the Inquisition in medieval culture, and the historiographical debate on whether inquisitorial practices marked a significant shift in the treatment of heretics, Jews, women, and lepers. The lecture concludes with a brief examination of the heresy of the Free Spirit. x
  • 12
    The Millennium in the Sixteenth Century
    The outburst of millenarian expectations in the wake of the Reformation, and the great social and religious upheavals caused by peasant uprisings in early 16th-century Germany. This lecture places these rebellions, and their expectations of a godly kingdom, in the context of religious reform, political antagonism, and cultural change. x
  • 13
    Jewish Millennial Expectations
    The impact on Jewish religious life of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, the works of Isaac Abravanel and other important Jewish millenarian thinkers, and the life of Sabbatai Sevi, whose proclamation as the Messiah created great disturbances among the Sephardic Jews in the mid-17th century. x
  • 14
    The Mysteries of the Renaissance
    We move from millenarian movements to a discussion of Renaissance concerns with "deep time," the recovery of what were thought to be the most ancient forms of knowledge. The lecture outlines briefly the different intellectual influences on the development of mysteries: hermeticism, astrology, alchemy, and magic. x
  • 15
    Hermeticism, Astrology, Alchemy, and Magic
    A closer look at the different intellectual traditions competing for the mind of the West in the late 15th and 16th centuries. The lecture looks briefly at astrology, alchemy, and magic, then turns to hermeticism, explaining in detail what the hermetic tradition was and tracing its roots to second-century Gnosticism and astrological lore. x
  • 16
    The Origins of Witchcraft
    The beginning of our lengthy discussion of witchcraft and the European witch craze. This lecture defines and examines the history of witchcraft in the West, then discusses how Christian theologians redefined witchcraft just before the end of the 15th century. x
  • 17
    Religion, Science, and Magic
    A map of the religious and cultural landscape of Western Europe before, during, and after the witch craze. The lecture explores the Reformation, the Wars of Religion, and the Counter-Reformation; the shifting relationships among religion, magic, and science; and the rise of new scientific paradigms in the 16th century. x
  • 18
    The Witch Craze and Its Historians
    A look at the 80,000 to 100,000 people, mostly elderly women, executed because they were believed to be witches. To explain how this came about, this lecture looks in detail at the social, economic, and political changes that took place in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. x
  • 19
    Fear and the Construction of Satan
    An exploration of the nature of fear and how it was used by those in power to strengthen their rule. The lecture proceeds to a discussion of the devil in Western tradition, and concludes by exploring the centrality of Satan in the construction of the witch craze. x
  • 20
    The Witch Craze and Misogyny
    A review of the place of women in the West and a partial feminist explanation for the witch craze, followed by an examination of the writing of the Malleus Maleficarum ("The Hammer of Witches") and the role of this late 15th-century text in laying the foundations for the persecution of witches. x
  • 21
    The World of Witches
    A specific description of witchcraft, drawn from a mid-16th-century source. In addition, the lecture will explore some specific subjects, such as the nocturnal gatherings of witches and accusations of child sacrifices, cannibalism, and sexual excesses. x
  • 22
    The Witches of Loudon
    An outline of the famous witchcraft trial of the clergyman Urbain Grandier in the city of Loudon in France. The lecture uses this case as a lens through which to examine the mentality and sexual mores of early modern Europeans, and concludes with a summation of the history of the witch craze. x
  • 23
    The Witches of Essex and Salem
    An attempt to answer a number of questions on the social history of witchcraft, and to draw a social profile of those who were brought to trial on charges of witchcraft and Satanism by exploring two case studies: Essex, England; and Salem, Massachusetts, in the 17th century. x
  • 24
    The Survival of the Past
    An exploration of the survival of pre-Christian traditions in Europe: Beltane fires, May Day celebrations, mistletoe, maypoles, and other such practices. We conclude with some thoughts on the manner in which the terror of history remains a grim reality in the contemporary world. x

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Your professor

Teofilo F. Ruiz

About Your Professor

Teofilo F. Ruiz, Ph.D.
University of California, Los Angeles
Dr. Teofilo F. Ruiz is Professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles. A student of Joseph R. Strayer, Dr. Ruiz earned his Ph.D. from Princeton University. Prior to taking his post at UCLA, he held teaching positions at Brooklyn College, the City University of New York Graduate Center, the University of Michigan, the School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences in Paris, and Princeton University-as the...
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Terror of History: Mystics, Heretics, and Witches in the Western Tradition is rated 3.9 out of 5 by 94.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely the Finest! These lectures, Terror of History, are powerful and enlightening. Do not listen to the nay-sayers. If you purchase no other lectures, purchase these. Years ago, when writing a paper on the letters of Abelard and Heloise, I said to myself that, from these letters, one would never have known these two were once hot and sweaty in each other’s arms. In order to write that paper, I had to set aside my post-modern understandings and get a sense of the social norms and conventions of another era. Even knowing that, it has always been difficult to conceive of the medieval era beyond names, dates, places and events. This changed with Dr. Ruiz’s lectures. I now have a hugely better feel for the times and the impact of the events on ordinary people based on their entirely different world view. I have bookshelves filled with medieval period analysis and source documents; I have a wonderful history library from The Teaching Company. Dr. Ruiz’s lectures were the ones that made me repeatedly hit the pause button, take notes, think and analyze. He puts the viewer smack dab in the middle of medieval thinking and beliefs. He moves very fast, and yes, it took some time to become accustomed to the rhythm of his speech, but this is the one course I would recommend to anyone who wants to grasp the era. One needs to have a solid understanding of the “names, dates, places and events,” but these lectures create the best sense of how people thought and what they believed and why they acted the way they did than anything I have read, seen or heard. I was fascinated, even stunned, at how much came together for me. I will view them over and over again, especially when I get caught up in the facts and data and need to come back to real lives. I have several favorite professors at The Teaching Company. Dr. Ruiz is the one at whose feet I could sit mesmerized.
Date published: 2014-05-10
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not worth your time! This is a fascinating topic. Unfortunately, Dr. Ruiz's lecture style is disorganized and boring. His frequent references to his own repetition of topics became difficult to listen to and frankly got to the point where the lecture was just turned off. This course is not worth your time!
Date published: 2014-02-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Terror of History:Mystics, Heretics and Witch I have quite a number of courses from The Teaching Company, and so far this is the course that I have enjoyed the most. I couldn't stop watching! Although I have other courses on the MIddle Ages and on other religious traditions, Prof. Ruiz focused on aspects that had not been covered in other courses. For example, I have watched two different courses on the history of Judaism, yet Prof. Ruiz's account of Jewish messianism brought out historical facts that I had not encountered before. But even more than the course content, it was Prof. Ruiz's passionate delivery of the material that kept me so interested. He connects with the students by offering his email address and being open to questions. I suggest that ALL the presenters should take lessons in effective delivery from Prof. Ruiz. In many other DVDs, I am distracted by the fact that the presenter is trying SO hard not to look at the camera. Prof. Ruiz acknowledges that his watching and listening audience is there, and speaks directly to us. I strongly recommend this course to viewers who are interested in the history of Christianity in the middle ages and early modern period.
Date published: 2013-11-14
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Lectures irrelevant to the topic Though the professor is a very learned man, I was very disappointed that the course had very little to do with the terror of history. I was very excited to expand my knowledge of mystics, witches, and heretics such as the Bogomils and Waldensians. However, it ended up being a 24 hour overview of overviews. I added nothing to my previous knowledge, unfortunately, after this large time commitment. I found myself skipping sections, which I have never done in any TC course! It was an endless overview and refresher of basic history. Not till the last 3 lectures did he briefly mention a few witch incidents. I think 'overview' and 'context' is a great idea, but perhaps one lecture of 30 minutes is sufficient. Actually he could have summed it up in one line: people fear what they don't know so they choose someone or something mysterious to blame. I found myself groaning each time he mentioned another overview about to begin. At one point, he said 'you are probably sick of me saying this by now' and I thought 'why yes, I am.' His personal thoughts are very much appreciated, but maybe only with more history and fact first. I wanted to go deeper into interesting topics like the Perfect heresy, or the heretical background of the knights Templar. The Salem witch trial is so cliche and overdone. 24 hours should have been ample time to go into greater detail about obscure corners of history. I hope Dr. Ruiz is able to restructure this course and delve deeper into the captivating information that is out there and ready to be explored.
Date published: 2013-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An absolute Gem and must have course I almost stumbled upon this course from Professor Ruiz as part of my focus on intellectual history in the Western Tradition. I am delighted to have done so as this was superb and covered ground that perhaps conventional intellectual history courses overlook. In particular his coverage of the competing philosophical outlooks in the late middle ages/early modern period was an eye-openor; I am thinking in particular about Hermeticism as well as alchemy, astrology and magic. All of these areas, perhaps now derided as "occult" or marginal, were absolutely seen as of deep importance by thinkers we normally associate with the birth of the Scientific age such as Newton and Boyle. The course also covers the influence and prevalence of mysticism and of course the way in which extreme irrationality and herd hatreds can be ignited within its survey of the witch craze. I was enthralled throughout the course. Professor Ruiz depth and breadth of knowledge was stunning; most of all his absolute passion for his subject was inspiring and infectious. I cannot recommend this course enough and have ordered another of this wonderful Professor's courses on the back of completing this one.
Date published: 2013-08-21
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Somewhat disappointed Over the years, I have bought many courses from The Teaching Company and have found them all to be excellent ... except this one. Despite Dr. Ruiz's impressive background, the lectures seem disjoint. There's a certain "flow" to a course that I've come to expect, and this course seems to lack that flow. Also, he interjects the phase "in a sense" over and over and over. If this is just a verbal filler (like "ah"), I find it so excessive as to be annoying. If it is not, then I'd like to know, in WHAT sense??? Suggest Dr. Ruiz re-record the course again, reading from a transcript with all the "in a sense"s eliminated!
Date published: 2013-06-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Professor, Unbalanced Structure Professor Ruiz provides a huge amount of background and context for the witch craze, and while that can be a good thing, he generally fails sufficiently to tie it into his main topic. Thus through much of the course, the audience is left wondering where this is all going. The course could have been improved by shortening the preliminary material and lengthening the witchcraft section. The section on mysticism is presented more in the style of a mystic than in that of an academic, and Professor Ruiz seems to feel he must illustrate, in his emotional enthusiasm, what he is to explain. That said, Professor Ruiz's command of historical detail and his conceptual insights into it are remarkable in their own right. If teaching a course on the cultural and social history of early Europe, he would be superb. He is also the only Teaching Company professor, as far as I know, who is willing to ask for questions and provide his contact information, which indicates a true interest in his students. Throughout, he gives the impression of a sincere, earnest, kindly scholar.
Date published: 2013-04-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating course This was my first Teaching Company course. I have a BA in Medieval Studies so I was impressed by how much I learned from this series. The professor is extremely knowledgable and always gave background information so you can understand the lectures from a historical rather than modern perspective. There's a wide range of topics covered, though 30 minutes isn't enough time to properly deal with them, but that's where the course guide and supplementary reading come in. There aren't many visuals, so if you're deciding between the DVD and CD version, go for the CD. Unlike others in the comments I had no trouble with the professor's accent. I highly recommend this course and can't wait to start another one.
Date published: 2013-03-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best Lecturer ever Prof. Ruiz, though of Spanish origins, has a brilliant command over the audience. His eloquence, including even his use of his hands, is almost mesmerizing at times. The content too is fascinating, so we cannot recommend this course too highly
Date published: 2012-12-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best Course Ever!! I absolutely loved this course!! This was by far my favorite Great Course. Professor Ruiz is so passionate about the subject matter, and he really gets into many interesting details and adds personal perspective. Once I started, I could not stop watching. ( I was surprised to see the overall rating of only 4 stars. I'd give this course a 10 if I could!) There are many lessons to be learned from the historical 'witchcraft scares', and Professor Ruiz's presentation gives much food for thought. Also, he uses his own notes and does NOT watch a teleprompter -- thus making the lectures more natural and heartfelt. I recommend this course for anyone with an interest in witchcraft, God, religion, medieval and Renaissance history, or the psychology of prejudice and mob mentality. Also included are misogyny, hermetic arts, astrology, and alchemy. (If you enjoy learning about anything that is just plain weird, quirky, off the beaten path... this is the course for you!) The witch trials and Renaissance period are a fascinating part of European history. They really come alive in this series. Don't miss it!
Date published: 2012-12-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best I listened to this lecture for the first time on tape years ago and have since listened to it numerous times. I love the very first lecture especially and the professor's insight was very valuable to me. I would highly recommend listening to this particular lecture.
Date published: 2012-10-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from For-Fun Only Audio CD. This is a for-fun course, and you’ve got to have an interest in the subject (or the professor) for it to be fun. The course has five basic sections: Christian mystics, Jewish mystics, Christian heretics, Jewish heretics, and Christian witches. (Dr. Ruiz never addressed why Jewish society managed to avoid the witch craze.) Dr. Ruiz takes pains to consider each of these issues within contemporary terms. He is never judgmental, never condescending, and never condoning. Instead, he is insightful. Some have criticized Dr. Ruiz’s presentation style, particularly his accent, in other courses. I disagree with this position. While his accent is undeniable, his speech is always clearly intelligible and the course is well structured. In fact, I listened to this course not because I was intrigued by the material but rather because I have such deep respect for Dr. Ruiz.
Date published: 2012-10-21
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Skip this one! Hugely disappointing! Mr. Ruiz may not believe in God but he certainly believes in the unholy trinity of Nietzsche, Marx and Freud. The course is filtered through their lenses making what Ruiz says both predictable and banal. I generally like the Teaching Company lectures because they are blessedly free from particular ideological stances. With the choice of Mr. Ruiz, they dropped the ball.
Date published: 2012-10-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I have a better understanding of western religion.
Date published: 2012-07-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Top 5 Teaching Co. Courses! Strictly speaking, I NEVER buy courses under 4.5 stars and 90%+ recommendation. That is simply because I don't want to waste valuable time with a course I might want to send back. The Terror of History was a rushed purchase. I was on vacation with no time to read reviews and wanted to get ONE FREE DVD with a purchase. I thought the subject sounded fascinating so I ordered it along with a couple others. Perhaps it is simply the teaching style I prefer, but Professor Ruiz absolutely knocked my socks off in his first lecture! For a few minutes I worried about not catching every word because of his accent, but as his passion and deep knowledge of this subject gripped my mind and guts, I put that aside. His enthusiasm for his subject and his passion for teaching in a clear, concise and understanding manner had me spinning. In fact, this has only happened once before in any of the dozens of Great Courses I have purchased, but I just couldn't turn off the DVD. That was 3 days ago and I am finished with 24 lectures! I have only written a very few reviews because unless a course is absolutely abnoctious or absolutely beyond fantastic, I just don't take the time to do it. After watching this course I wanted to give Ruiz a standing ovation, so I had to write this review for others. To my utter shock and surprise I see that this course only has 4 stars and people are complaining about this or that. Now I am not an intellectual and I do not have a PHD, although I'd love to claim both, but I am an avid reader, writer, thinker and maybe a bit of a philosopher. For me, this course was absolutely perfect, minus the tiny accent issues. And as far as Ruiz uttering his opinions, yes, it shows a tad here and there, and yes, the last lecture he states IS HIS OPINION, but when he is lecturing it is not certain which position he is taking because he is obviously attempting to put himself in the shoes of the "historical period" rather than to project his own opinion. I'm sorry to borrow from another reviewer, but it was so well written and it so expresses my precise feelings, that I quote it here... "One reviewer, and I have read this criticism of other courses, opines that Professor Ruiz presents “too much of his own opinion without backing it up with facts”. Yeah, well, good luck with that. I suppose it is comforting to believe that a strict adherence to the “facts” paves the road to truth and knowledge, but unfortunately the choice of which facts to include and which to exclude puts us back at opinion, doesn’t it? I want Professor Ruiz to give me his opinion. That is what I am paying him to do. And I don’t think he should have to jump through the hoops of academia every time he does. Certainly he is in possession of more than enough facts to fill, and exclusively fill, 24 half-hour lectures, but after an hour or two of that, I would have had the DVD on a quick return trip to the Teaching Company. This course is a feast. It is a ramble. It is a conversation. It is highly worthwhile, and I recommend it unreservedly. I am sorry for the length and attitude of this screed. The truth is, I’m not accustomed to being an apologist, but for this course, and Professor Ruiz, I will make an exception." I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS COURSE AND IN FACT, WILL BE ORDERED OTHER COURSES FROM THIS PROFESSOR! THIS IS A 'WATCH AGAIN AND AGAIN' COURSE FOR ME. THANK YOU SO MUCH, PROFESSOR RUIZ.
Date published: 2012-06-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from APOLOGY EXCEPTED Every one has an opinion. Like most of you, I read the reviews on this site in an attempt to make a modestly informed decision on what would or would not most likely appeal to me. When I find myself at odds with the reviewers here, it is almost always over what I consider to be an excess of enthusiasm for a particular professor or course. Under a deluge of hyperbolic recommendation, I purchase a course, and as often as not, am disappointed. Here, the shoe is on the other foot. For whatever reason, or reasons, there has of late been a spate of negative reviews regarding Professor Ruiz and this course. The charges range from “feeling rather than understanding”, “unenjoyable and/or incomprehensible thick Spanish or Cuban accent”, “losing focus”, “opinion not fact”, to “hard to follow” and “disjointed”. Well, I could not disagree more. On all points. If you do not comprehend or appreciate metaphor, I would advise you skip this course. The very title is subtle, and perhaps a bit sensational. If I follow the professor correctly, and I think I do, The Terror of History is not the mystics, the heretics, and the witches—these things are the result of humankind’s attempts to deal with The Terror of History. They are the very human response to an uncertain and often brutally hostile environment, and the need to reconcile oneself with the human condition. With mortality. Professor Ruiz’s style is not overtly linear. He digresses and alludes and regresses. But he moves quickly and passionately, and he gets to where he wants to go. He clutches his sheaf of handwritten lecture notes, but only rarely needs to refer to them. His grasp of his material, and the breadth of his interest, is impressive and infectious, and I, for one, find his “unenjoyable” and “incomprehensible” accent both enjoyable and comprehensible. (Well, mostly comprehensible. I lost a word here and there, but if you can’t follow him within context, then you perhaps need to work on your listening skills.) This course will require—and reward—your attention. One reviewer, and I have read this criticism of other courses, opines that Professor Ruiz presents “too much of his own opinion without backing it up with facts”. Yeah, well, good luck with that. I suppose it is comforting to believe that a strict adherence to the “facts” paves the road to truth and knowledge, but unfortunately the choice of which facts to include and which to exclude puts us back at opinion, doesn’t it? I want Professor Ruiz to give me his opinion. That is what I am paying him to do. And I don’t think he should have to jump through the hoops of academia every time he does. Certainly he is in possession of more than enough facts to fill, and exclusively fill, 24 half-hour lectures, but after an hour or two of that, I would have had the DVD on a quick return trip to the Teaching Company. This course is a feast. It is a ramble. It is a conversation. It is highly worthwhile, and I recommend it unreservedly. I am sorry for the length and attitude of this screed. The truth is, I’m not accustomed to being an apologist, but for this course, and Professor Ruiz, I will make an exception.
Date published: 2012-03-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terror of History Great series that is a must for all men, amazing Professor
Date published: 2012-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Material Professor Ruiz once again does a masterful presentation. Several of the lectures were so compeling that at the end all I could think or say was "wow"! Reading the transcript of those lectures afterwards didn't have quite the same impact so I would recommend DVD's for his courses. The passion comes through more clearly and the man has such incredible 'stage presence'! To be fair, there is a point where he tells you that this is where he can see his students eyes glaze over. But it provides the basis for understanding a lot of the rest of the material. The lectures on the nature of mysticism and foundations of misogyny alone are worth the value of the entire course. I'm glad I read his book "Terror of History" before watching this course for the additional information and insights. It's an excellent book in its own right as well as a good companion for this course, although not necessary for understanding the material. Finally there is his sense of humor as other reviewers have mentioned provoking outright laughter. All together highly recommended.
Date published: 2011-11-26
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Hard to Follow This should be a facinating topic. I simply couldn't follow Professor Ruiz's logic. I listened to some sections over and over and still couldn't make sense of them. One of the few TC courses I didn't enjoy
Date published: 2011-10-23
Rated 1 out of 5 by from no. This is the only Teaching Company course I just stopped listening to. I studied this stuff in college and wanted a refresher and some more information. ah, maybe it was his delivery. It seemed disjointed. It was tough to follow. His accent detracted from the delivery. I couldn't follow it and I drifted. I should probably send it back for a refund but sometimes it just doesn't click.
Date published: 2011-03-13
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Teo lost his focus This would have been a fine set of lectures, had the material ended after Lecture Seven. He seems to have intelligently formed an understanding of mysticism, but he is a terrible professor of history.
Date published: 2011-03-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Half a Good Course I found the first 12 lectures to be rather boring, especially the discussions of mystics. But the second 12 were very interesting. Overall, I can't recommend it.
Date published: 2011-03-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good, but could have been even better I enjoyed another course from Ruiz as well (Crisis and Transformation) and they were both excellent in part because his European accent makes him sound authentic and uniquely knowledgeable of the medieval periods discussed. Very memorable voice and presentation. However, I was a little surprised and disappointed in the lack of detail about the inquisitive processes concerning witches. He never quoted anything from the "Malleus" which he seemed ideally suited to do, nor any transcripts of any actual inquisitions or trials, which he claimed were plentiful, thorough, and extensive. That would have created more profound and revealing feelings of those events for me. To be fair, he did explain the development of "perhaps the most famous" witchcraft trial of (forgot his French name) but to me that was not a good example because the accused was a famous, wealthy, charismatic man, who was persecuted for political revenge - the exact opposite of the 100,000+ ordinary, poor, ostracised (mostly older) women who were persecuted out of fear and frustration. Still, no transcripts from the trial were read, which would have illustrated at least the official "logic" pertaining to witchcraft that the jurors and court observers would have accepted (even though it was obviously a political show). I suspect that the more authentic trials and inquisitions in the smaller towns of northern Europe were much more disturbing because everyone involved actually believed in the framework. I would have liked to have learned more about those. (One town in Germany killed all of its women.)
Date published: 2011-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ruiz This mans accent, his passion, & his style reminds one to look at a sunset, relish its treasure! Vacationing, late one night, fumbling in the media center my in laws had this course near the machine, to put it lightly I was quickly sucked in, the next 10 hours disappeared along with the fruit basket. TTC Thank you for presenting this quality work! Forgive me for the briefness here, Ruiz deserves high praise & a shout of thanks.
Date published: 2010-06-25
Rated 2 out of 5 by from feeling rather than understanding The professor seeks to make you feel rather than understand. For instance, in the section on mystics he recounts several descriptions from the mystics themselves, despite repeatedly says that their experiences are beyond comprehension to people who have not gone through the experience. But he does not explain what exactly are mystics, how were they viewed in society, what was their impact--the sort of basic questions one would expect a historian to try to answer. Same with his lecture on alchemists where we learn that the ritual was pregnant with symbolism and somehow linked to hermaphrodites but he never explains their significance in society and why they leave a mark on history. When he does try to explain, he makes assertions rather than convincing arguments. For instance, iIn the section on witches he states that the discovery of the new world, the development of capitalism and other changes were responsible for the witch craze, but never explains exactly how, nor offers evidence. However, I cannot by any means fault the professor for enthusiasm. He truly loves his subject and wants the listener to as well. I also think he has a nice accent which is pleasant to listen to. If you are the sort of person who appreciates broad impressionistic views of the world this might be a good course for you. I am the type of person who wants to know what and why--which this course doesn't deliver.
Date published: 2010-06-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic Course! I loved this course! It is jam-packed with information, but it is all presented in a entertaining way. Ruiz is clearly passionate about his subject and that passion is contagious. Yes, he has an accent, but I found it charming. Anyone who has trouble understanding Ruiz because of his accent must have considerable other cognitive challenges (or simply be a bigot). The course is wonderful and Ruiz is brilliant in how he demonstrates the profound practical significance of this apparently esoteric subject. I bought one of the books that Ruiz referred to in the course and read it in its entirety before I finished the course. It was great. I'm planning to read my way through his bibliography and watch the entire course several more times before I start enjoying selected episodes. I've bought many Teaching Company Courses and this one is far and away my favorite.
Date published: 2010-04-19
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Professor's thick accent makes course unenjoyable So far, this is the only course by the Teaching Company that I have been very disappointed with... disappointed enough to return it for a refund. I will not be purchasing any other courses by Professor Ruiz. His Spanish or Cuban accent is very hard to understand in many places throughout these lectures. Many words he tries to pronounce will leave you wondering exactly which word he meant. He moves at a pretty fast pace too. Learning the material that he breezes through and trying to understand the poor pronunciation of his words makes for a challenge that I personally did not find very enjoyable. He also basically skips over the Inquisition material. I know that the main focus of these lectures is witchcraft but there could have been a little more time dedicated to the Inquisitions. I was very disappointed in the amount of material put forth from Ruiz on the Inquisitions. Ruiz makes the case that torture during the Inquisitions was an acceptable and legal procedure. Yes, torture was expected during these times but this was the church doing it. That's what makes this an atrocity but the professor doesn't make a case for that at all. I would not recommend this course to anyone. I listened to the cds so perhaps these lectures might be better actually watching the professor. Besides his very thick accent, Ruiz is not the easiest to follow. The material is presented in a manner that tends to digress and not flow in a way that will hold your attention at times. As to this subject matter, I prefer to stick to reading books.
Date published: 2010-04-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Different Perspective Prof Ruiz seemed to take a little time to warm up, but once he got going the material was thought provoking and his mastery of the subject evident. The idea of taking a cross-section of history to pursue a theme like this is a good one, and I liked being able to link what I already knew in each era to the new info. He's light on visuals and on-screen credits, or I would have given him all stars.
Date published: 2009-09-28
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not History, Just Subjectivity I was very disappointed by this course. This was the first time I found Teaching Company lectures to be lacking. There was only a small amount of content, and what there was received only superficial treatment. The bulk of the lectures were subjective impressions and unsupported conclusory statements.
Date published: 2009-08-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I still keep quoting the course material ...... The part I like best is when he states that the majority of the witches burned at the stake in Europe were .... surprise, surprise, "Mother In-Laws"!!! I'm still laughing about that one .... :-)
Date published: 2009-07-09
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