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Comparative Religion

Explore the nature of faith with this in-depth look at how five great faiths address core issues—including creation stories, concepts of the divine, and ultimate goals—in parallel and different ways.
Comparative Religion is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 120.
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Rated 1 out of 5 by from Questionable historical accuracy There are quite a few occasions where the lecturer either is downright repeating historically inaccurate information or conveniently failing to correct historically inaccurate misconceptions. To give you one example, on lecture 14 discussing the ideas of 5 time prayers and Me'eraj in Islam, he attributes these ideas to Islam despite the fact that it's common knowledge that both of these ideas were direct borrowing from Zoroastrianism but for some reasons he decides to sloppily place these within the tradition of Islamic history. Not sure what's the point of this but since the major focus of this course is the five major religions of the world that does not mean that we should downplay the significance of other so-called "minor" religions of the past. These religions were not created ex nihilo and the Abrahamic religions in particular were heavily indebted to religions of the past, specifically Zoroastrianism.
Date published: 2024-03-03
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointed I have taken quite a few courses from the Great Courses and have always been impressed with the lectures. I had great expectations going into the course on Comparative Religion, but was sadly disappointed. It became evident quite early in the courses that Prof Kimball is a Christian minister and not a scholar on world religions. Many of his lectures sounded like bible study classes which relied heavily on quoted texts from other authors. In taking this course I had hoped to gain a deeper understanding of the core beliefs of the 5 major religions. Unfortunately, after listening to 12 hours of lectures, I am not further ahead. I learned much more from subsequent google searched on the topic. There are quite a few online resources that provide much more Insightful and unbiased comparisons of the 5 major religions.
Date published: 2024-01-15
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Okay so religions are alike, where are the "whys"? This course was not at all what I thought it would be. If you have listened to any of TGC's introductory courses on religion I suspect, like me, you will garner very little new from this course. Another reviewer summarized my feeling perfectly: "there's little meat on the bones". These lectures contain what are to me “basic” observations and conclusions and quite frankly just a retelling of common tenants, practices, and beliefs of the five major religions that likely are already known by many who have taken any other of the religion courses from TGC. At the risk of sounding pretentious: I honestly think I could put together a course matching this one's content and that's saying something since I have limited knowledge of some of the major religions...only what I have learned from the other TGC courses I have taken. I have never thought to make such a presumptuous statement for any of the 156 other courses I have thus far listened to, including those whose topics I consider my subject knowledge to be advanced. I expected a lot more because I know the professor is a very learned and respected individual in his field. I have listened to YouTube videos of him. This course was a big disappointment knowing he is well qualified for something much, much better. The thing that bugged me the most: While Professor Kimball covers all of those main tenants, practices, and beliefs and points out the similarities among one another, he does not cover the “why”: I would expect a course on comparative religion to explain why all kinds of human societies/tribes irrespective of location share these same common aspects of religion vs. just recounting how Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all have sacred spaces, people, and objects and then listing each ones within each religion. There's so much to explore here as it relates to human psychology and human society. We get none of that. No deep analysis and no great insights. How disappointing. I guess I thought that's what "Comparative Religion" was. There's enough introductory courses out there on the religions themselves that any common joe can come to the same conclusions around identifying the similarities and differences. I suspect this course would be just as maddening to novices to religion as it would be to those with a more intermediate knowledge level looking for greater insights. I can't even recommend this course as an introduction to the various religions because Professor Kimball does not start at the beginning for each of them, explaining their origins and key beliefs in a systematic method. He covers aspects of the religions in the context of topics like sacred places, sacred texts, ceremonies. It is almost like the novice will get bits and pieces of what these religions are about in scattered form. If your course is going to be introductory then it is best to focus on one religion end to end and then discussing its similarities or differences later once the student understands what each religion is even about! If it is not an introductory comparison course then where is the deeper insight?! On top of all of this the professor uses so many filler words that an unprepared student winging some presentation nervously came to mind: his constant “umms” become beyond distracting. They become unprofessional. Professor Kimball is respectful of each religious tradition to a fault: he rarely if ever offers any kind of criticism and takes certain items literally. For example: there being 300+ million deities in Hinduism. I had heard this explained in the past that the mention of there being that many gods was more of a way to express that Hinduism has so much polytheistic flexibility that there is not a finite number of gods but there are as many gods as a person would like. Instead the professor takes this number literally and keeps repeating it as truth. I count one lecture (one!) that captured my attention and had me listening intently with interest: lecture 12 on different understandings of the nature of God (Polytheism, Dualism, Monism, and Monotheism). I give this more than 1 star because the professor stays on topic for the most part vs. drifting and his content is valid and true vs. assumptions or exaggerations. Please, please if you are a novice to the study of religion you are better served a million times over by taking the "Cultural Literacy for Religion: Everything the Well-Educated Person Should Know" course: a five star one without a doubt. And if you want more then I recommend the following courses which are light years ahead of this one if the goal is to provide an introduction vs. an actual academic exploration of WHY religions are alike and dissimilar: Great World Religions: Hinduism Introduction to Judaism Understanding the New Testament
Date published: 2023-09-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comparative Religion Superb course. Superb Lecturer. Thoroughly enjoyed it - as per ALL your courses that I have listened to. Thank you very much for your superb service that you provide. Luigi
Date published: 2022-12-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Was It Worth It? I took this course to learn more about major religions. That is exactly what this course does: It teaches how Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism are similar and how they differ in some particulars. Now that I have learned that, I’m not sure what I have gained. I think that a primary objective of Dr. Kimball was to engender mutual respect among these major religions, but does this study do that? Not for me. I can respect another religion without being taught that four of the five major religions have founding figures. I found it more enlightening to study each religion separately, as, for example, with The Great Courses (TGC) series on Great World Religions. Dr. Kimball begins by considering what constitutes a religion. This is not as simple as it sounds. (Does a “religion” necessarily need a deity? Dr. Kimball notes that the Buddha himself was atheistic.) He then proceeds to consider traits that most religions have in common such as a founder figure, a savior figure, sacred writings, institutional structures, etc. The advantage of this approach is that it illumines topics that various religions tend to address. The disadvantage is that it obscures what people or particular religions actually believe. To note that all major religions have institutional structures does not really tell us how those structures are used in any of those religions. What then have I learned? Dr. Kimball is a Baptist preacher (He actually sounds a lot like President Jimmy Carter) but he shows respect for all religions addressed. In fact, it might have been helpful if he had drawn distinctions even *more* sharply than he did. The course guide is an outline as opposed to a summary of the lectures. It might be used for identifying where in the course a particular thought was expressed. This course is audio-only. I doubt that visual aids would have contributed much. This course was published in 2008.
Date published: 2022-05-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good coverage This course covers a lot of material and is well researched.
Date published: 2022-05-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Comparative Religions - Audio Only Content of the course is good but tough just listening to it. It would be better if there was video of the professor and/or the content. The written guise helps but only a bit.
Date published: 2022-05-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not enough bold meat on the bone Some great information. But the clearly knowledgeable Prof wonders around far too much. For me, to no purpose. The coverage of the singular in Nicenian Christianity was honestly, useless. Nor did it help the Imam understand the Nicenian concept. Especially without actually addressing the concept of 'uncreated'. Nor were critical distinctions or understandings within religions addressed. al-Ghazālī as an example. His mystical submission before a Beneficient Loving God somehow morphed into the core directive of militant Salafist terrorists. Also Mecca and Madina Muslims. Cools conflict within the body of Islam. At the expense of clearly unacceptable militant terrorist actions not being condemned. Which is not shared by the mystical Sufi of India. Also why they are increasingly not tolerated within Dar Al Islam. This seems to be a lecture on get-along-go-along. Rather than a serious study of the observed connections and social force pressure on cultures. It goes both ways. For all faiths and cultures. National Socialist 'positive' Christianity comes to mind. Some interesting points. But I really do not believe this course is the best investment in serious study. There is simply not enough structure and focus to benefit my study. I was hoping there would be more examples of how 'ethical' faith systems can work together for a fruitful purpose. Or the 'wisdom' connection. Understanding to a purpose.
Date published: 2021-12-22
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Explore the nature of faith with Comparative Religion, an in-depth look at how five great faiths address core issues—including creation stories, concepts of the divine, and ultimate goals—in parallel and different ways. These thought-provoking lectures are your opportunity to understand how Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism answer the numerous questions with which all religions must contend. At a time when religiously grounded issues are prevalent in our world, get the knowledge needed to view the world's faiths with what interfaith expert and Professor Charles Kimball calls "a native eye."


Charles Kimball

Given the depth of feelings and the passionate convictions connected to religion, few conversations are more urgently needed in the fragile, interdependent, and all too quarrelsome world of the 21st century.


University of Oklahoma

Dr. Charles Kimball is Presidential Professor and Director of the Religious Studies Program at the University of Oklahoma. A graduate of Oklahoma State University, Professor Kimball holds an M.Div. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Th.D. from Harvard University in Comparative Religion with a specialization in Islamic studies. Before joining the University of Oklahoma, Professor Kimball taught for 12 years at Wake Forest University, where he was Professor of Comparative Religion. An ordained Baptist minister, Professor Kimball is a frequent lecturer and an expert analyst on issues on the Middle East, Islam, Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations, and the intersection of religion and politics in the United States. From 1983 to 1990, he was the Director of the Middle East Office at the National Council of Churches. During the past 25 years, Professor Kimball has visited the Middle East more than 35 times and has worked with Congress, the White House, and the State Department. Professor Kimball is the author of four books, including When Religion Becomes Evil (named one of the Top 15 Books on Religion for 2002 by Publishers Weekly) and Striving Together: A Way Forward in Christian-Muslim Relations.

Comparative Religion—Who, What, Why, How

01: Comparative Religion—Who, What, Why, How

Religion can be difficult to define. Most people say, "I know it when I see it." But what is the "it" you see? This lecture introduces an approach to help you answer this question and also addresses both subjectivity and the importance of understanding human religiousness.

33 min
Exploring Similarities and Differences

02: Exploring Similarities and Differences

You learn 12 common features found in all religions and begin gaining the foundation for broader inquiries about similarities and differences among Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, including those that occur not only between faiths, but within the same one.

30 min
The Sacred, the Holy, and the Profane

03: The Sacred, the Holy, and the Profane

Following a brief overview of some prominent single-discipline attempts to explain religion's origins, you explore three broader frameworks for understanding: Rudolf Otto's "The Idea of the Holy," Mircea Eliade's "The Sacred and The Profane," and Wilfred Cantwell Smith's "The Meaning and End of Religion."

31 min
Sacred Time, Sacred Space, Sacred Objects

04: Sacred Time, Sacred Space, Sacred Objects

Eliade's observations about how different religions distinguish between the sacred and the profane (ordinary) and assign sacred meaning to times, places, and objects come alive for you through examples drawn from several of those religions.

30 min
Sacred People—Prophets, Sages, Saviors

05: Sacred People—Prophets, Sages, Saviors

Foundational religious leaders fulfill vital purposes in all religions. In the first of two lectures devoted to such sacred people, you learn the different roles played by figures like Confucius, Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha), Isaiah, Jeremiah, Muhammad, Jesus, and Krishna.

31 min
Sacred People—Clergy, Monastics, Shamans

06: Sacred People—Clergy, Monastics, Shamans

You explore some of the more familiar figures charged with carrying out essential functions and rituals in their religious communities and learn how their roles have evolved. You also encounter the shaman, a lesser-known figure found not just in tribal cultures but in the great world religions as well.

30 min
Sacred Signs, Analogues, and Sacraments

07: Sacred Signs, Analogues, and Sacraments

Symbols are how human beings communicate. This lecture reveals to you how different religions employ these essential tools, not only through "representational" symbols whose meanings must be learned, but especially through "presentational" symbols whose meanings are experienced on a deeper level.

32 min
Creation Myths and Sacred Stories

08: Creation Myths and Sacred Stories

A religion's sacred stories are profoundly true to those who embrace them. One type "the creation story" is common to all religions, which have given us hundreds of such stories and myths. You learn their categories and the four functions they serve.

30 min
From Sacred Stories and Letters to Doctrine

09: From Sacred Stories and Letters to Doctrine

What happens when a religion's founding figures and first adherents are gone, and divergent views arise among later generations? By looking at the early history of Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, you see how adherents of the three great missionary religions developed frameworks for sustaining their faiths.

31 min
Sacred Texts—The Bible and the Qur'an

10: Sacred Texts—The Bible and the Qur'an

In examining the processes by which authoritative scriptures of the three Abrahamic religions became fixed, you see common approaches and distinctive differences. And you learn that even within the same faith, differences persist over what constitutes authoritative texts and how to interpret them.

31 min
Sacred Texts for Hindus and Buddhists

11: Sacred Texts for Hindus and Buddhists

The massive body of literature deemed sacred by Hindus and Buddhists can be as bewildering as the number of ways in which they are understood and used. This lecture gives you a demystifying guide to the major types of sacred literature.

31 min
Polytheism, Dualism, Monism, and Monotheism

12: Polytheism, Dualism, Monism, and Monotheism

Nearly all religions include some concept of divinity, each fitting into one of four distinct categories. But you quickly see that the lines of separation can be fluid, and the question, "What do we mean when we say God?" can be more provocative than you might imagine.

31 min
From Birth to Death—Religious Rituals

13: From Birth to Death—Religious Rituals

You explore the rituals that mark key stages in life (birth, childhood, coming of age, marriage, and death) and see striking similarity across all religions, as seen in the rituals of baptism, bar mitzvah, Buddhist and Christian ordination, and funerals.

31 min
Daily, Weekly, Annual Religious Rituals

14: Daily, Weekly, Annual Religious Rituals

In a lecture that may forever change your perception of Passover, Christmas, or noon prayers at the mosque, you learn how calendar-based rituals use sacred stories, time, space, and objects to fulfill important pedagogical, sociological, and psychological functions.

32 min
Ritual Sacrifice in the World's Religions

15: Ritual Sacrifice in the World's Religions

At first glance, ancient practices involving animal or human sacrifice are shocking to modern sensibilities. An examination of ritual sacrifice reveals common understandings and outcomes and leaves you with new insight into why people engage in sacrificial rituals.

31 min
The Human Predicament—How to Overcome It

16: The Human Predicament—How to Overcome It

Every religion is predicated on the notion that the world we experience is not ideal and tries to explain the nature and purpose of existence. This lecture provides a framework for the next five lectures, including a consideration of the universal problems of evil and injustice.

32 min
The Problems of Sin and Forgetfulness

17: The Problems of Sin and Forgetfulness

Although Judaism, Christianity, and Islam share many roots, the three Abrahamic traditions approach the human predicament in different ways. This lecture offers you the chance to observe through a new lens the ways in which the three faiths approach issues like sin, sacrifice, and ultimate accountability.

32 min
Breaking through the Illusion of Reality

18: Breaking through the Illusion of Reality

Although Hinduism and Buddhism encompass hundreds of varying traditions, all address the "illusion of reality" as the predicament trapping people in the cycles of death and rebirth. This lecture explains this cyclical perspective and how it differs from the linear viewpoint of the Abrahamic traditions.

31 min
The Goals of Religious Life

19: The Goals of Religious Life

Are the goals of existence only otherworldly? Can any be experienced here and now? You learn that no matter how the different religions conceive of the afterlife, they are united in a shared understanding that ultimate meaning must be found beyond physical existence.

31 min
The Way of Faith and the Way of Devotion

20: The Way of Faith and the Way of Devotion

Religion provides four basic paths by which faithful followers may pursue the ultimate goals: the ways of faith, devotion, disciplined action, and meditation. This lecture explores the first two, using examples drawn from Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

30 min
The Way of Action and the Way of Meditation

21: The Way of Action and the Way of Meditation

Disciplined action is the most widely practiced path, shown to you here in the legal traditions of Islam and biblical Israel and the rigid Hindu caste system. You also examine disciplined meditation, a form of action practiced by Buddhists and Hindus.

32 min
The Way of the Mystics

22: The Way of the Mystics

Virtually all religions include adherents whose religious practice centers on the mystical path. Here, perhaps more than anywhere else, the lines separating religions become blurred or erased. You explore several key commonalities and differences among Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, and Muslim mystics.

32 min
The Evolution of Religious Institutions

23: The Evolution of Religious Institutions

As religions begin to grow, structure becomes a requirement, whether for perpetuation, organization, or doctrinal clarification. You see how the first followers of the Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad attempted to resolve challenges through institutional structures, as often borrowed or adapted as created anew.

32 min
Religious Diversity in the 21st Century

24: Religious Diversity in the 21st Century

Your course concludes with a consideration of the ways people in different religions understand their particular experiences and traditions in the context of religious diversity. You see several examples of the positive and inclusive approaches that are now part of the 21st century landscape.

30 min