Death, Dying, and the Afterlife: Lessons from World Cultures

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Presentation and value The professor presents information in an enjoyable way, despite the course title. I am teaching a class with students who have "experience" with the subject, and the lectures are well-received.
Date published: 2020-09-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So Much So Well Said in This Course! Professor Berkson said so much so well in this course, I constantly found myself going back to his lectures so I could transcribe his words of wisdom! The biggest challenge to this course is getting over the subject matter: If I'm going for a walk, do I really want to listen to a lecture on dying? That was the hardest part! But once over that hurdle, this course is compelling and engaging. I reserve my sole critique for the animal death lecture, wherein he suggests that for every human instinct or behavior, there's an equivalent one in the animal world. To this, I respond that what ultimately separates man from animal is his conscience and morality. Even if, like Aristotle, one would argue that what separates man from animal is his rationality, I find limited rationality exists among the animals: For example, my pet parrots know how to "deny the lesser to gain the greater" when it comes to awaiting fresh water in the morning: Though they're thirsty, they'll willingly wait until I arrive with fresh water to drink, rather than to drink the old water. This activity refutes Rene Descartes, who claimed that only man can desire against desire. Only man is endowed with a conscience, and only man chooses to behave morally. This, therefore, is what ultimately distinguishes man from animal. In conclusion, an excellent course, well worth the listening to every word. Yes, to quote Franz Kafka, "The meaning of life is that it ends."
Date published: 2020-07-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very thorough analysis of the subject! Very good and detailed approach to this complex area of knowledge. Sometimes a bit exhaustive due to large amount of citations! The listener may loose track of the point being made!
Date published: 2020-07-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Coverage of Topics This was a course I didn't want to set down! Professor Berkson covered a wide variety of topics within Death and Dying, not limited to but including differing religious viewpoints, choices, killing in conflict, and near death experience. His delivery was rounded and unprejudiced (although transparent), and I doubt anyone else could have done a better job on this topic.
Date published: 2020-06-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Much Content, Much Boredom When I purchased this course, I was looking for some insight into the afterlife. However the lectures focused mainly on death and dying. While Prof. Berkson did an excellent job with organization and presentation, the course seemed to be someone talking through an encyclopedia. Yes, there was a lot of content, but it was mostly boring. I can only recommend the course to be used as a reference, but not for stirring up one's intellect. There were some interesting items: the definition of when a human is dead, discussing and comparing various religions, views on capital punishment, slaughtering animals (does this belong in these lectures??), near-death experiences, discussions of why we age. The last two items were the most interesting; however, the limited content was outweighed by boredom. Sorry, I respect Professor Berkson’s extensive knowledge and excellent presentation skills, but I have to be honest - the course was difficult to get through.
Date published: 2020-04-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from great, but with reservations Though Professor Berkson delivers illuminating information about attitudes on death, dying and the afterlife throughout world cultures, none of it can be called lessons. Lessons are information that can be applied practically, like piano lessons, yoga lessons, even lessons on how to live a better life, none of which apply here. The several traditions around death, dying and the afterlife can only be speculation in all cases since no one has ever returned who's been there. And there is nothing to be conclusively derived from speculation. Immanuel Kant made that eminently clear over two centuries ago by distinguishing what could be explained, phenomenon, from what could not, noumenon. In dealing with death, dying and the afterlife, we are dealing with the inscrutable. In the last lecture, Professor Berkson supposes that everyone wants a long life. But what about the gravely ill, or those who've committed, or have contemplated, or contemplate suicide. Studies suggest that the activity of certain genes predisposes some people to this counterintuitive outcome. That said, these lectures are immensively valuable for anyone courageous enough, and diligent enough to face the question of dying, a process that should lead to peace of mind when properly undertaken.
Date published: 2020-03-29
Rated 2 out of 5 by from To much personal opinion The presenter spent to much time discussing his OWN personal opinion at several points rather than just presenting facts
Date published: 2020-03-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Interesting and thought-provoking course I learned a lot from this course which covered death from perspective of several different cultures and religion. I particularly like the last few chapters including the subjects of euthanasia and the desirability of immortality if it were possible. The lercturer was excellent. He had a nice tone to his delivery and certain knew the material well. I can highly recommend the course.,
Date published: 2020-02-28
  • y_2020, m_10, d_18, h_16
  • bvseo_bulk, prod_bvrr, vn_bulk_3.0.12
  • cp_1, bvpage1
  • co_hasreviews, tv_6, tr_55
  • loc_en_CA, sid_6822, prod, sort_[SortEntry(order=SUBMISSION_TIME, direction=DESCENDING)]
  • clientName_teachco
  • bvseo_sdk, p_sdk, 3.2.1
  • CLOUD, getReviews, 3.41ms
Death, Dying, and the Afterlife: Lessons from World Cultures
Course Trailer
Death's Place in Our Lives
1: Death's Place in Our Lives

Start your exploration of this profound topic with a helpful overview of how we, as human beings, think about death. What place does it occupy in our lives? How have our attitudes about it changed over time? What symbols and euphemisms do we use to talk about it?...

32 min
Defining Death
2: Defining Death

To truly understand the subject of death, you have to be able to define it. Here, discover how the definition of death exists on multiple levels and how each of these levels-the religious, biological, philosophical, cultural, legal, and political-determines when a living being becomes a dead one....

29 min
Death, Illusion, and Meaning
3: Death, Illusion, and Meaning

Explore how it's possible for us to find meaning in life-even when confronted with the finality of it. Drawing on the work of cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker, discover how forms of death denial serve to allay fears about our insignificance, and how we can cultivate meaning in the face of mortality....

30 min
Is It Rational to Fear Death?
4: Is It Rational to Fear Death?

Should death be considered "bad"? Should we even bother fearing it? As you reflect on philosophical arguments by the ancient Epicurus (who thought death wasn't bad for the dead) and the modern Thomas Nagel (who believes we should fear death), you'll consider the possibility that both sides are right....

29 min
Understanding and Coping with Grief
5: Understanding and Coping with Grief

In this lecture on what Professor Berkson calls "an inescapable part of the human condition," unpack the feelings and behaviors of the grieving process. Topics include the evolutionary benefits of grief, the five stages of grief laid out by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, and the three categories of grieving identified by psychologist George Bonanno....

30 min
Death Rituals and the Corpse
6: Death Rituals and the Corpse

Since the dawn of humanity, corpses have held lasting significance for us. In this lecture, probe the various ways human civilizations have "disposed" of corpses-from burial (the oldest method for which evidence still exists) and mummification to cremation and natural exposure (known as "excarnation")....

30 min
American Death Rituals
7: American Death Rituals

In America, death rituals display a remarkable diversity and range from the minimalist to the extravagant. Chart the evolution of American funerals by looking at three major periods: the traditional (exemplified by Puritan burial rites), the modern (characterized by professionalization), and the post-modern (where loved ones play a more active role)....

30 min
Approaches to Dying Well
8: Approaches to Dying Well

None of us can avoid dying. But some believe we can learn how to die well. Professor Berkson introduces you to ways that others have faced death (with regret, dignity, even rage) and also considers some of the practical ways we can make the best of our deaths when our time comes....

31 min
Judaism on Death and the Afterlife
9: Judaism on Death and the Afterlife

In the first of several lectures on how major world faiths approach death, the focus is on Judaism. From the importance of mourning and burial rites to the recent resurgence in American Jewish belief in an afterlife, go inside the evolving views on death and the afterlife in Jewish history....

31 min
Death and Hope in Christianity
10: Death and Hope in Christianity

For Christians, death does not have the final say; in fact, the living have the hope of victory over death. Investigate Christian views of death, including the possibility of physical bodies in the afterlife; the concepts of hell, purgatory, and limbo; and the similarities and differences between Catholic and Protestant practices....

32 min
Islam on Returning to God
11: Islam on Returning to God

Many Muslims consider life on earth as a test to determine one's eternal fate, making existence just one part of an infinitely greater story. Consider how the primary forms of Islam-Sunni, Shia, and Sufi-approach the concept of paradise and hell, the four main practices of treating a corpse, and more....

32 min
Death, Rebirth, and Liberation in Hinduism
12: Death, Rebirth, and Liberation in Hinduism

In Hinduism, death is part of a grander cycle of rebirth and suffering-with the ultimate goal of liberation (moksha). Here, ponder the concept of the Atman (one's immutable soul); meet the Hindu gods who personify death and, relatedly, time; and learn what rituals can prevent a spirit from becoming stuck between worlds....

32 min
Buddhism on Impermanence and Mindfulness
13: Buddhism on Impermanence and Mindfulness

Professor Berkson notes that the Buddhist tradition was established, in part, as a response to the realities of sickness and death. The Buddha's response to the experience of dying, as you'll learn, involves seeing past the illusion of self, recognizing the concept of impermanence, and practicing mindfulness....

32 min
The Process of Dying in Tibetan Buddhism
14: The Process of Dying in Tibetan Buddhism

Continue a look a Buddhist approaches to death, this time focusing on Tibetan Buddhism's deep, extensive teachings on the actual process of death and rebirth. Central to this lecture: the fascinating Bardo Thodol (or the Tibetan Book of the Dead), whose lessons are applicable both to Buddhists and non-Buddhists....

32 min
Confucian Remembrance, Daoist Forgetting
15: Confucian Remembrance, Daoist Forgetting

Unlike other faiths, Confucianism and Daoism focus almost entirely on life in this world, not the next. So how do followers find meaning and consolation in the face of their deaths? The answers can be found in the distinct approaches of the great Chinese thinkers Confucius and Zhuangzi....

32 min
Death and Syncretism in China
16: Death and Syncretism in China

First, look at Chinese traditions involving spirits of the dead and other supernatural beings. Then, visit some of the many possibilities for a soul's destination in Chinese traditions (including a Pure Land, an underworld, and rebirth). Finally, discover how conflicting views of the afterlife accurately capture our ambivalent feelings about death....

31 min
Suicide Examined
17: Suicide Examined

In the last half-century, suicide rates have increased nearly 60% worldwide. This is your opportunity to investigate ways to think about this stigmatized subject. You'll examine what great philosophers and holy books say about suicide, and consider the numerous factors that sometimes compel people to take their own lives....

33 min
The Choice of Euthanasia
18: The Choice of Euthanasia

Examine another controversial subject: euthanasia, or the deliberate ending of a life to ease suffering. By exploring the actual experiences of suffering people, the three kinds of euthanasia, and the religious and non-religious policy arguments for and against the practice, you'll be better prepared to join the debate yourself....

31 min
Killing in War and the Pacifist Challenge
19: Killing in War and the Pacifist Challenge

Is deliberate killing justified when it happens during wartime? Consider this powerful question by looking at how depersonalization helps soldiers become more comfortable with killing; how civilizations and religious traditions have morally justified war; and arguments for (and criticism of) a pacifist approach to life....

32 min
Considering Capital Punishment
20: Considering Capital Punishment

In this lecture, Professor Berkson discusses the nature of capital punishment, the moral arguments for and against it, and whether or not the practice accomplishes its intended purposes. Specifically, you'll focus on capital punishment as it's practiced in the United States, where debate has long been intense....

32 min
Killing Non-Human Animals
21: Killing Non-Human Animals

From euthanizing a sick dog to slaughtering cows for food, how do we reconcile our feelings about killing when it comes to the non-human animals around us? Ponder the moral and spiritual dimensions of the death of other animals-and what that might reveal about our views of our own mortality....

32 min
Near-Death Experiences
22: Near-Death Experiences

Explore the mysterious topic of near-death experiences (NDEs). You'll encounter fascinating stories told by survivors themselves; explore the scientific studies behind - and possible explanations for - this increasingly common phenomenon; survey the four major types of NDEs; and join the passionate debate between NDE believers and skeptics....

32 min
The Pursuit of Immortality
23: The Pursuit of Immortality

For as long as we've been aware of death, we've searched for ways to avoid it. Examine a few of the many methods people have used to attempt immortality, including Daoist alchemical methods, empirical approaches by early Muslim scientists, and cutting-edge concepts such as gene manipulation and downloading one's consciousness into a computer....

31 min
The Value of Death
24: The Value of Death

Does death offer us something of value? In this last lecture, continue examining the idea of immortality. You'll cover the negative implications of immortality (like boredom), examine issues that Jorge Luis Borges raises in a tale about immortality, and ponder how death, surprisingly, might make a meaningful life possible....

36 min
Mark Berkson

Religious traditions should be approached not merely as objects of analysis, but also as challenges to be experienced subjectively. A deep encounter with another religion engenders intellectual and spiritual exploration and growth.


Stanford University


Hamline University

About Mark Berkson

Dr. Mark Berkson is Professor of Religion at Hamline University. He earned a B.A. from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, an M.A. from Stanford University in East Asian Studies, and a Ph.D. from Stanford University in Religious Studies and Humanities. He has twice received Faculty Member of the Year awards and has received multiple fellowships for his work in Asian religions. A world traveler, he has lived in China and visited religious and pilgrimage sites in countries such as India, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, and Greece. Professor Berkson has given well over 100 presentations at conferences, universities, community meetings, and churches, and he has also appeared on radio and television news shows in segments dealing with religious issues. His scholarly work has addressed topics such as comparative religious thought, religious ethics, death and dying, and interfaith dialogue and has appeared in books and in such prestigious journals as the Journal of Religious Ethics, Teaching Theology & Religion, and Buddhist-Christian Studies.

Also By This Professor