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

Rated 5 out of 5 by from A course everyone should take. A very complete and clear examination of what determines human behavior.
Date published: 2020-01-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Death, Dying, and the Afterlife Entertaining ..... but with a title like this you shouldn't expect any hard conclusions. A good summary of various practices throughout the world and how cultures have changed over time coupled with a smattering of philosophy.
Date published: 2020-01-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I'm Surprised at what I'm learning! Mark Berson is a terrific instructor and has no problem holding my attention (which isn't always the case with TGC instructors). I've told some that I have this course and I'm looked at sideways - some kinda nut! But I'm learning about how to cope with my own impending demise as I'm in my 70s now, and it's preparing me on preparation for it which will save family members a lot of stress. It's also intriguing to find out how other societies deal with death. Happy I've got this course.
Date published: 2019-12-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Sensitive Subject Well Done I got this primarily because my wife volunteers at our hospital in palliative care. The lecturer is one of the best I've heard. He has a great knack of presenting different points of view as if each one was his belief. I wish your lecturers would pay more attention to Canada which has policies generally closer to European countries. Great presentation style with the appropriate most of humer to lighten things up.
Date published: 2019-07-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Death and Dying and Afterlife Not done with with the course yet. But what have heard so far is just nothing short of great. Course material very interesting. Presentation done very well.
Date published: 2019-06-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Deeply thought provoking Invaluable insights into the unavoidable for us all.
Date published: 2019-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Live Affirming, and I wasn't even looking for it! I bought this course because I'm a professor of Estate Planner, and I thought there might be some interesting tidbits to use in my lectures. Little did I know this captivating set of lectures would force me to reflect on my own mortality! The lecturer does a marvelous job of laying out the religious, historical, biological and ethical issues dealing with death and dying. I now have a much better framework for addressing the issues of death and the afterlife. And, I was able to get this insight while enjoying a downright pleasant set of lectures. This course is NOT a downer; it is not a religious harangue, and it doesn't tell you how to act. It's just a powerful way to get you thinking.
Date published: 2018-11-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Shining light on Death. Bought this course out of general curiosity, ended up leading a large study group on the topic. Couldn't have pulled it off without the course information made available. Great Courses is great for anyone wanting to continue on a lifelong learning journey.
Date published: 2018-09-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I am a thanatologist, grief counselor and member of the clergy. I found this presentation to be very up to date. I especially liked the presentation on the various customs and practices in other cultures and religions. The lectures are well presented. I would strongly encourage taking it.
Date published: 2018-07-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Death, Dying, and the Afterlife: Lessons from Worl I wanted the perspective from other cultures from an objective, academic source.
Date published: 2018-05-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very insightful and interesting. My wife and I (72 years old) have been listening and discussing this lecture series and have found that it has helped us to articulate our feelings about death and dying after being together for the last 50 years. This series discusses things we would never have thought about on our own. A very important course!!
Date published: 2018-04-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from It's all about life... Professor Berkson's lectures are surprisingly upbeat, considering the subject matter. The foundation of the philosophy of death is carefully established by examining humankind's attempts of coping with death...mostly how the various religions of the world offers consolation (to believers) to those who either are dealing with the death of a loved one, or facing death themselves. Once the foundations are set, the good Doctor moves into other implications of death...suicide, euthanasia, capital punishment, wars and even our human proclivity for a thick steak. Next, Berkson moves into the heart of the matter of death...immortality. Beginning with near-death-experiences, he examines whether there is a spirit that lives on when our physical bodies have bought the farm. Is an eternal 'heaven' a type of immorality? In the last two lectures he discusses prolonging life and immortality... with some shocking implications (e.g. would we get bored if we lived forever?). For me, the meaning of death is really a question of the personal meaning of live each day to the fullest is to cheat death daily. In the end, humans are animals...a part of 'the circle of life' (as some really smart ape once said), in which we are, and then are not. The trick is bringing meaning to all that lies in between. It seems that humans are unique in the animal kingdom for their ability to contemplate our death...perhaps not the best aspect of our place on that evolutionary tree/bush. I'll go with life...every time. Audio was great...having a coupon and finding a sale is to die for.
Date published: 2018-04-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from EXCELLENT COVERAGE AND PRESENTATION This was an excellent and informative coverage on the subject. It was interesting to see the similarities between mourning and burial customs of other religious cultures. The professor gave an excellent presentation. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2018-01-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Important Course This course is the best values and data based course on religious practice and doctrine of any of the Great Courses series on religion. The topic of death is obviously universally relevant for all persons who seriously consider their purpose and time on this earth. The presentation is thoughtful, factual and balanced. Should be a part of any college curriculum.
Date published: 2017-12-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Informative Package just arrived yesterday. I viewed the first lecture in text on PC last week. Looks very good.
Date published: 2017-12-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course Very thought provoking and well done. Unique views on death and dying that I have never considered.
Date published: 2017-11-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Death, dying, and the afterlife Unique. Even shared a review of the course with my group at the senior center. This goes to the very core of our being. The reaction to this course, I feel is a filter of peoples' openness to learning. I could not wait to find out what history's great thinkers and great religions teach us about the subject, and my expectations were exceeded. This course will actually change the way you view life and the prospect of death.
Date published: 2017-10-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Incomplete Professor Berkson is an accomplished lecturer. He covers the material well, except, in my opinion, for one topic hardly touched on. That would be paranormal activity in the physical world. I'm not saying Berkson has to believe in such activity, but it is a subject with a lot of believers. I didn't believe in this stuff either until I started doing ghost tours as a fundraiser for a local museum. All our stories are from first hand accounts. Too many unexplained events experienced by many people. Some phenomena have been reportedly experienced in the same way by multiple people over a period of years. Anyway, I feel this topic should have been included. As a last comment, Berkson's personal biases manifest themselves in the course, particularly in the last few lectures. I didn't care for that. On a positive note, Berkson does a thorough job of presenting the beliefs of death and dying by a number of religions and cultures.
Date published: 2017-09-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting and informative Was on a business trip in Wisconsin and spent SOOOOOO much time on the road. This book helped pass the time, and was much more interesting than I had anticipated. It covered a wide variety of topics, all related to the subject promised.
Date published: 2017-08-04
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I regret buying this course. Since I am a senior citizen who is every passing day more aware and concerned about my mortality, this course had a natural attraction. I watched every lecture and read the guidebook from end to end. I found the lecturer well-spoken, and his lectures well-organized. In the end, however, I was 'gravely' disappointed. The presentation never rises to the level of profundity or inspiration, although the lectures on pacificism, capital punishment, and animal rights are not bad. I was left feeling that I had spent all these hours in the company of a genial funeral home salesman trying desperately to make everyone comfortable and at ease in the horrifying face of death. My overriding problem, however, is with the use of pre-recorded lectures with which the purchaser cannot interact. Over and over again, I found myself calling out to the unresponsive lecturer, "Yes, but....," and, "On the other hand, have you considered....?" Over the years, I've watched literally dozens of Great Courses, but is the first one where I find the pre-recorded format is INAPPROPRIATE. On the topics of death, dying, and the afterlife, a back-and-forth with a live lecturer is absolutely necessary. I don't think most people will be satisfied not being able to interact with the lecturer and ask questions. So, I would advise people to seek out courses on this topic at their local university or college or institute where they can share a dialectic with others. Two other points: I purchased the video version of this course, but the visuals -- being principally anodyne stock photos (see pp. 227-228 of the guidebook) -- actually detract from the presentation. (On the other hand, you might enjoy watching the lecturer wear a rut in the carpet each time the camera's point-of-view changes.) And finally, the Great Courses really fell down on the editing of the guidebook; see the portrait of Roger Bacon on p. 187.
Date published: 2017-07-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Worth all your attention and more I recently concluded the first viewing of the marvelous course. I was impressed by the organization, clarity and professionalism of the Instructor. So much material to think about and yes at age 72, it has quite a bit of relevance for me.
Date published: 2017-07-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Broader than I expected! Death, Dying and the Afterlife: eosins from World Cultures. Fine presentation....was more broad that I expected and for that I am very grateful. The depth of explanation and the passage from one people to another, one belief structure to another....outstanding. Was especially impressed with the section on suicide. We need to remove the stigma of mental illness and discuss ending of life both by way of suicide and choice as an option for terminally ill. One point given.....of all the people who were stopped from the act of suicide....only 5% were sorry to have been stopped.....that alone gives help and possible direction for many.
Date published: 2017-07-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A surprising find! I held off on buying this course because Of the macabre nature of the material. My fears were completely off-base! I found the professor engaging, the content fascinating, and the lectures expertly structured.
Date published: 2017-06-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not a fan of printed dialogue The DVD's I received for this course contain the printed dialogue. I find this very distracting and have sometimes focused on the printed shorthand and find I have to repeat in order to listen while not looking at the screen. The material itself is well presented.
Date published: 2017-06-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from interesting & useful view of a diffcult subject Death & Dying, & the After Life Lessons from World cultures by Mark Berkson # 6822 An unusual topic, but well done. Review the chapter paragraphs to get an idea of the scope of topics. Good presenter – looks at the camera as tho talking to me. Clear enunciation. Interesting coverage of different religions Christian – Catholic & Protestant, Jewish, Hindu, Chinese, etc. Gives what seems to be a balanced viewpoint, has no axe to grind. Is not dogmatic about any topic. Coverage of death in war, death penalty, Near Death Experience, euthanasia, suicide, etc. NDE is well presented, some interesting cases, still no dogma. Is thot provoking & useful discussions. On eternal life, or everlasting life – interesting thots – might it be boring? Or could the “repeated pleasures” – like good friends, interesting companions, great beauty art, music, nature, good food(?), learning new topics in more detail, etc. make it an ever interesting time. Useful discussions of disposal: burial, cremation, preservation ( Egyptian), Excarnation (exposed outside) now done in the country in Mongolia, etc. Suggests we have an ethical will – passing on our “lessons learned”, wisdom, etc. One minor suggestion in any revision – it would be useful to display the text of all quoted material.
Date published: 2017-04-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging throughout I enjoyed this course very much, and thought some of the presentations were outstanding. I especially appreciated the presenter's obviously deep dedication to his subject matter, and his willingness to present an issue from many points of view, while at the same time indicating his own perspective.
Date published: 2017-03-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Interesting Lectures Interesting subject matter. Easy to watch and hear as Lecturer is excellent in his delivery and is very knowledgeable of his subject matter. Highly recommended course.
Date published: 2017-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating I was a bit hesitant when I bought this title as the subject matter is somewhat confronting and "morbid". I was trying to come to grips with my sister's death so hoped it might give me some insights. I found the lecturer engaging and I learned so much about the different experiences other cultures and religions have with death. I also found that by exploring different cultures attitudes and beliefs about death that I have a better understanding of their attitudes and beliefs about life and how to live a full and happy life. The lecturer was never boring, always engaging and brought up well thought out arguments about so many aspects of death from suicide through to near-death experiences and much more. I highly recommend it.
Date published: 2017-02-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent This is an encyclopedia on the topic -- anthropological, sociological, theological, philosophical. A thoughtful, thought-provoking, balanced, nuanced overview.
Date published: 2016-11-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best of the courses I've listened to Much good, interesting, chewy material. I enjoyed the beginning and end lectures best--more than the middle ones describing religious rituals and beliefs of diffferent cultures, but those were pretty good, too. The lecturer is a little too dramatic, too much of a "now I am going to say something really deep" tone in his voice, at least for my taste, but he is easy to listen to.
Date published: 2016-11-01
  • y_2021, m_2, d_28, h_17
  • bvseo_bulk, prod_bvrr, vn_bulk_3.0.14
  • cp_2, bvpage2n
  • 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, 4.65ms
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