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God against the Gods: The History of Monotheism and Polytheism

Survey the variety of religious experiences, from Hindu polytheism to the monotheism of the Abrahamic faiths, to see what unites us in a common humanity.
God against the Gods: The History of Monotheism and Polytheism is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 7.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best I have taken every course dealing with religion offered by the Great Courses and this is one of the best. The presentation was excellent as was the content and organization. Professor Garland was a captivating instructor and I learned a great deal..
Date published: 2024-06-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Good 12 Lecture Survey of Comparative Religion Professor Robert Garland presents a very compressed 12 lecture survey comparing monotheistic and polytheistic religions. This course definitely warranted 24 lectures, as it lacked research depth and ritual history of the evolution and idea of a god/s, God. Professor Garland is excellent in his delivery as his great enthusiasm and passion makes this very interesting subject matter easy to comprehend In line with the course description, Dr. Garland did cover the expressed course outline but due to limited 12 lectures, had to very lightly touch on topics which called for greater depth, such as the idea of a God, I did greatly enjoy the course and especially Professor Garland ,as his energy, humor, academic brilliance and presentation style is very engaging. Additionally, I found the final wrap-up, bringing it together, excellent. His personal perspective provided a lasting impact, ensuring a strong understanding of the entire lecture set. I highly recommend this lecture set and Professor Robert Garland who I have greatly enjoyed in his other Teaching Company courses.
Date published: 2024-06-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting course! I did enjoy the course, it is easy to follow and binge-able. Professor has good knowledge and humorous delivery style making this course easy to follow. Only complaint I have is Buddism is not given much attention in the 12 lecctures; when comes to deites and demons, they are closely associated with Hindunism and sometimes more interested local deities have great impact on Buddhist cultures in Sri Lanka, China, Japan etc. All in all this is a great course and religious study students and others can learn a lot from this.
Date published: 2024-05-31
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Equal Respect for All Religions This course is a type of comparative religion course. However, rather than comparing established religions, current or ancient, it examines broad categories of religions: monotheistic and polytheistic. This course also shows that this distinction is not as sharp as one might suppose. Dr. Garland attempts to put monotheism and polytheism in dialogue with each other, showing that the two can co-exist. The course takes a topical approach to the subject. Dr. Garland addresses the origins of polytheism and monotheism, noting that we cannot be sure which came first. He discusses relative strengths and relative weaknesses of monotheism and polytheism. He shows that a religion can evolve from polytheism to monotheism as he believes Christianity did. He suggests that religion might be a kind of tribalism. (Dr. Garland avoids the term “superstition” but it seems to me that “tribalism” conveys much the same thing.) He ascribes to religion (particularly monotheistic religion) attributes that he considers intolerant, sexist, and non-affirming of LGBTQ+ rights and opines that religions ought not to be thus. Dr. Garland explains at the outset that he respects all religions (even though he does not seem to consider any of them objectively true) as long as they adhere to principles that he enumerates in the lecture, principles that he seems to have developed himself. I wish he had elaborated on whether he thought that everyone should subscribe to his list of principles and on what basis or, alternatively, whether each person is free to develop her or his own list of principles, in which case religion should be viewed more as a personal taste. Dr. Garland applies his professional judgment to evaluate particular religions and religion in general. He speaks as a critic rather than explaining religion or religions in their own terms. I do not judge that editorial choice; I just note it. To cite just two examples: • Dr. Garland asserts that Islam is a “syncretistic religion” that borrows from Christianity and Judaism. • Dr. Garland cites multiple examples in TaNaKh (Old Testament) in which God did evil things or else intended to do evil things but was dissuaded by humans. The course guide is about average by The Great Courses (TGC) standards. It is written in paragraph format as opposed to outline or bullet format. It averages about 8 pages per lecture with a few useful graphics. The course guide has no appendices. Given the breadth of the subject, a glossary, a bibliography, and perhaps a timeline would have been useful. I used the video streaming version. One can listen to the audio portion only, such as while commuting or exercising, without significant loss of content. The course was published in 2024.
Date published: 2024-05-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Finally, an unbiased view of religious history. I started watching this course today and I am impressed by the instructor's unbiased point of view.
Date published: 2024-05-24
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Overview

Travel across time and around the world to explore these questions and more in God against the Gods: The History of Monotheism and Polytheism. Taught by acclaimed Professor Robert Garland of Colgate University, these 12 thought-provoking lectures introduce you to the world of comparative religion, giving you insights into a variety of religious expressions and human cultures.

About

Robert Garland

Working for the Great Courses enables me to reach people who prize learning for learning's sake. It's they who inspire me to close the gap between past and present, by demonstrating what it meant then, and what it means now, to be human.

INSTITUTION

Colgate University

Robert Garland is the Roy D. and Margaret B. Wooster Professor of the Classics, Emeritus, in the Department of the Classics at Colgate University. He has a PhD in Ancient History from University College London. A former Fulbright Scholar, he was also a fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington DC and a visiting scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. He has written 19 books, including Greek Mythology: Gods and Heroes Brought to Life and Roman Legends Brought to Life. He has also published extensively in academic and popular journals and served as a consultant for educational film companies.

By This Professor

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God against the Gods: The History of Monotheism and Polytheism
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God against the Gods: The History of Monotheism and Polytheism

Trailer

A Human Instinct

01: A Human Instinct

Kick off your course with a big-picture look at the themes and terminology of religion. From the origins of polytheism and monotheism to the variety of religions in the world today, Professor Garland approaches his subject with respect, humility, and an analytical mind as he seeks to explore an ancient human phenomenon.

35 min
The Many and the One

02: The Many and the One

Before delving into specific world religions, this lecture unpacks some general principles about what makes a religion in the first place. Reflect on how humans throughout history have viewed their God or gods. Then turn to the major sacred literature to explore the foundations of religious experience.

36 min
A World Full of Defunct Gods

03: A World Full of Defunct Gods

Go back to the ancient world to survey “defunct” polytheistic religious systems—that is, religions with few followers today. Your study includes polytheism in Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, and ancient Rome. Professor Garland introduces you to the major gods and offers insight into their relationship to everyday people.

34 min
A World Full of Living Gods

04: A World Full of Living Gods

Shift your attention to polytheism in the world today, beginning with an in-depth look at Hinduism. You’ll explore the major tenets and Hindu gods, and then consider whether Hinduism is truly a polytheistic religion. The lecture rounds out with a survey of folk religions in Sub-Saharan Africa and among Native Americans.

36 min
The Beginnings of Monotheism

05: The Beginnings of Monotheism

How did monotheism emerge in the human brain? Tackle this fascinating question by reflecting on a blip of monotheism in ancient Egypt followed by the global rise of monotheism in the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Consider what differentiates these faiths—and more importantly, what might tie them together.

34 min
How to Contact Your God

06: How to Contact Your God

The ability to contact a god is a crucial component of religion. Here, Professor Garland walks you through prayer, sacrifice, and votive offerings as three common ways humans have reached out to their God or gods. Travel the world and across time to examine everything from holy meditations to ghastly human sacrifices.

32 min
Women, Sex, and Sexuality

07: Women, Sex, and Sexuality

Anxiety about offspring abounded in ancient societies; so, it should be no surprise that fertility goddesses played a major role in their religions. Delve into the world of women and sex to meet some of the prominent female deities in world religions. Your exploration also includes a rich discussion of the role of women in society throughout history.

34 min
Intolerance and Persecution

08: Intolerance and Persecution

There is a reason polite conversation eschews talk of religion and politics. World history is replete with violence and persecution of one religion against another. Here you will examine the darker side of what human beings have done—and continue to do—in the name of a deity.

35 min
Divine Intervention

09: Divine Intervention

One sharp distinction between monotheism and polytheism is in how divine beings intervene in human affairs. Step back to ancient Mesopotamia to witness the flood that may have inspired the Epic of Gilgamesh and the story of Noah. Was that divine punishment? Did a god or gods have anything to do with the weather? Tune in to see!

35 min
Death and the Afterlife

10: Death and the Afterlife

Death is universal to human life, and the way humans dispose of bodies says something about how we view life and the possibility of an afterlife. What does death mean? What happens next? Venture into the unknown to see how a variety of religious traditions have dealt with these thorny questions.

34 min
Good and Evil

11: Good and Evil

Do good and evil exist or do we live in a world of moral ambiguity? Is a deity in charge? Is God good? Monotheism and polytheism offer different answers about morality, sin, and how we might cleanse our polluted souls. Dive into the world of divine crime and punishment in this thought-provoking lecture.

32 min
God and the Gods

12: God and the Gods

Throughout this course, you have explored the tension between monotheism and polytheism, a God versus many gods. You may wonder: Who wins? In this final lecture, Professor Garland revisits the tension among religions and within human culture. You might discover more common ground than you expect.

39 min