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Storytelling and the Human Condition

Once upon a time: the power of stories.
Storytelling and the Human Condition is rated 3.4 out of 5 by 33.
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Rated 1 out of 5 by from Poor scholarship This lecturer would have never made it to the lectern at the "Great Courses". I can tolerate a little bias and the occasional factual faux -pas. However, I have no tolerance for a lecturer who demonstrates a poor understanding of her chosen material. For example, in lecture 4 "Guilt and Blame" one of the lecturer's goals is to explore the concept of guilt and how it can viewed in profoundly different ways. She sets out to do this by contrasting the views of the committed Christian, St. Augustine with those of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the famous atheist or so she believes. The only problem with this dubious line of inquiry is that Rousseau is no atheist. This would be clear to anyone with even a rudimentary familiarity with the man or his works. One need only a passing look at, "The Creed of the Savoyard Priest", the most famous section of Rousseau's most famous work "Emile" to dispel any notion that the man was an atheist. His enthusiasm and reverence for God jumps off the pages. Furthermore, as if his writings alone don't provide enough evidence of his beliefs, one need only look at the historical record. Although Rousseau is often lumped in with the French 'philosophes' of his day, he famously fell out with Diderot and others precisely because he could not stomach their atheist beliefs! So when the lecturer continually implies and overtly states at the nine minute mark that Rousseau has "rejected God", she could not be more wrong. Unfortunately, this lecture is yet another discouraging reminder that the once, narrow focused, erudite "The Great Courses" has sadly morphed into the broad based, intellectually watered down "Wondrium", where if you are telegenic enough and can spin a good story facts be damned. The only problem is that Rousseau is no atheist. And nowhere in his writings does Rousseau "reject God" as the lecturer states at the 9 minute mark.
Date published: 2023-11-28
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Lackluster Quality As a subscriber of Wondrium and an avid lover of philosophy, I thought I would enjoy this series on the human condition. What I got instead was a 6-hour long Sunday School session. The presenter does include some non-Judeo-Christian sources in her analysis, but she mostly brushes them off as inferior, and emphasizes the religiosity of the Jewish and Christian individuals. This is sad, because she has messages about the subjects that are worth taking to heart, and I found most of what she said agreeable. But her bias was really laid bare for all to see. Out of all the other Wondrium fare out there, you can feel okay to skip this one. Any of the other ones concerning the humanities will suffice.
Date published: 2023-11-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Introduction to the Value of Storytelling For the most part, I enjoyed this course because I think Alexandra Hudson did a fine job illustrating the common issues of “the human condition” through a selection of stories that comprise humanity’s multi-century “Great Conversation.” I found her summaries to be succinct, engaging, and sufficiently illustrative of the points and lessons she was using them to make. I agree with her that storytelling is an important part of humanity and that many of the stories of old are still very useful and poignant for today’s world – which, unfortunately, has largely lost an appreciation for pedagogical storytelling because when storytelling does appear today it is usually in the form of propaganda and marketing. On this last point, the influence of CS Lewis’s Christian apologetics on her interpretation and presentation of the Judeo-Christian stories relative to the non-Judeo-Christian stories was quite evident and almost to the point of ad nauseum. She seems to have lost the appropriate cautions and caveats of storytelling (that she so frequently mentioned) only when telling the stories of Christianity. This can be seen, for example, in her rendering of the Genesis account of creation as being more factual or truthful than the other creation stories of the world, in her references to Jesus (a.k.a., Yeshua) by the religious title of “Christ,” or in her recounting of the saying and actions of Jesus as if they were historical and unaffected by mythological appropriations and interpretations. Nonetheless, I recommend this course as a good introduction to storytelling, and highly recommend that one follow it with some of the much more scholarly courses in The Great Courses corpus by authors such as Elizabeth Vandiver, Grant L. Voth, J Rufus Fears, Glenn Holland, Joseph Koterski, Shalom Goldman, etc…
Date published: 2023-07-28
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Worst lecture I've seen from this company I've watched dozens of The Great Courses lectures. I have come to expect the highest quality presentations. This has been one of the few unbiased sources of information I have found and trusted. This presenter has an obvious religious bias which permeates her presentation. I am saddened and hope this is not indicative of the rebranding to Wondrium.
Date published: 2023-07-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A very good survey of the importance of stories Very enjoyable. Well thought out, I learned a lot. I am glad to find someone keeping the sputtering flame of humanity-seeking counsel, the wise and the cunning playing at civilization- fearlessly choosing reason and finding meaning, rationality and community. Well done.
Date published: 2023-07-13
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Definitely pushing a Judeo-Christian worldview I’ve been a customer of the Teaching Company and the Great Courses for a few decades. I’ve come to expect the best from this company, and this is certainly not that. I’m not sure I’ve seen such a blatant political ideology in a Great Courses offering before. The lecturer is clearly pushing a conservative, Judeo-Christian agenda. In her lecture on origin stories, she explicitly states the Genesis creation story is superior and unique. She refers to the Babylonian, Egyptian, and Greek origin stories as myths, but the Genesis stories are not called myths. She also claims that the Judeo-Christian worldview is the only worldview that honors the inherent goodness of all people. This lecturer is affiliated with several hard-right organizations and has written articles praising Donald Trump’s presidency. That’s all fine, of course, except her views bleed into this course, making it seem more like idealogical propaganda than an intellectually stimulating exploration of human storytelling.
Date published: 2023-07-03
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Great Courses Light This series began with the presenter revealing that she was raised in a Great Courses household. Being of an earlier generation that was reared on books, I greatly appreciated this. This is one of the first ‘Wondrium’ offerings I have tried. The more personal and less academic approach offered this series both positive and negative aspects. Even though Ms. Hudson has achieved academic standing, she retains a ‘self-taught’ creativity allowing for wide-ranging comparisons between different media, representing fiction and non-fiction, which worked very well on several occasions. While I found her clear religious orientation initially surprising and disconcerting, in time, I appreciated that this was integral to her vision. That said, she also presented Atheist sources and quotations occasionally. There was also an underlying conservative orientation leading to some unfortunate language, ‘disordered loves,' at the top of my list. Overall, the airing of ideas was enjoyable, although I often argued with some of the conclusions. I appreciate the likely reasons for The Teaching Company to have the Wondrium thread added to their offerings. This is ‘Great Courses Light,' and undoubtedly will be appreciated by many daunted by the real meat of the main offerings. I do thank the presenter for her enthusiasm and dedication.
Date published: 2023-06-01
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Presentation detracted from content I finished this course and had 3 concerns: 1. although the overall structure and themes of the course were well-chosen, the lectures & presentation detracted from the content. Ms. Hudson is a lightweight, not convincing, perhaps too enthusiastic, and annoyingly, mispronounced several key words & names (e.g. Hannah Arendt, a main focus in 2 lectures). One would think TTC editors would have helped here. One senses that her understanding of the main ideas doesn't come from years of scholarship, which has always been a hallmark of the Great Courses. 2. There is no reason for this course to be offered as a video. It is 90% watching Ms. Hudson read and smile. The few slides presented could have been (and many were) simply included in the guidebook. I quickly stopped watching and just listened to the course while walking. 3. Although Ms. Hudson draws on some non-Western sources and several women as resources, there is a distinct and somewhat naive sociopolitical conservative tone to the lectures. In looking a bit into Ms. Hudson's background, it seems she has been affiliated with at least three well-known conservative organizations: the Federalist Society (which chose the most recent 3 SCOTUS justices), the American Enterprise Institute, and the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. So listeners can decide for themselves if there is some cultural bias going on, whether they think it influenced the course. Her discussion of the 18th century enslaved Black poet Philiss Wheatley may be one exception, but in spite of the mention of injustice and racism, the analysis lacked intellectual depth. I did learn some new things, but overall this course was a disappointment.
Date published: 2023-04-26
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In the 12 lectures of Storytelling and the Human Condition, you will examine the connection between the storytelling impulse and our drive to understand who we are and what our place is in the world around us. You will go on a globe-spanning, time-jumping, media-traversing tour of the human narrative tradition. Your guide is author, journalist, and storyteller Alexandra Hudson, founder of Civic Renaissance, a community for lifelong learners, which she invites you to join at She will illuminate how stories shape our lives throughout history and across cultures in ways that—much like human nature itself—are a complicated mix of the “good,” the “bad,” and everything in between.


Alexandra Hudson

Storytelling is the language of the subconscious mind. It can help us understand truths that facts and maxims alone cannot communicate.


Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy

Alexandra Hudson is an author, journalist, and storyteller as well as an adjunct faculty member at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. A recipient of the Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship award, she writes for The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, TIME, POLITICO, and Newsweek, and she has appeared on CBS and Fox News. She is the founder of Civic Renaissance, an intellectual community and newsletter dedicated to personal and cultural renewal. An appointment at the US Department of Education is one highlight of her service at the local, state, and federal levels of government.

By This Expert

Storytelling and the Human Condition
Storytelling and the Human Condition


The Power of Stories

01: The Power of Stories

Begin your journey by considering the universal appeal and power of storytelling. Here, you will meet your expert, Alexandra, and consider the thesis of this course: The human condition is defined by both the greatness and wretchedness of mankind, and that stories help us better understand and thrive within this duality of our nature.

31 min
Origins and the Meaning of Life

02: Origins and the Meaning of Life

Who are we? Why are we here? What does it mean to be human? These are questions that virtually every human society has asked—and answered—through story. Examine several of the earliest creation stories, such as the Babylonian Enuma Elish or the creation story from the Book of Genesis, and put them in conversation with one another to see how these stories reveal how these cultures view the nature and purpose of humanity.

29 min
The Meaning of Suffering

03: The Meaning of Suffering

As you will see here, storytelling has been a way that people across time and place have coped with the reality of human misery and have dealt with the question of why we suffer. Here, Alexandra puts into dialogue two different kinds of stories and perspectives on suffering: the poem-made-song “Strange Fruit” and the famous tale of Job.

30 min
Guilt and Blame

04: Guilt and Blame

Look at famous stories told by St. Augustine, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Shakespeare, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Friedrich Nietzsche to explore the ways guilt is presented in the stories we tell. As you will see, some prefer stories that convict and help them own up to wrong doing, while others prefer stories that exonerate. Despite this difference, the human struggle with these concepts is universal.

28 min
Civilization and Barbarism

05: Civilization and Barbarism

Stories can unite us—but they can also help create and maintain division. Engage with several works of art spanning the centuries that offer reflections on why people have weaponized the language of civilization and barbarism to oppress marginalized groups and people. And, consider how we might tell better stories in our own lives and world today that unite and affirm our shared moral status as members of the human community.

32 min
Building Character

06: Building Character

We have long used stories to define and illuminate moral ideals and virtues, help form character, and give people a definition of excellence to strive for. Start this lecture with a look at the ambiguous relationship between myth and history, and then dive into several works and storytelling traditions that demonstrate how fiction can help us communicate important moral lessons.

32 min
Love and Sex

07: Love and Sex

Explore stories of love and its many dimensions. From the letters of Abélard and Héloïse in the 12th century to later works like Madame Bovary, you will look at the ways disordered love—disproportionate or selfish love—makes for tragic stories that serve as warnings. As you will see, the human heart is built to love, but we sometimes fail to love people and things in their proper order.

34 min
Materialism and Earthly Attachments

08: Materialism and Earthly Attachments

It is part of the human condition to become overly attached to the things of this world, and that overattachment can cause great suffering. Here, you will consider another facet of disordered love: over-attachment to possessions and power. Begin with a look at the life story of the Buddha and then see how it connects to other stories of greed, power, and selfish desire.

33 min
Pride before Destruction

09: Pride before Destruction

Unpack a foundational pitfall of the human condition: pride. Here, you will look at some of history’s most famous and memorable stories concerning hubris and the troubles it can cause, including tales of Anansi from West African mythology, John Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Aesop’s fables. Along the way, consider why we often delight in stories of other people’s humiliation.

34 min
Adversity and Humor

10: Adversity and Humor

Tragedy is a reality of the human experience. Yet, humor is how people across time and place have grappled with the absurdity and pain of life. Consider why we laugh in the face of darkness and suffering, and how we determine whether we are laughing at or laughing with others. With a look at two very different stories told centuries apart, we see how stories can confront adversity with irony and humor.

32 min
Death and the Afterlife

11: Death and the Afterlife

Death is one of the few certainties of the human condition. Explore how people across history and through stories have answered questions about the process and nature of death. From Dante’s Divine Comedy to a contemporary sitcom about the afterlife, consider the many ways we view death and what may lie beyond.

32 min
Freedom and Self-Determination

12: Freedom and Self-Determination

Bringing the course to a close, look at the meaning of freedom and consider how we can transform tragedy into triumph. Through the poetry of Phyllis Wheatley and the writings of Holocaust survivors Hannah Arendt and Viktor Frankl, you will see how we can each have a role in harnessing the power of storytelling to make the world a better place.

35 min