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

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

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Publisher's Summary

After thousands of years of pondering it, we still find death one of life's most perplexing mysteries. Many cultures view death as a window into the true meaning of life.

These 24 lectures looking at this often feared subject are an uplifting, meaningful, and multidisciplinary exploration of life's only certainty. Bringing together theology, philosophy, biology, anthropology, literature, psychology, sociology, and other fields, they are a brilliant compendium of how human beings have struggled to come to terms with mortality. You'll encounter everything from ancient burial practices, traditional views of the afterlife, and the five stages of grief to the question of killing during wartime, the phenomenon of near-death experiences, and even 21st-century theories about transcending death itself.

With personal and cultural enlightenment as the overarching goal, Professor Berkson provides you with eye-opening answers to several major questions surrounding death, including: How do we think about death? How do religions approach death? When (if ever) is it justified to take a life? You'll also hear a chorus of voices from multiple disciplines, cultures, and ages as they offer sometimes shocking and sometimes refreshing perspectives on death. These voices include the Buddha, St. Paul, Albert Camus, Dylan Thomas, and Elizabeth Kübler-Ross.

"Many religious traditions teach that a form of regular death reflection can deepen one's appreciation for life," Professor Berkson notes. "And in some traditions, it can actually lead to spiritual transformation or awakening. As the poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, 'Whoever rightly understands and celebrates death at the same time magnifies life.'"

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2016 The Great Courses (P)2016 The Teaching Company, LLC

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.8 (11 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Mary Jackson 21/08/2016
    Mary Jackson 21/08/2016 Member Since 2014
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    "Very informative lectures on death and dying"

    I was looking for an audio book on the subject of death and dying to inform my practice as I am training to become a bereavement counsellor and I found this great courses book! It explains death from many cultural traditions and talks of issues around suicide and immortality, all of which I found to be very helpful and informative, I can't recommend this book highly enough :)

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Nicola Hermitage 18/08/2016 Member Since 2016
    HELPFUL VOTES
    1
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    4
    4
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    "inspiring!"

    I thought this might be a bit of a morbid read but it's actually truly fascinating and life affirming.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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  • Jacqueline B
    South Africa
    05/03/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Dispassionate discussion, well researched"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Death is generally not discussed dispassionately when humans interact. These lectures provide one the opportunity to look at death objectively and from almost as many points of view as there are belief systems. I would absolutely recommend it to one of my more open-minded friends.


    What about Professor Mark Berkson’s performance did you like?

    Professor Mark Berkson speaks clearly. His voice has a good timbre and is pleasant to listen to. He pauses after his sentences so there is time to absorb what he has said without the listener having to backtrack.


    What’s the most interesting tidbit you’ve picked up from this book?

    Death and how we see it is such an integral part of life. While one knows this, it particularly stands out in the lecture on Tibetan Buddhists who see our lives as a series of "in-betweens", or bardos and say that life, too, is a bardo, existing between birth and death. At the other end of the spectrum is the lecture on suicide (not euthanasia or assisted suicide), a form of death that raises such bewilderment among those left behind. Prof Berkson raises the moral issue: Do we have the right to end our own life? Should we intervene to prevent someone from killing themselves? As with the other lectures, he dips into philosophy, mythology and modern psychology to present a myriad of views.


    Any additional comments?

    Having listened through to the end, I immediately started the course again. There is so much to absorb because it is packed with interesting information which has been well researched and carefully edited so that there is not one tedious moment.

    17 of 17 people found this review helpful
  • Jacobus
    Johannesburg, South Africa
    23/03/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Everything about death and dying you want to know"

    I am surprised at how much there is to say about death and dying. Mark Berkson, Professor and Chair in the Religion Department at Hamline University (USA), brings together a thesaurus of facts from vastly different disciplines addressing the issue of death in 24 half hour lectures.

    He begins the course by asking what death is. Quickly the listener becomes aware that death is not such an easy concept to define. Using insights from the medical sciences Prof. Berkson challenges traditional views.

    After defining death, the listener is challenged with his/ her own fear of death and how one copes with grief. Hereafter he/ she is introduced to various rituals surrounding the death of a loved one in different cultures, creating a sensitivity and understanding for other peoples' beliefs.

    The beliefs surrounding death and the afterlife from the stance of various religions, gets quite a lot of attention. Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism and Syncretistic beliefs are all discussed.

    Issues like dying well and what it means, suicide, euthanasia, killing during war, killing of non-human animals, near death experiences and the pursuit of immortality also comes under the spyglass.

    I think that the benefits the listener by making listeners sensitive about death and the various world cultures' beliefs. Though it is presented from a American perspective (the USA's death rituals gets precedence), the vastness of Prof. Berkson's knowledge surrounding the subject is truly astonishing. I was really impressed with the way he approached his subject matter, showing the same respect for the listener as one would expect to be shown to the dead. There is however one thing I think needs to be added when the course is revised - the African funeral. Living in South Africa, as a minister, I have buried people from different cultural backgrounds. I have been amazed at how the beliefs surrounding death and the dying differs within the Christian Faith within this country. One of these beliefs has to do with when to bury a person. In the Northern part of the country, you will bury at 6:00, while a Zulu from KwaZulu-Natal may not be buried before 12:00. Even the content of what should go in the grave differs. Many of these rituals are syncretised with Christian beliefs and practises. For the course to be perfect, I would have liked some of these issues to have been included. That said, I am not sure where one would stop when compiling a course such as this if everyone's whims have to be included.

    This course can be followed without the course guide. However, the neat guide not only refreshes the mind. I think it can stimulate further discussion.

    I recommend this course to anyone interested in a sincere empathetic in-your-face approach to dealing with one of the most important realities in life, death. While I suspect that Prof. Berkson himself leans to a Buddhist approach to death, he is fair to all religions and does not try to push his own understanding of death on his listeners. He gives you the room to decide how you would like to approach it. It comes highly recommended! The only type of death that you might not encounter in this course, is Terry Pratchett's character, Death...

    13 of 13 people found this review helpful
  • waterboulders
    20/06/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Flawed but good"

    I wanted to listen to this lecture course in order to learn more about death. I feel like I haven't learned as much as I wanted. The content is much more political than I thought it would be and it's told with bias. The lecturer seemed very politically correct. There's a lot more time devoted to eastern religions and their view of death more than the view of western religion. At the end, there is a discussion of immortality and the value of death. I really dislike the discussion of the various fictional portrayals of immortality. He seemed to cite fictional speculation as an authoritative source on what immortality would be like.

    Despite these flaws, I enjoyed the series. It gives a good discussion of each religion's funeral practices (at least for religions other than Christianity). The discussion of the death penalty, though obviously told from the lecturer's very liberal point of view, taught me some very unique facts I would have never learned elsewhere. At one point there is a discussion of how religious ritual can be useful for secular people. The lecturer discussed the Chinese view of the afterlife. I appreciated this because it gave me a sense of secure knowledge about the topic that I did not have before. The lecturer's voice is soft and he seems like a nice guy. It sounds like he's reading from a script, yet his own voice really stands out at the same time.

    I would say I enjoyed this lecture, but I wish the actual content of it was more clear. Overall I would recommend this to people if they wanted to learn more about death, but it's greatly insightful. Still good.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Deep Reader
    Earth
    24/10/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Profound"

    Few people talk about death even though we all know it's inevitable. This course dives into the void by explaining practices, beliefs and ethics related to death and the afterlife. A necessary read.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Kindle Customer
    Virginia
    18/07/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Will Make You Thijnk"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Yes. The author really knows his subject well. The book covers just about any question you have ever had about death and dying from myriad points of view and many you might not have considered.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    There were no characters in this book and the subject is death which is definitely not my favorite.


    Which character – as performed by Professor Mark Berkson – was your favorite?

    Not applicable.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

    Everything you never knew you wanted to know about death and dying


    Any additional comments?

    Well worth your time.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Kristine M M
    14/07/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "phenomenal class!"

    I really enjoyed this class. it is comprehensive, not intimidating, and uplifting. I've used it to help prepare myself to earn a certificate in thanatology.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Jason le Grange
    09/07/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Fascinating ideas and explanation"

    The idea is always conceptual and what is phenomenal about the lectures is the exploration of religions, cultures and concepts. Amazing opportunity for reflection.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Nathaniel
    28/05/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Thoughtful and thought provoking."

    these lectures are well thought out and provide balanced representations of all viewpoints. While the lecturer does offer his own opinion, he does not force it upon you, and leaves much of the material up for interpretation.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • DavidSanFran
    San Francisco
    20/03/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Sublime"

    If you listen carefully to this course and ponder on its many truths and insights, you will gain some spiritual insight and maybe even revelations...

    5 of 7 people found this review helpful
  • charlanda wise
    11/09/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "excellent"

    loved it. the narrator was excellent
    very interesting subjects and I would recommend it to all.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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