When I drive, I read... uhm listen. I like SciFi, Fantasy, some Detective and Espionage novels and Religion. Now and then I will also listen to something else.
This course is one of the best Great Courses lecture series I have come across. Prof. Grant Hardy has compiled and presents in this course a huge amount of information about various world religions through introducing their sacred scriptures. He presents it in such an enthusiastic and engaging manner that it is difficult to stop listening.
During these lectures he deals with all the major religions in the world and a few of the lesser known religions. He conveys a lot of empathy towards the different religious traditions without sacrificing his own faith tradition. (He actually kept me guessing about his background, until I listened to his lecture on the Book of Mormon and the Church of the Latter Day Saints' liturgy used in their temples as a spoken form of sacred text. An internet search confirmed my suspicion. That said, his engaging, objective and open-minded approach to different religions ensured that no clear bias towards any specific faith tradition could be detected.)
He dealt with Hinduism (4 lectures), Sikhism (1 lecture), Judaism (5 lectures), Zoroastrianism (1 lecture), Buddhism (6 lectures), Jainism (1 lecture), Confucianism (2 lectures), Daoism (2 lectures), Shinto and Tenrikyo (1 lectures), Christianity (4 lectures), Mormonism (1 lecture), Islam (3 lectures), Baha'i (1 lecture), Abandoned Scriptures (1 lecture) and Secular Scriptures (1 lecture) with an introductory and closing lecture added.
It is very interesting and insightful. For me his lectures the Hebrew Bible, Zoroastrianism and Buddhism were the most interesting. The idea that the Hebrew Bible is a text in conversation with itself is a brilliant observation. I found his discussion of the influence Zoroastrianism on Judaism and Christianity thought provoking. He helped me also to get a much better grasp on Buddhism. There is however much that I didn't know about other faith traditions like Baha'i and Islam and the relationship between them.
I would have chosen different abandoned scriptures (like the Ugaritic clay tablets or some Mesopotamian works, instead of the Egyptian Book of the Dead etc). However I realise that you cannot include everyone's likes and dislikes.
If you want to get to know something about the most important faiths in the world and what they received as holy texts, this is the course to enlighten you. It is very well researched and presented. A must-have course!
I don't know much about American Politics, but I suspect that after you've listened to this book, you might be okay with voting for Romney as president. That said, Mansfield's book is not at all a favourable account of Mormonism. He is highly critical of Jonathan Smith, the founder of the religion, but he has a lot of empathy for the members of the Church of the Latter Day Saints.
Mansfield made the book feel very current by placing different scenes from contemporary America and its attitude towards Mormonism between the issues he addresses within the book. His last example indicates that Evangelicals and Mormons could co-exist and even be friends. Yet he makes a plea to Mormons to take history seriously and to be honest about their past. He wants Mormons to change, to become more transparent and open to others, to accept plurality a bit more etc. While Mansfield is probably right, I wondered why only Mormons should change?
The book is about what it its title says "The Mormonizing of America." Mansfield is able to give an overview of the religion while being critical yet positive towards Mormons.
I suspect your political background, your religious stance and your knowledge of who Stephen Mansfield is, will play a big role on how you experience this book. As a non-American, I found it interesting, sometimes a bit sharp and at other times I wondered about a hidden agenda. A worthwhile listen!
John McLain's doesn't bore with his reading and was able to keep my attention throughout.
Prof. Lawrence H Schiffman gives an excellent well-balanced and honest overview of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, the situation surrounding its discovery and its meaning to Western Civilisation in general and to Judaism and Christianity in particular in 14 lectures. Be sure to download the PDF file with the course guide to gain the most from this presentation. The course could probably have been called "Qumran 101."
Except for his enthusiasm and ear catching presentation, Schiffman came over very knowledgeable and was able to convince me why he is one of the leading scholars on the Qumran community and its library as well as Second Temple Judaism. During the course he is not scared to share and even advocate his own views on certain important issues, i.e. the Sadducee origin of the Qumran community. He was also able to argue his views clearly (although, I don't buy the Sadducee origin of the Qumran sect).
Schiffman always balances his own hypotheses with the majority stance of scholars, thus informing the listener what we can say responsibly about the Scrolls and the mystique surrounding it. He also debunks some of the more outrageous speculation surrounding the Dead Sea Scrolls very effectively.
What I liked a lot about this course is that the relevant material (the scrolls' contents, Josephus, Philo, archaeological artefacts etc.) are the basis from which Schiffman presents his arguments. He engages the scrolls and other material to let it speak as far as possible for itself. I didn't get the idea that his Jewishness clouded his critical academical scholarship. He doesn't force a Jewish agenda. He presents sensitive information not only as objective as possible but also with the necessary empathy and clarity. I was pleasantly surprised by his approach.
Of "The Modern Scholar" lecture series that I have listened to so far, I find prof. Schiffman's lectures on the Dead Sea Scrolls not only informative and well-balanced but some of the best so far. I would recommend these easy-to-follow lectures to anyone interested in the enigma of the Dead Scrolls.
His commentary on 1 and 2 Maccabees in the HarperCollins Bible Commentary is also to be recommended for further background reading to the lay person.