World Religions Through Their Scriptures

[MUSIC PLAYING] Good evening,
everyone, and welcome. Great to see you all here. Welcome to our panel
discussion on world religions through their scriptures. This has been an amazing
and wild ride for all of us. We variously call our learning
curve as perpendicular. It’s been a really
interesting experience. Tonight, though, instead of
talk about the experience, we’re going to actually
try to give you a little bit of a taste for what
the course actually entails. And that is our
intention, and we hope that that will
work out well with all the technological
issues, et cetera. Before I start, I
just want to say we owe a great debt of
gratitude to so many people behind the scenes
on this course. Some of them are here– Rachel, Ryan from the
HX team, Zach Davis, who’s not with us
tonight, who’s in Utah, who’s the lead producer. Several of our
graduate students, if you all who have been
involved in the course could just stand
up, just stand up, behind the scenes who worked
on the course, many of whom are not here– yes,
let me say thank you. [APPLAUSE] So our presentation
tonight is going to be very much due to the
hard work behind the scenes of these wonderful people. So I’m Diane Moore. I’m a senior lecturer here and
the director of the Religious Literacy Project. And I think I’m the chief
cat herder, I think, in this endeavor. I’m so excited about what we
have been able to achieve. And today is our launch day
for the six-month course that has six different
modules, one month each. I’m going to say a little
bit about the background, but not much. You can read a lot
about the course. We’ve been really fortunate,
our communications team at Harvard Divinity has
done a phenomenal job of helping to get the
word out about the course. But I do want to say
a couple of things about what unites this project. First of all, this is the last
of many different projects here at the Harvard
Divinity School. It started with Krister
Stendahl actually in 1972 when he had the vision
to try to create an opportunity beyond
the doctrinal track to match our professional
training for religious leaders through our MDiv program, but
to also through our MTS program have another opportunity besides
the doctoral track for people studying religion, the religious
studies approach to religion. And so it was his idea
to then start the program in religious studies
in education, which was a longstanding
secondary ed program that was a mini ed school
program here at the Divinity School that was sadly
suspended in 2008 because of the financial crisis. But it had a long run,
a little over 35 years. So the Religious
Literacy Project is a successor to that program. And really what it
is doing is helping to create an opportunity
for us to garner the tremendous resources we have
here in the World’s Religious Traditions with our
remarkable faculty to help translate what does
it mean to promote and enhance the public understanding
of religion. And this project
is really rooted in that vision and
again the latest iteration of that long history. So we have three goals, three
primary goals, for this course. The first is just to introduce
people to the rich traditions that we have the privilege
of living in as scholars of religious studies. But the second two are
actually probably most– we prioritize them. The second is to give
people language and tools to understand religion. We use the language
of religious literacy. It’s language I use. We’ve got the Religious Literacy
Project here at Harvard. All of us in this
room know too well the consequences of a lack of
understanding about religion. We read it in the
paper every day. And none of us here
on the panel assume that a better
understanding of religion will cure all the world’s
ills, but we do deeply believe that a better
understanding of religion can minimize some of
the conflicts that surrounds religion today. And so we’re eager to give
people language and tools. In the words of Ted
Sizer, wonderful educator, a former dean of the Harvard
Graduate School of Education, “The best way to
think about education is to think less is more.” So we are not trying to give
a comprehensive introduction to the world’s
religious traditions, five of the world’s
religious traditions. So I want to be really
clear about that. What we’re trying to do is
give people language and tools to think about religion in
some new and creative and constructive ways
through illustrations. So that’s really the
overarching theme in the relationship
to how we understand our work and the content. And so, again, introduce
people to great content, but introduce people to a
way to think about religion. And then the third is to provide
an opportunity for people from around the world
from diverse backgrounds, religious backgrounds, worldview
backgrounds, geographic, regions, ages, to interact in
a constructive way about topics that so often divide us. So our shared commitment
in this course is to really maximize the
opportunity for people to engage with each other
through the literature that we’re going to be
sharing through our modules. So this is slightly
unusual for edX courses. Many have attempted to
increase the discussion base dimensions of this. And our colleague
Laura Nasrallah, who is our pioneer at this
here at the Divinity School, was an early pioneer in helping
to move away from the talking heads expert lecture-based
online courses to a more interactive opportunity. And we are also
trying to continue with that within that vein. So that’s been both a wonderful
pedagogical challenge, but also a really rich,
creative opportunity to think how do you minimize
our delivery of content, but invite students to
engage with all kinds of different content through
exercises, activities, and with each other. So I wanted to say that
that other dimension of the opportunity for people
to talk with one another is really important. And we’re very excited about it. And this is a bit
of an experiment, and we’ll see how it goes. But all of us through
all the modules have really maximized on
that dimension of what this opportunity can provide. So briefly, I’m going
to just show you– I want to show you the
platform, because– so I’m going to date myself
here with a quick story. When I was a graduate student
here in the master’s program several years ago, I ran
into a friend of mine in Harvard Square,
who at the time was working on word processing. Now, I feel like I’m
a dinosaur when I say this, but word processing. And she was trying to explain
to me what word processing was. And I was still
working on my masters of divinity senior thesis
on my electric typewriter, which I was very impressed
with myself to have. And I could not understand
what a word processing was. I just could not get
my head around it. This is what we’re experiencing. Lots of people
still don’t really understand what is a MOOC. What does it actually entail? How do you do a MOOC? So I wanted to show
you just briefly, this is the platform
for the MOOC. If you come into Day 1, what you
would see if you’re a student, you’ll see the days here
listed on the left-hand side. And that’s the entire course. But the course, all throughout
the next six months, all of our courses are going
to be rolled out, if you will, one day at a time, on
Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout the six-month period. So we’re starting today. This is the first day of the
Religious Literacy module. And this is what students
will see, just the first day. And the way to go
through the course– and I’m going to show you
just a few of the components– you’ll see here on the
horizontal line at the top, these are all the
different units. They’re happening
in this first day. This is just the
introduction here. And students will hopefully
read the introduction and then come here to move
through the rest of the course. These kinds of videos,
short videos, two and three minutes long for
each of us, sometimes we’ve got two, sometimes
three in a given course to help orient students
and move them through. So there’s this one. Then I’ve got an introduction
inviting students to introduce
themselves you see here and then through these
discussion boards that students will
participate in. We’ve got a tweet
Twitter feed here that’s ongoing for
students to participate in. These are real? Pardon? These are real? These are real. Yeah, Yeah, I know. It’s the word processing
moment, I know. Believe me, I get it. All right, so then there’s
opportunities to each of us have our own intro
video that we’ve done. The HarvardX team has
done remarkable work in terms of the
quality of what we’re being able to represent here. I think several of you saw
this misunderstandings video, this animation representing the
fundamental misunderstandings of religion that, again,
part of the HarvardX team has helped us create. I’m not going to go
through this now because I want to make sure I’m going to
finish in my 10 minutes here. But I want to show you then that
we have these other options. So then there are readings
and relatively short readings, by the way. And then there are
discussion options and discussion prompts
after many of the readings. There are video options. This is a contemporary– the news was hot and
so I picked it up, this debate about whether Donald
Trump is a Christian I thought was really interesting
and wanted to use it. So then we have
opportunities too to bring an incredible
array of resources from the web that’s out there. This is a piece from a
Frontline video, for example. So the idea is that we’re
using little snippets to represent the ideas we’re
trying to help students be introduced to and then give
them lots of different options to try to engage
those experiences. So this is a first day. There’s a lot of things
in this first day. Not all of them
will have this many. But in the end, there’s also
what we’ve calling for each day a learning summary
where we’re asking students, what did you learn? Put those into the
discussion board. So we’ll learn a lot about
what we’re hoping they’ll learn and what they actually learn. We’re going to learn
a lot about that. And then what we’re calling
the self-report for students who choose to take the course,
not as an audit for free, but for a formal
certificate of completion. So with that, I want to
show you just one other– everyone on the panel tonight
will be sharing with you an example of something they’re
excited about in their course. And so I basically gave over
my excitement about this to give you this intro. Except, I have one thing
I wanted to show you. And I need someone to
help me get out of here. Thanks. This is a video that, again,
the HarvardX team put together with the help of incredible
work in the behind the scenes with graduate students. This is a video to help capture
fundamental assertions we’re trying to make
through the course. Religions are
internally diverse. They evolve and change. Religions are embedded in all
dimensions of human experience. And religions are
complicated things, powerful and complicated things. So this is a video, short
video, to just to try to represent this. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] [MUSIC PLAYING] [END PLAYBACK] So I found this entire
project overwhelming from the beginning. And Diane has been the one
who has pressed less is more on me from the beginning. And I always think more is more. But at some point I’ll
just simply have to stop. So what I want to
do is to give you a sense first of what I’m
trying to do across the course and then to sort of
focus in on one part of one day, one exercise,
that we’re looking at. So I start off with
talking about why we should be motivated to
do this, the kind of impact, enormous impact, I think
that religions have on our complex and
changing world, on group identity, on
art and architecture, understanding current
events, controversies over ethical and moral issues,
violence and justice, and more. So scriptures play
an important role in how adherents
address such matters. Studying Christian
scriptures I think help us understand better
the impact of Christianity on these and other issues. Christians, however, are
not the same everywhere. And although Christianity
is a global religion, people live and practice
their traditions locally. In its long history,
Christianity has shaped and been
shaped by many cultures and political contexts. Its scriptures have
been translated into hundreds of languages. Everywhere Christians
live and interact with peoples of other faiths
and with people who have no formal religious tradition. The long history
of Christianity, of Christian scriptures,
I should say, has left a deep
and complex legacy in many parts of the world. And we want to address some of
that complexity in the course. So the aim of my month
module is to gain familiarity with the contents and with some
of the ways of interpreting scriptures. So here’s the run through. We start by examining all kinds
of Bibles, from ancient papyrus to modern print versions. If you take this part
of the section of class, you will read some of the
most well-known stories and teachings in
the Christian Bible. The course will introduce you
to how these stories order time, for example, the
weekly calendar, the liturgical calendar,
and so on and so forth, how they order place. We’re going to take
you on pilgrimages to three continents. We will read stories and talk
about how Christian scriptures address fundamental existential
questions, such as suffering and persecution, how they
portray the earliest groups, for example, how you join. You know, what does
worship look like? How is authority
structured and contested? We’re going to talk
about how Christians talk about non-Christians
and how they relate to them. We’re going to ask about the
contested and varied uses of scripture in
multiple time periods in different
geographical contexts, in the ancient Roman world,
where Christianity began, its spread through European
and American colonialism, and in the diverse forms it
takes in various locations around the globe. We will see how religion is
embedded in local cultures and how those cultures
shape Christian beliefs and practices. We’re going to pay attention
to how change over time takes place, looking, for
example, at the impact of modern science and
history, or its shifting attitudes toward sexuality,
marriage, and the roles of women. And in all of this, I want
to highlight the diversity, richness, and complexity
of Christian scriptures and interpretations. So I think you see
already I’m trying to do more than maybe less. So we’re going to try
to do all of that. Sort of in our eight
day segments rolling out over four weeks, go. Sarah, my helpmate is smiling. So I want to fast
forward to Day 7. You have to imagine that
you’ve been around the globe. You’ve done a lot of things. You’ve learned a lot of stuff. And now finally,
you may think we’re getting to types of early
Christian interpretations. Christians interpreted their
scriptures various kinds of ways, many different ways. Some read them as the
key to understanding God’s plan for human
salvation, stretching from the creation
of the universe to its final destruction
and recreation. And indeed, this is the
shape of the Bible itself. It starts with
Genesis and it ends with the destruction, the end
of the world, and recreation. Eventually, the Bible’s
going to be ordered to tell this story from
creation to Genesis and Genesis to Revelation. Christians also read
scriptures allegorically, as indications of
timeless truth. Much of the Jewish Bible
was read as prophecy of the coming of Jesus. And indeed, the Bible
came to be seen itself as a prophetic book,
not only interpreting the deeper meaning of the past
and predicting the future, but illuminating present events. So in other cases, biblical
stories and teachings were elaborated, expanding
narratives to fill in gaps and to speak to the
theological and social issues of their own times. The literal and the
grammatical sense of scriptures was often important,
but it always also had spiritual meaning. So what we do Day 1, after
this little introduction, is start looking at these. And so I want to emphasize we’re
going to look in the course at types of biblical
interpretation that were prominent
in the early church in the first few centuries. But even as new modes
of interpretation appear at various
times and places in the history of
Christianity, those found among early
Christians remain alive, often in invigorated and
locally inflected forms, not only in the West
but around the globe. So what this course
would do next is to give you examples of each
of these types of scripture, asking you to look at
them, to read, to annotate, to interpret, to discuss,
and to offer these. So I give you examples of
Christian epoch of allegory. We look at the parable of
the seeds for those of you who know where Jesus
tells a parable and then interprets
it allegorically. We look at typology– again for those of you who
know, but if you don’t, you will learn– about the letter
to the Romans where Paul sees Adam as a type
of Christ, this kind of typological interpretation. We’re going to look at the
fulfillment of prophecy, especially the way that Jesus
fulfills processes, well, the way that the Jewish
Hebrew scriptures are read as interpretations
of fulfillment by Jesus. We’re going to look
at Revelations and how the Bible itself teaches
people to read current events as fulfillment of prophecy. And we’re going to look at
an elaboration of stories. I picked one of my
favorites, which is the infancy gospel
of James, you know, all you wanted to know about
Jesus when he was a little boy, but never heard. So these gaps are things
that are filled in. And finally to talk about
one particular theologian origin who understood the
multiple layers of scripture, its grammatical meaning,
its historical meaning, its spiritual or
universal meaning, and its contemporary
application to current events. So having done all of that,
you now know all about this. And it would have been
really, really fun, because you would have had
all of these great readings that you hadn’t seen before
yet in the course and a chance to talk to people all
over the globe about them. And, of course, we picked
really interesting examples. Right, Sarah? Yes, yes, we did. We absolutely did. Now we are fast
forwarding ahead and we’re talking about, OK, these are
sort of old traditional ways of doing it. But all around the globe, other
kinds of things have appeared– and sadly we not are
a totalizing course, so you don’t get them all. So what we do is we sort
of spin in on one region of the globe, the modern West. And I want to assure you that
in other parts of the course, we’re going to be
spinning in on Ethiopia. We’re going to be
spinning in on Mexico. We’re going to be
in other places. But for this example,
the modern West. And so here, you having already
studied colonial expansion and its impact in
various places, we’re going to look at what
happened in northern Europe, undergoing a series
of wide ranging social, intellectual challenges. Biblical theology and
interpretation in the West was profoundly affected by
the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason and its aftermath. The rise of modern
scientific investigation brought to the fore
a paradigm shift. And by that, I mean scientific
method introduced change in a fundamental approach
and underlying assumptions about human beings, how human
beings can know the world. And then we elaborate
on that and what that means and so on and so forth. But this has this impact then
on how the Bible is interpreted. The second kind of major
way that this had an impact is the writing of history. Science’s high valuation
of objective evidence is the basis for claims
about truth and knowledge impacted the writing of
history and the way history became a matter in historicist
mode of what really happened. So how do we literally see this? Look on the screen if
you haven’t already. So I’m arguing that one of the
prominent modes of interpreting Christian scripture
has been through artistic representation. And it’s possible
to literally see the effects of a different
way of viewing the Bible. So I’m following a scholar
named Stephen Prickett here. And he points out the way
that medieval art tended to eliminate time and space. So if you look at this object–
and if you were in the course, we just give it to you. And I give you the
stories to read, the biblical stories, that go
with each part of this image. But I’m going to
tell you right now. So that’s unfun. But the course will be more fun. So flattening history into
a simultaneous panorama– so for example, if
you look at this, what you see in the
main panel is the image of Mary and the baby Jesus. But around this figure–
this is, by the way, a 14th century
triptych from Spain. And I have two minutes left. So I’ll wing through these. So flatten– so
what you see is you see is the whole impact of
the incarnation of Jesus in this panel. So is surrounded
by the crucifixion of Jesus, the
Annunciation to Mary where she’s told
that she is a virgin and will be having this baby,
presenting Jesus in the Temple, and the coronation of
Mary in heaven, which is something not in scriptures. But what I want you to see
is precisely how flat this is and how it incorporates
all these different scenes in one visual image. And there’s a lot more
going on in this image that you will see when
you take the course. So look at this image of the
Annunciation by John Collier. What’s changed? So you’re going to be asked
to take a look at this. This is the same image of the
angel coming to the Virgin Mary to announce that she’s
going to have a child. There’s a lot of things you
might notice about this. But the point that I wanted
to make in my 30 seconds, my zero time left,
is that it has come to be a single scene
in a time in a place. In this case, it happens to
be something like the ’50s. You can tell when– notice that the
plant is in a pot. You can see the
breeze coming through. You can see the
sun shining down. So this addition of perspective,
of artistic perspective, means that instead of
looking from nowhere and looking at
simultaneously and seeing the whole of the
story, it has been turned into a particular
time and place. And this is in some ways
what historical criticism, historical writing
of the Bible does is it turns things
into a linear story. So things become points
on a linear time frame. And so no longer are we looking
at the whole meaning together, but we’re seeing the
linear time frame as such. And then if we go
on, we can see how this can be done in
different kinds of ways. You’ll notice this is a Japanese
image, a black and white, and so on and so forth. And from these then we
go on to discuss notice how the imagination
is not yet quite the scientific imagination. So the course goes
on, and it talks about the rise of
historical criticism, about dating and writing
the history of the Bible and questions about
biblical accuracy. Then we get into the pushback
against this in terms of the rise of fundamentalism. We take a little tour of
the Creation Science Museum out there in Middle
America and so forth. OK, thank you. [APPLAUSE] That screen that came up
before with Diane Moore where it said that
page an error occurred, please try again later,
that was my screen. And so what I have to say
is some error occurred, which has to do with me. And this thing about
please try again later, that has to do with me as well. But part of what’s
happening I would say also is that this course has
probably been one of the most– not one of– the most
challenging course I’ve ever tried to
imagine how to teach. I often find myself that I want
to teach introductory courses, because it’s at
that level that I think some of the
most fundamental intellectual decisions
come to bear on us, and we have to face
them without hiding behind facts and other
things that we think we know. But this course is
beyond that of being an introductory
course, in the sense of a different kind
of medium and also a different kind of classroom. And who’s in the classroom
is far more complicated. So one of the things that
I’ve thought a lot about is remembering a
radio interview I heard with a very great
American Buddhologist Donald Lopez about his book, The
Prisoners of Shangri-La, and it was being reacted
to by a Tibetan Buddhist, a Tibetan Buddhist physician. And so the interviewer
started off by asking Donald Lopez,
“Professor Lopez, what is the essence
of Buddhism?” And he basically gave
what Diane Moore just gave as the rationale
of this course. As a historian, I know there’s
no essence of Buddhism. It’s internally diverse. It’s changing and evolving. It’s embedded in different
kinds of cultural dimensions. And he went out like that. Then he turned to the
Tibetan and said to Dr. So-and-so, “What is the
essence of Buddhism?” and the physician
said compassion. And I could hear
like the bell go off, Round 1 goes to that guy. [LAUGHTER] So this is part of the
audience, that there’s people that want to hear what
is the essence of Buddhism. Then there’s others who want to
know about how it’s internally diverse. What’s complicated, however, is
that in a class like this what might work very well
for Karen in terms of showing the diversity as a
way of opening up possibilities in Christianity, in an audience
where people are unfamiliar with much of the Buddhist
world, that showing of diversity isn’t a way of making you open
up to different possibilities, it’s just confirming it’s
one damn thing after another and it makes no sense. And so one of the things
that you have to have is a different kind of challenge
of what to do about that. I’m aware that in
the audience will be people who consider
themselves Buddhists of an infinite variety
of things and also people who are academic. There will also be a lot
of identity politics. Those of who are following
the news coming out of JNU University in
Delhi know that there is a petition
circulating that already has more than 12,000
people who have signed. That basically– it’s
not directed against me, but it is directed against
people teaching at Ivy League universities– I think I’m one– that not to be allowed
to talk about Buddhist, Indian scriptures. They should not be
allowed to do that. And that’s part of
the reality of it because there is a different
kind of audience that’s there. Another thing, there’s always
people who want to say, what’s the essence of Buddhism? They may say Buddhism
is about meditation. Buddhism doesn’t have scriptures
in the way that Islam. And so to say, oh, it
does have scriptures is to confirm I shouldn’t be
allowed to teach about it. That I am just trying
to do some other kind of secret neocolonialism
that’s going on. The other is that I have
a challenge for myself in this class is not
only to teach people– to give them language
and tools for how to think about religion,
I want to teach them how to read Buddhist scriptures
without expecting that they would become Buddhist,
but to just say, oh, these are things that you
shouldn’t deny yourself to. Less is a big problem for me
because Buddhism just has more. It has many canons. So it doesn’t have one
canon of scriptures, like Islam or Christianity has. It has a whole variety of
them in different parts of the Buddhist world, that
no one accepts each other’s. And there’s no
commonality between them. And we could say in
some sense, some of them are really quite big. They’re all definitely bigger
than the Quran and the Bible. So the smallest, 40 volumes. We get up to more than 3,000
volumes, 4,000 volumes. I’m not going to
go through a list of all the titles of the text. Another big problem, Buddhism
doesn’t have a closed canon. So unlike Islam or
Christianity, where it’s done– an interpretation can
do certain things. Well, the Quakers,
it’s not done. But the Bible is
basically on the shelf. Buddhist don’t have that. And so by the time
the class is done, there’ll be a few more
scriptures to get in. Finally, it also has,
like Christianity, perhaps like Islam,
a dual canon. It accepts one canon
and then another canon that comments on the earlier one
and changes it in front of you. How to teach people about
the complexities of handling something that is many canons,
big canons, an open canon, and dual canons
in eight sessions, and then also to teach
other kinds of things is a big challenge. Another problem for me,
a welcome one though, is that there’s
something that you can feel the effect
of comparison in thinking about
what the present. So part of the course is
scriptures and other scriptures in other religions. And so part of what we start
to have is scriptures are text. Scriptures are books. In Buddhism it’s not
so clear that they are. Part of the problem is
also to teach people that Buddhists are reading their
own scriptures in the light of other scriptures. And what you have then is how
do we deal with inconsistencies. How do we open things up? But the biggest one that
I want to teach people is that the Buddhist scriptures
are part of something that people take
refuge in and that this is a fundamental religious
act, that you come to the text having tying to
then as a refugee. And so basically
then to say, oh, I’m coming to this
not as a choice, but because I have
no other choice. And in that to just
say, oh, how is it that to convey that kind
of happiness, that, oh, here is something that I
didn’t know could ever be mine. Let me come back
to the last thing that I would say, oh,
a big goal for me. People, if they
think about Buddhism, they’ll say, oh,
it has something to do with meditation. That’s what Buddhists do,
mindfulness and all the rest. It would be easy to show what
Buddhist do as well has a lot to do with chanting. And scriptures are constantly
being chanted, sung. And this is part of their
presence in the world. And the YouTube videos will show
constantly them being chanted. But what I want to show is
that Buddhists also read. And the question is
about how to read. So the last point I want
to make is an anecdote that I hold up for myself of
how are you going to do this? We can say in a particular
moment of zen, abbot zen, monastic teachers having
an intense encounter with the Christian
Bible in the 1930s. It was a movement. They wanted to learn
something from it, not about Christianity, but
learn something from it. And one abbot said to is
head monk said, I heard about the Bible, never seen it. Can you get me a copy? So the monk came in with
a copy of the Bible. And the abbot looked at it
and said that’s a big book. And he says, read a
little bit from it for me. And the man opened up
something from the Beatitudes, just started to read through
the Beatitudes, which those of you who have read
the beatitudes, hard stuff. But the abbot at
the end, he said, I don’t know much about
whoever put that book together, but what I do know
is whoever said that stuff was enlightened. So in that to just say, is
it possible to say to people, you don’t only want to
read about scriptures to learn about Buddhists,
but that you want to learn about it to
learn about yourself, in which there’s something in
this and how to have exercises where you say, oh,
can you practice of a way of reading
scriptures of other people in which they say, this
is something for me as well, because I live
in the 21st century. [APPLAUSE] All right, I’m going
to say a little bit about my module on Islam and
talking really about the Quran. From my perspective,
it’s a huge challenge to deal with this
topic on the internet. As you can imagine,
there are going to be all kinds of people
looking at this module. They’re going to
be Islamophobes who are going to be out
there who have compared the Quran to Hitler’s Mein
Kampf, it’s a text of terrorism and so on. The other hand, you are
going to have Muslims of various denominations,
various perspectives, looking at what am I going
to be saying about the Quran. And some things they’re
going to agree with, and some things they’re
going to disagree with, and they’re going to
be very vocal about it. So my sense is it’s going to
be a controversial model based on the topic, just the
topic itself, the Quran, but also, I think, the religion,
because, as you can see, the rise of Islamophobia, the
rise of anti-Muslim prejudice and so on. And it’s interesting
how the Muslim has become the other, not
only in the United States, but in Europe, and so on, but
even in places like India, where you have a
current regime that is, in fact, promoting
this otherness of Muslims and also Christians and so on. So to counter all of this,
some of the things I’m doing is deconstructing notions. So, for instance,
one notion that I’m going to try to
deconstruct is to move away from thinking about the Quran
just as a book, as a scripture, as something that’s between two
covers, because that in myself is that it’s one
manifestation, but, however, it is a text to be experienced,
to be performed. And this is how the
text originated. So during the seventh century,
during the time of the prophet Muhammad, there was no book. People experienced the text. And the greatest rival
to the Prophet Muhammad were poets, who also
composed poetry, but who are seen as
inspired by jinns. And here comes Mohammad
with his message that’s promoting monotheism. It says he’s inspired
by God and that part of the truth of what
he was preaching is embedded in the
aesthetics of the text. And the aesthetics of the text
and the beauty of the text is in fact a proof of its
divine origin, its sacredness. And we have lots of examples of
people who actually get moved by the recitation of
the text, even if they don’t understand Arabic. We have examples in the past,
in the present, and so on. So that’s one of the ways. And I just want to give you
a feel for that by playing you a short Quran clip. And I have another translation
and transliteration. It’s on there, but I know
the script is very small. But if I blow the
screen up, then you won’t be able to see anything. But I’m just going to play
this so you get a sense of what this sounds like. [AUDIO PLAYBACK] [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] [CHANTING] [END PLAYBACK] So here you see the Quran
being performed, literally, in concert. And it’s part of the aesthetic. So it’s one of the different
contexts in which you are going to encounter the Quran. It’s not the book. So you hear it. It’s the center of a soundscape. And the Quran is part of
it, but then also connected with the soundscape is the
world of poets and poetry. And, in fact, in many Islamic
traditions around the world, many poetic traditions are
seen as in fact commentaries on Quranic scripture. So let me give you an example. All of you are familiar
with Rumi, the great mystic, his great epic, the
Masnavi, which is really a collection of
stories and anecdotes and so on, has been dubbed,
in fact, the Quran in Persian. And it’s a recited text. And the idea is that through
this poetic commentary in Persian, it is providing
for Persian speakers access into the inner meanings of
the Quran, which is in Arabic. So this idea of a vernacular
text trying to actually provide access to, not the external
meaning, but the inner meaning, the spiritual meaning. So this gets into this idea
that texts are seen as, in fact, having many different types of
levels and levels of meaning. And we look at, of course,
different Quran commentaries, but this idea that the
Quran is a text that has, I think as one
commentary compared is a bride with many
different veils. And so you can talk
about the Quran as a book of love, a
conversation between God, the beloved, and the
listener, who’s the lover. And that certainly
certain ways in which you can talk about the
Quran is a legal tome. You can talk about the Quran
in terms of paradigms and role models and so on. So there are many
discourses around the Quran. Much of what Karen and Charlie
have already talked about, I try to fit that
into my course too. But I’m trying,
again, to go less, because I am very
conscious of the fact that I’m dealing with
major stereotypes. And sometimes trying
to shatter those, becomes really a
part of the course. And one way in which
that I’m also doing it by actually taking Quranic
text Quranic vocabulary, one way is actually even taking
the way in which the Quran uses the term Islam and Muslim. The term Islam in the
Quran, in its literal form, means he who is
submitted to God, or a person who is
submitted to God. And Islam is the act
of submission to God. And what that does
right there, it shatters the idea that Islam
is the name of a religion and Muslim is one who
follows that religion, because the Quran doesn’t
have that conception at all. And so it calls Abraham Muslim. It calls Jesus Muslim. It’s called Moses Muslim. So this category of Muslim is
very broad and open and fluid. And how does this
evolve and change to become the ideological
formations that we know? So there is this tension
in the text between I think a very
pluralistic definition, a pluralistic ethos, and
then more exclusivist interpretations of the
text that evolve over time. So those are I think
some of the issues that I’m going to
be dealing with. But I think there are a lot of
this idea of doing experience, sound. And also connected
with the Quran is the art of calligraphy. So there’s a whole
section on calligraphic and the sacred word as
design and looking at that. So we’re really
engaging with I would say the artistic dimensions,
the sonic, the visual, and the literary. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] Hello. Good evening. My name is Neelima Shukla-Bhatt. And I’m not regular
Harvard faculty. So I have to introduce myself. I teach at Wellesley College. But I actually got my PhD here. And this is the
first room in which I attended so my first lectures. So this is very special. So I’ll be teaching the Hinduism
section for this course. And some of the challenges
that my wonderful teaching assistant Jason and I
faced was what to select. Because Hinduism unlike any of
the tradition in this group, it has no singular
text, like Buddhism. Professor Hallisey
talked about it. But it also doesn’t
have a singular figure in whom the religious authority
as a founder is vested. And therefore, it has a
very long history as well as tremendous internal diversity. So dealing with
about 3,000 years of history of text,
various kinds of texts that are considered sacred
in different contexts by different groups
of people, and also to deal with the idea of how
texts evolve historically. What makes a text scripture? So one of the
questions that I am hoping that the
students at the end of– I’m hoping that
the students will ask more questions at the end. And they will have
tools to question their own understanding
of scripture. And that Hinduism
provides a very good locus to highlight this, that the
traditions are internally diverse, that
evolve historically, and much of their
interpretations and their use depends on the context,
as well as they are embedded in cultures. These three presumptions
with which we work is Hinduism gives a lot
to highlight these themes. But at the same time, because
of the absence of the founder and because most
of the texts have been performative texts,
orderly transmission, not just– they are written, the way
you can find them in texts. But most of the time
they were transmitted for thousands of years orally. So performance is the
primary mode of transmission. And one of the
questions that I hope that at the end of my
session the students will ask is what makes a text scripture. Where does the authority
of the scripture life? Is it in performance? Or is it in the text itself? So we begin, in order to cover
a large diversity of the texts, which have different
foci, and also used by different
groups of people, we decided that
for each session, we have tried to incorporate
the historical factor. We have tried to incorporate
the performative factor. And we have also tried to
incorporate the diversity factor. So that way, the students will
see the text almost evolving in front of their eyes. And then at the end, they
will be able to engage. That is our hope. And what performance brings
also into our conversations is that because performance
allows individuals to make text their own, so the
sense of ownership also comes from performance. And there is a sense of
multi valence, a multiplicity of meaning embedded within
the performative nature of the text. So the issue of
religious– with whom or in what is the religious
authority agency invested will become one of the essential
questions of our section. And to give you a taste
of what we are doing, Hinduism has all
many different texts, starting from vedas, which do
not make any reference to any of the deities
who are worshipped in various temples
of Hinduism today. They are very different deities. Hinduism is much
misunderstood at times. Many people know when I teach my
courses on Hinduism and asking class or the students know about
Hinduism, many of them know, one, caste, and the other, cows. So it is also one
of those religions, which is misconstrued in
many ways, misunderstood. And to convey what makes
things sacred for Hindus, those who identify as
Hindus, is a challenge that we were facing. And because there is
a diversity of texts, we also had to find
texts that interlinked, that even if they
are diverse, they have some interlinking ideas
or references that make them– like they are put
together, because people can identify them as Hindu. And one final point
before I show you what we are doing with
one of our sections, along with this issue
of intertextuality, we are also trying to show
in this that scriptures as Professor
Hallisey pointed out, it’s not a done deal
in the Hindu context. So many new gurus, for
example, are giving lectures. And their lectures
are being recorded. And they are writing. And then for their disciples
that becomes sacred text. So the idea of
scripture as evolving, as being a work in
progress, is also something that we want to convey. And finally, I want to
give you an overview of one of the sessions. This is kind of our
favorite session. It is on the epic Ramayana. So Ramayana is one of the two
major epics that are considered sacred by Hindus. And it’s an ancient
text, possibly written in the early century– it was like complete
by the early centuries of the common era. And it is the story
of an ideal prince who was exiled from
his kingdom just on the eve of his coronation. His wife went with him to
the forest for 14 years. And while in forest,
she was abducted by– most Hindus would call him
a demon, but some Hindus, some communities
also worship him. So that right there gives
you a sense of diversity. And then when she is
abducted, this prince with the help of his brother and
some monkeys and other animals, he rescues her. But when she’s rescued, there
is this very important incident. She is put through
trial by fire. So if the hero says,
that if you are pure, you have lived with another
man, if you are pure, you have been pure, then you
will have to walk through fire and the fire will not touch you. Now, this is a very
controversial issue– she does, of course,
go through the fight. And she’s not touched. Her purity is proved. But this has been a very
controversial incident within the epic. So not just for feminists
now, many feminists are picking up this incident
to discuss feminist issues in contemporary context, but
in also traditional context as well. So in 1987, a TV serial
[INAUDIBLE] was aired. And in that one, when
this incident came, they interpreted it using
another interpretation from the 14th century in
which the interpretation is that the one who was– so just let me
finish this, then you will be able to enjoy this more. The interpretation is that Sita
who was abducted by this demon was really not the real Sita. She was only an illusion
that had been abducted. I’ll just finish in a minute. So it was only an illusion. And the real Sita
was actually given to divine fire for protection. And divine fire kept her in
protection for all these years. And when she was rescued,
then illusion Sita goes back and actually fire, fire
god brings her back. So that was the interpretation
used by the TV serial. I’m not going to show you. But then in 2006– no, 2010, an American production
of this by an American woman, Nina Paley, who has done
a cartoon series of this. And she comes with
the original question of how a woman has to
be treated by a man. And her interpretation
is that this is a story of a woman
asking for equal treatment. So then by looking at
various interpretations by Hindus and by
non-Hindus, the students will hopefully be
able to ask questions about what forms a scripture,
who has the authority to interpret them, and
when a text or a narrative becomes scripture. So hopefully
[INAUDIBLE] Thank you. [APPLAUSE] So good evening, everyone. I am keenly aware
that the hour is late and I am standing
between you and dinner. So I will try to be very brief. Also, I’m the last
in this sequence, which is good and bad. It’s bad because people
may be worn out by then. It’s good in the sense
that I can take advantage of all that has come before me. So I have not yet
taped anything. I have not yet
finalized anything. I’ve been scribbling
notes the entire time, stealing good ideas
from my colleagues. So that’s the advantage
of coming last in line. So I’d just like to focus
briefly on what I intend to do, not what I have done. So I have done very little,
although with my help with my TF Matt, we put
together eight sessions, which I think I’ll revise half of them
as a result of this evening. But in any case, we worked hard. But it’s clear to me
what the main point of the Judaism section should
be in a context of a series of courses on scripture. And the theme would be that the
Hebrew Bible is not Judaism, because most people
out there think that the Hebrew Bible,
which Christians call the Old Testament is Judaism. And a lot of Jews also
think that the Hebrew Bible is Judaism. So I need to
disabuse them of this and explain the Hebrew
Bible is Judaism only if you allow the
text to be interpreted in any one of amazing, truly
amazing, and extraordinary ways. Then the text thereby
becomes Jewish, although by the same logic, the
text also can become Christian. And indeed for
Christians, it does. It does become Christian. So this is my theme, focusing
on original historical context versus what the
text comes to mean. And my point is not to
de-legitimate, heaven forbid, anything. My point, rather,
is to show this is a living religious culture. And a living religious
culture, of course, things change over time and
text receive new meanings and new interpretations. So one of my parade examples
is the laws of the Sabbath, or the laws of Shabbat, which
the Hebrew word for Sabbath. So as you know in
the 10 commandments, in the fourth of
the 10 commandments, there is a commandment not
to do any manner of work on the seventh on
the Sabbath day, not to do any manner of work. Unfortunately, the
text is rather cryptic. I would say if I were there
in the desert at the time, I would have said
to Moses, Moses, you need to spell this
out a little more. It’s really not at all
clear what this means not to do any matter of work. How do you understand
what work is? How do I know what is and
what is not prohibited? So if you look elsewhere
in the law, the Pentateuch, in the Torah, there are a
couple of clues scattered hither and thither about
various activities that would be prohibited
under this prohibition. The most obvious
and plain spoken of which is you shall not
light a fire, although later Jews will argue whether it means
you should not light a fire or not let a fire to remain lit. They will argue
about that as well. In any case, so since the
Torah is so spare with details, so what is a Jew to do? So here it comes Friday
afternoon at nightfall. It’s the Sabbath. And well, I need to
know what I can do and what I can’t do in order
not to violate the law. So lucky for us, Judaism is,
like Charles’s categories, we have a dual canon. We have an open
canon, the main point we’re going to get across. The dual canon is we
have many texts that do focus on the
interpretation of the Torah. So the Torah does function
as a foundational document. I use the analogy of the
American constitution. The American constitution is
the foundation document of law, but you never look
in the Constitution to find out whether
any given activity is prohibited or mandated by law. One, of course, looks elsewhere. But it is a foundation document. Similarly, the Torah is
the foundation document. But you don’t look in the
Torah to find out what to do or what not to do. That, of course, is the job
of all the later interpreters and anthologized and
commentators and [INAUDIBLE],, et cetera. So the Torah has preeminence,
but it is not the final word. In fact, it’s simply
the first word. It’s an open canon. So a major document in is open
canon is the Mishnah, which is written in the second
century of our era, in Roman Palestina, where we do,
in fact, have a clearly spelled out list of things that you
may not do on the Sabbath day. And here it is before you. And if we had time,
I would go through it and explain some
of its obscurities. But lucky for us all, it’s late. So anyway, as you
see, there are 39– there we go– there are
39 labors, arranged in a– some of these may seem
obvious as labors. Others, you and I would
say, I don’t quite understand what is so
laborious about some of these. So our sages living
in the Roman period put together this list of 39. Now, if you look very
carefully at the list, you’ll see only
four or five max can be thought to derive
from the Torah itself. The other 34 are coming from– well, I don’t know, where
they’re coming from. But they’re not
coming from the Torah. They’re coming from
somebody’s fertile brain who are putting together a
list of 39 activities that are prohibited on the Sabbath. So if you notice, the paragraphs
are arranged more or less in terms of culture. That’s the best way to
understand this list. In terms of the creative acts
of human culture are prohibited on the Sabbath, things that
humans do that, in fact, make them human are precisely
the sorts of things that we may not do
on the Sabbath day. So the first paragraph,
from number 1 to number 11, is all the activities
you need to bake bread, since humans cook
food, bake food. Animals, of course, just eat. But part of the human
culture is creation of food, mastery of fire and food. So that’s the
first 1 through 11. Then 12 through a
24 are the creation of garments because again
humans wear clothes. So as part of the human
culture is creating clothing. So clothing is
everything you need to do from shearing
the wool and tearing and to stitches will be
the second paragraph. Third paragraph, hunting a
deer down to erasing an order to write two letters. This is writing, everything you
need to do to create parchment or to create
parchment for writing Then starting with 34, 35,
we have a series of kind of– I’m not sure what to call them. But they’re single things. So building and tearing
down, I understand. That’s obviously a pair. Extinguishing and kindling
fire, that I understand. Again, humans build. Humans light fire, master fire. So those are the things that
are prohibited on the Sabbath. Now, what’s interesting
to me is not simply that this is a new list,
but that the conception behind the list is
completely novel. There’s not the least clue
anywhere in the Torah, anywhere on the
Hebrew Bible at all. There is no hint
that these should be our dominant conceptions
by which we determine what is and what is not labor for
purposes of the Sabbath. And the last of all,
strike you with the hammer. And then comes the most tricky
one, taking out from one domain to another. I’ve no idea how to
understand what that is. But in any case,
I’m not sure yet how to explain this in a MOOC. I know how to explain this
standing up in front of a class and giving a lecture,
because I do that every day. So that I know how to do. But how do I do this in a MOOC. I’m not sure yet, but I’m sure
my TF Matt will figure it out. That’s why I pay
him the big bucks. And then I want to go from
here on and show how this is a living religious tradition. At some point, we might
want to call it Judaism. But what you got in the Hebrew
Bible is not yet Judaism. It’s the stuff out of
which Judaism will emerge. It is the
constitutional document upon which the edifice of
Judaism is established. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] Well, as is our way,
we went over time. And we don’t formally
have time for questions. But I want to thank
you all for coming. I hope you’ll sign
up for the courses. Please explore what we offered. We’d love to hear your feedback. Again, the courses will unfold
now pretty consistently twice a week, a little
bit of change up. There’s a week I think between
Karen’s course and my course. I just want to say
publicly what a honor it’s been to engage in this
conversation with all of you and to try to think about these
challenging questions of what it means to meaningfully,
creatively, responsibly promote these very challenging
questions in a really wide audience. We have 22,000 people
that have currently signed up for the course. So we’re really talking about
massive, massive numbers. But we’re excited about it. And again, it’s been a real
privilege to work together. And we thank you all
for your support. Especially the graduate
students in the room, thank you. We wouldn’t be here without you. And let us know what you
think about the courses that as they unfold. Thank you again. [APPLAUSE] [MUSIC PLAYING]

12 thoughts on “World Religions Through Their Scriptures

  • Professor Diane Moore

    Forever Grateful

    You are such a beacon of light

    So lucky to have been a student

    Thank you


  • If you believe me.. i am a Hindu and also a Buddhist and a Jain and a sikh. The founders of all these religions were Indians and we Hindus never think of them as different religions. This is because all these noble thinkers were reforms in society and Hinduism to make life of Indians better. Later people made it as different religions but the essence of all is same. So i love all religions and respect all. Love from India

  • Religion And Politics Are 2 Faces Of The Same Coins! They Both Divide People! Hinduism On One God!…. God Is One And Many In His Manifestations! God Don't Create He/She Manifest As Creations! All Lives Are The Manifestations Of A Higher Power! Vadic Schools of Thoughts! 🙏❤🙏

  • Notradamus A French Jew Predicted That When Christianity and Religion Fails Mankind! Humanity Will Embrace Hinduism! Religion Is Not Bringing Peace To Humanity Unless It's Their Ways! Which Is Only One Way! In Hinduism You Are Allowed To Choose Your Own Path Which Leads You To The Path of Peace! VADIC SCHOOLS OF THOUGHTS!🚩❤🙏

  • King Kansa Had Wanted To Kill Baby Krishna! And King Herod Had Wanted To Kill Baby Jesus! Analyzed It And Whats Your Conclusions!

  • The only real question here is death and how to overcome it. Jesus did, barring a wildly improbable hoax of hundreds of people all lying in unison for the "privilege" of poverty and persecution. Islam, Judaism, Buddhism… they have nothing… Hinduism claims reincarnation but has no evidence, and dark arts may extend life, but not make it eternal.

  • Ugh. Start at 35:00 or you're going to waste half hour. And I am still not convinced we were getting anywhere. They're still talking in future tense, and have not taught anything yet!

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