Sunday, June 25, 2017

Leonard Cohen Recites the Tibetan Book of the Dead

The Tibetan Book of the Dead is probably one of most well-known Tibetan Buddhist texts in the West.

It describes the stages of death from a Tibetan's point of view. These stages include the period at the moment of death and the 49 day interval before rebirth.

The book was composed by a monk in the 8th century and is often recited today by a lama (Buddhist spiritual leader) to a recently deceased person in order to help him understand his experiences and gain enlightenment.

 Leonard Cohen, the Canadian singer, songwriter and poet, recites the Tibetan Book of the Dead in this 50 minute video.

I found the video on Open Culture and they summarize the video like this:
The film gives us an intimate look at this ceremony, performed after the death of a villager—with its intricate rituals and ancient, unbound, hand-printed text of the book—and touches on the tricky political issues of Buddhist practice in largely Chinese-controlled Tibet. In this first installment above, The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Way of Life, the Dalai Lama weighs in with his own views on life and death (at 33:22).

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Women and Islam: Resources from GMU

George Mason University's Center for History and News Media has some great resources on the role of women in Islam.

Two lessons include suras (chapters) from the Qur’an that deal with women. One "details a variety of legal rights and restrictions for Muslims in the realm of marriage, inheritance, and other male-female relationships" and  the other "is known for its many verses extolling modesty in women, as well as detailing aspects of ideal marriage."

Monday, June 19, 2017

An InfoGuide on Child Marriage

Each year over 142 million girls are forced to marry before they are eighteen, and five million before they are fifteen.

Child marriage exists around the world in the Middle East, South Asia, and in North and South Africa.

It cuts across culture and religion. It is an abuse of human rights on a huge scale.

The Council on Foreign Relations reviews this issue with a comprehensive InfoGuide that includes the short video overview below.

What drives child marriage?

According to the Council, "poverty, cultural norms, and the low societal value of women and girls" are the primary forces behind child marriage. For example, girls are not considered wage earners in many cultures so they are married off early.

Patriarchy also accounts for early marriage. In some societies girls are married off early to maximize their childbearing potential.

Religion in some cultures allow early marriage. In Ethiopia, for example, child marriage is embedded in some Orthodox Christian cultures and in some Muslim countries, a conservative interpretation of the Quran allows girls to marry when they reach puberty.

What is the cost child marriage?

The Council on Foreign Relations outlines at least four big problems.

The practice harms girls' health because it makes them more vulnerable to childbirth complications and it isolates them from their families and peers.

In addition, girls are often deprived of education and mired in poverty.

The Council on Foreign Relations  includes profiles of the major countries involved in child marriage--India, Ethiopia, Niger, Afghanistan, and Guatemala and offers ways to combat it.

The essay  also includes interesting graphics and images.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Sultan & the Saint: New Documentary

The Sultan and the Saint, a new documentary from Unity Productions, reviews the remarkable story of how two men changed the relationship between Christians and Muslims during the Crusades.

Saint Francis of Assisi and the Sultan of Egypt, Al-Malik al-Kam, risked their lives when they met on the battlefield.

During the 5th Crusade in 1219,  Francis crossed enemy lines to talk to the Muslim leader,  Al-Malik al-Kam, to try to convert him to Christianity. Although he failed in that endeavor, he initiated a friendship that would last the rest of their lives.

The belief that Muslims and Christians could live harmoniously was the basis of that friendship.

The documentary has a won a number of awards and the film's website includes an education feature in which students can view a number of scholarly perspectives on themes raised in the film.  One that I found most interesting was about the role of the brain in conflict transformation.

Emile Bruneau of the University of Pennsylvania discusses the role of the unconscious part of the brain in our behavior and the way we understand religion.

Unity Productions Foundation (UPF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting understanding and peace between between people of different faiths, especially Muslims and Christians.  They promote this understanding through film and television.

UPF has screened the film across much of the US in late 2016 and 2017. It should be available on DVD later this year!

Here is a promotion flier for the film and below you can see a trailer for it.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Islamic Literature: Adventures of Hamza

Check out the Adventures of Hamza at this Freer Sackler online exhibit.

The Hamzanama is a collection of stories about Hamza, the uncle of the prophet Muhammad, who travels the world with other heroes spreading the teachings of Islam.

The stories were a part of Persian literature and a favorite of the Mughal emperor, Akbar. According to William Dalrymple in a review of the 2008 exhibit, the stories are the equivalent of the “Iliad” and Odyssey” of medieval Persia" and are "a rollicking, magic-filled heroic saga."

But today, Dalrymple notes, the stories are essentially "extinct as an oral tradition."  The exhibit and a recent book about the stories introduces Western audiences to the stories.

You can read the first chapter the Adventures of Hamza here. It was included in Dalrymple's review of the book by Ghalib Lakhnavi and Ghalib Lakhnavi.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

4 TedTalks on Buddhism

Here are four TedTalks about Buddhism.

In the first talk Bob Thurman, the first American to be ordained a Tibetan monk by the Dalai Lama, (and father of the actress Uma Thurman) suggests that we can all achieve enlightenment in "this hyperlinked world" where we can know anything at anytime.

Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk and French writer in Nepal, argues that we can train our minds to help us achieve happiness and fulfillment.

Joan Halifax, an American Zen Buddhist teacher, does a lot of work with the terminally ill.  She discusses empathy and compassion in her TedTalk.

Finally, Dhammananda Bikkuni, a Theravada Thai nun, discusses women and gender equality in Buddhism.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Teaching Religion Resources

Here are resources that I have collected over the years for teaching religion.  They include both videos and websites.  Some, like the video series, My Life, My Religion and the Pluralism Project might be helpful to World History teachers who include the world religions in their curriculum.

The Pluralism Project has terrific short essays for each religion, all suitable for student assignments. Click on Confucianism, for example, and you will see several essays about Confucianism today. Another essay reviews the growing popularity, or revival, of Confucianism.

Harvard Divinity School's Religious Literacy Project offers a terrific overview of the methodology we should use to study religion. I copied and adapted much of this methodology for my elective course. The methodology comes for Professor Diane Moore. Director, Religious Literacy Project and Senior Lecturer on Religious Studies and Education at Harvard. is an online platform of academic lessons based on 5 to 8 minute video clips. You have to create a teacher account and pay a monthly fee for which you can hopefully get your school to pay. Their courses on Religion 101, with chapters on each of the major religions, is terrific. Usually, college professors narrate the videos which all use animation. After viewing, students take and retake a five question quiz.

Generation Global is an education organization that puts together students from different cultures to discuss issues relating to religion and culture through online video conferences. My classes have participated in 15 or 20 conferences over the years and have enjoyed them. I wrote about a few of them in my blog. Here's a review of one about women rights and religion.

The CBC series, Little Mosque on the Prairie, is an excellent sit-com about Muslims in a fictional town in Mercy, Saskatchewan. It features a young Imam who has just moved to the town and confronts many stereotypes in a humorous way.

Not all episodes are suitable for the classroom but a few certainly are and help students to see Muslims as ordinary citizens. own's new Imam, Amaar Rashid.

Here is a review from the New York Times.

Unity Productions Foundation (UPF) is a non-profit film foundation. The mission of Unity Productions Foundation (UPF)" is to counter bigotry and create peace through the media." Their short film, Nadia's Ramadan, is a terrific nine minute overview of Ramadan from the perspective of a young American Muslim girl.

National Geographic's series, The Story of God, hosted by Morgan Freeman, has some excellent episodes suitable for class.

For example, one episode called The Chosen One, explores the founders of various religions from the current leader of the Lakota to a young Minnesota boy believed to be the reincarnation of an important Buddhist llama.


BBC Two made a series of short documentaries called My Life, My Religion. Each documentary is about twenty-eight minutes long and is shown through the eyes of a young teenager. The Hindu teenager is 14 years old, and the Christian and Muslim teenagers are 11 years old. The religious traditions included in the series are the three Abrahamic traditions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, as well as Hinduism, and Sikhism.

BBC Two has a terrific series about religion hosted by Pete Owen Jones called Around the World in 80 Faiths. You can stream the eight episodes here at Daily Motion and here is a link to the episode guide. Each episode focuses on a specific country or region like the Middle East or Australia and Pacific Ring of Fire.

Here's an interesting documentary about what it's like for a West Virginia Christian to live with a Muslim family in Dearborn, Michigan for 30 days.

Another episode explores what its like for an atheist to live with a Christian family.

Morgan Spurlock, who directed the documentary, was nominated for an Oscar in 2004 for a movie about McDonalds, called Supersize Me.

Finally, here's a link to a column I wrote for PBS about teaching religion along with the podcast below.

Leonard Cohen Recites the Tibetan Book of the Dead

The Tibetan Book of the Dead is probably one of most well-known Tibetan Buddhist texts in the West. It describes the stages of death from...