After my disappointment with the comparative religions course, I went straight to the Teaching Company's course specifically on Islam. This is taught by John L. Esposito and consists of 12 30-minute lectures. To my annoyance, the Teaching Company doesn't list dates for courses on its web page, but this was recorded after September 11, 2001.
The course titles are as follows:
- Islam Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
- The Five Pillars of Islam
- Muhammad—Prophet and Statesman
- God's Word—the Quranic Worldview
- The Muslim Community—Faith and Politics
- Paths to God—Islamic Law and Mysticism
- Islamic Revivalism—Renewal and Reform
- The Contemporary Resurgence of Islam
- Islam at the Crossroads
- Women and Change in Islam
- Islam in the West
- The Future of Islam
Esposito is not the most dynamic speaker, and I found myself avoiding this course on the way home from work when I tended to be sleepy. However, he does a very good job of context, such as the social & political situation at the time of Islam's founding, the sources of the wide diversity within Islam, and so forth. He is very careful to present multiple sides of disputed matters, such as Christian and Muslim perspectives on the Crusades. One of the most common phrases out of his mouth was "Like Christianity and Judaism," demonstrating through comparison that Islam is no stranger than the other Abrahamic faiths. This might get tedious for those who know other religions better than I, and indeed if I'd listened to the "Great World Religions" courses in chronological order I might also have been thinking the same, but given the pervasive popular image of Islam, it still probably can't be said too much.
I did feel that the course became rather repetitive toward the end, especially the discussion of contemporary Islam and its future. And I would have liked some of that time to be spent on more doctrine. On the whole, however, this was a very clear and careful overview of such an emotionally loaded subject.
Esposito has written a number of books, of which What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam and Islam: The Straight Path appear to be popular-level overviews, while Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam was written very shortly after September 11, 2001. I'll be checking my local library for them.