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Great Books of the World's Wisdom Traditions

Connecting ancient wisdom to modern times

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At the heart of the world wisdom traditions are books that distill the essence of the teachings of the masters down through the ages. Many have no authors, some are compilations over long periods of time, others reflect teachings of masters who themselves never wrote a word. Socrates and Jesus never wrote any books, for instance, but Plato wrote his Dialogues recalling his memory of what Socrates said and the Gospels recount the life of Jesus many decades after Jesus had gone. Other books have legendary authors but appear to be compilations heavily redacted over many centuries. Some books are considered “God’s word” such as the Bible or the Koran and have endured for millennia inspiring countless millions of believers. Others remain obscure and speak deeply symbolic truths hidden within the layers of the language in the text itself. Still others express the essence of a tribal tradition on the brink of extinction and are valued for what is on the verge of being lost. Great books continue to be written by individuals alive today.

Dr. Jim Garrison has been studying the great books since childhood as the son of a missionary to China and Taiwan where he was able to delve into eastern spirituality, particularly Buddhism and Taoism. His double Masters degree in the History of Religion and Christology at Harvard University and his doctorate on a Jungian analysis of ancient Judeo-Christian apocalyptic literature at Cambridge University enabled him to study the great books across the spectrum of Axial religions and wisdom traditions. He has spent a lifetime studying the great books both ancient and modern, east and west, sacred and secular.

Each year, Dr. Garrison and his colleagues Will Taegel, Gyorgyi Szabo, and Karen Castle, will choose six books they consider “great” and will examine each one, sometimes in dialogue with a specialist in the book at hand.

Course Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  1. Describe the qualities which distinguish a literary work as a “Great Book.”
  2. Reflect upon the challenges framed by authors in ancient times in terms of current global crises.
  3. Grapple with deep issues common to all humanity through discussion, web forum postings, and paper assignments.
  4. Compare the major themes of the books studied.


The course meets on the second Tuesday of each month, at 8:00 a.m. Pacific time for 90 minutes. The calls are recorded for those who cannot make it.


Your Instructor


Dr. Jim Garrison
Dr. Jim Garrison

Jim Garrisonreceived his BA, magna cum laude, in World History from the University of Santa Clara in 1973; his MTS from Harvard Divinity School in Christology and the History of World Religions in 1975; and his Ph.D. from Cambridge University in Philosophical Theology in 1982. His doctoral dissertation was on the theme “Hiroshima, Apocalyptic and the Antinomial Nature of God.”

Garrison has developed this theme in all his published writings beginning with his first book in 1980, called The Plutonium Culture (SCM). This was followed by The Darkness of God: Theology After Hiroshima (SCM/1982); The Russian Threat: Myths and Realities (Gateway Books/1983); The New Diplomats(Resurgence Press/1984); Civilization and the Transformation of Power (Paraview Press/2000); and America As Empire(Barrett Koehler/2004).

Garrison served as president of Wisdom University (now Wisdom School of Graduate Studies) from 2005–2012, and is now president of Ubiquity University. Before coming to the university, Garrison served as president of the State of the World Forum, which he founded in 1995 in partnership with President Mikhail Gorbachev and Senator Alan Cranston. He founded the Radiation and Health Information Service in 1978; co-founded the Christic Institute in 1980; was Executive Director of the Esalen Institute Soviet-American Exchange Program from 1985–1990; and founded the International Foreign Policy Institute in partnership with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and Secretary George Shultz in 1991. Garrison founded the Gorbachev Foundation/USA in 1992 with Mr. Gorbachev as founding chairman.


Class Curriculum


  Course Overview
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  Antigone by Sophocles
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  The Book of Hopi by Frank Waters
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  The Dhammapada, sayings of the Buddha
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  Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
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  The Prince by Machiavelli
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  The Exultation of Innana by Enheduana
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Frequently Asked Questions


When does the course start and finish?
You can start at any time! To complete the course you study six of the books and submit the course assignments.
How long do I have access to the course?
Until you have completed six of the books and submitted your assignments.
What if I am unhappy with the course?
We would never want you to be unhappy! If you are unsatisfied with your purchase, contact us in the first 30 days and we will give you a full refund.

All courses and all Learning Journeys are open to lifelong learners and all students for credit toward their degrees and also for certificates.

If ready to register for specific courses, select a registration option below or email Registrar Stacy Newman.

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For further information, please contact Ubiquity's Director of Admissions and Student Support, Constantina Clark.