Judaism: The Religion of a People
Hinduism: An Ancient Path in the Modern World
Buddhism: The Middle Way of Compassion
Islam: The Faith and the People
Four videos (approx 22mins each) by United Learning (USA), distributed by educational Media Film and Video Ltd
235 Imperial Drive, Rayners Lane, Harrow, Middlesex HA2 7HE
Pounds 29.50 per video plus VAT and pp
Doing justice to a religion in 20 minutes is a daunting task. In a society in which children are drenched in the televisual, programmes have to be slick to avoid the anaesthetic effect and sophisticated to avoid over-generalisation or stereotyping.
In this American series, marketed for secondary children, there is no footage on the religions as they are represented in Europe.
The Judaism programme is a curious mixture of key stage 3 visual imagery - a family shabbat and a Torah procession in synagogue - with reflective interviews from three rabbis which would contribute well to A-level discussion, if sixth-formers survive the bored appearance of one of them.
With Buddhism we meet a Zen monk, a Thai monk and a Tibetan high lama, this time against striking visual images from the different Buddhist cultures. Theravada, Mahayana, Zen and Tantric Tibetan variations are dealt with.
The Hindu video starts with a lecturette on origins, descending into a mixture of comments on Sikhism and Buddhism as derivative religions, and on Islam, which is presented as being as incompatible with Hinduism "as fire and water". Gandhi is thrown in for good measure. We are not helped to understand the many pulses of Hinduism or its appeal.
The Islam video starts off rather surprisingly with Iran. Rent-a-mob is shown and we are told that in Iran religious mi-norities are persecuted. This "represents the dark side of the faith but only a small percentage of Islam". It is a strange way to introduce a religion, rather like starting Christianity with the Inquisition.
Perhaps US viewers are deemed to need this explanation. The Prophet's encounter with the Angel is presented unclearly and we are told ambiguously about "Muhammad's first revelation". Viewers might assume that Muhammad was somehow the revealer. Short footage inside a mosque includes a vat of tea being made for 2,000 people. That, at least, was different. But Buddhism apart, the videos themselves are not everybody's proverbial cup of tea.
Terence Copley is a senior lecturer in RE at the School of Education at Exeter University