The Axial Age and Its Consequences

The Axial Age and Its Consequences

by Robert N. Bellah, Hans Joas
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The Axial Age and Its Consequences

The first classics in human history—the early works of literature, philosophy, and theology to which we have returned throughout the ages—appeared in the middle centuries of the first millennium bce. The canonical texts of the Hebrew scriptures, the philosophical writings of Plato and Aristotle, the Analects of Confucius and the Daodejing, the Bhagavad Gita and the teachings of the Buddha—all of these works came down to us from the compressed period of history that Karl Jaspers memorably named the Axial Age.

In The Axial Age and Its Consequences, Robert Bellah and Hans Joas make the bold claim that intellectual sophistication itself was born worldwide during this critical time. Across Eurasia, a new self-reflective attitude toward human existence emerged, and with it an awakening to the concept of transcendence. From Axial Age thinkers we inherited a sense of the world as a place not just to experience but to investigate, envision, and alter through human thought and action.

Bellah and Joas have assembled diverse scholars to guide us through this astonishing efflorescence of religious and philosophical creativity. As they explore the varieties of theorizing that arose during the period, they consider how these in turn led to utopian visions that brought with them the possibility of both societal reform and repression. The roots of our continuing discourse on religion, secularization, inequality, education, and the environment all lie in Axial Age developments. Understanding this transitional era, the authors contend, is not just an academic project but a humanistic endeavor.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674066496
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 10/31/2012
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 560
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.90(d)

Table of Contents

Introduction Robert N. Bellah Hans Joas 1

Fundamental Questions

1 The Axial Age Debate as Religious Discourse Hans Joas 9

2 What Was the Axial Revolution? Charles Taylor 30

3 An Evolutionary Approach to Culture: Implications for the Study of the Axial Age Merlin Donald 47

4 Embodiment, Transcendence, and Contingency: Anthropological Features of the Axial Age Matthias Jung 77

5 The Axial Age in Global History: Cultural Crystallizations and Societal Transformations Björn Wittrock 102

6 The Buddha's Meditative Trance: Visionary Knowledge, Aphoristic Thinking, and Axial Age Rationality in Early Buddhism Gananath Obeyesekere 126

7 The Idea of Transcendence Ingolf U. Dalferth 146

A Comparative Perspective

8 Religion, the Axial Age, and Secular Modernity in Bellah's Theory of Religious Evolution José Casanova 191

9 Where Do Axial Commitments Reside? Problems in Thinking about the African Case Ann Swidler 222

10 The Axial Age Theory: A Challenge to Historism or an Explanatory Device of Civilization Analysis? With a Look at the Normative Discourse in Axial Age China Heiner Roetz 248

Destructive Possibilities?

11 The Axial Conundrum between Transcendental Visions and Vicissitudes of Their Institutionalizations: Constructive and Destructive Possibilities Shmuel N. Eisenstadt 277

12 Axial Religions and the Problem of Violence David Martin 294

13 Righteous Rebels: When, Where, and Why? W. G. Runciman 317


14 Rehistoricizing the Axial Age Johann P. Arnason 337

15 Cultural Memory and the Myth of the Axial Age Jan Assmann 366

Perspectives, on the Future

16 The Axial Invention of Education and Today's Global Knowledge Culture William M. Sullivan 411

17 The Future of Transcendence: A Sociological Agenda Richard Madsen 430

18 The Heritage of the Axial Age: Resource or Burden? Robert N. Bellah 447

Bibliography: Works on the Axial Age 469

Contributors 539

Index 543

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