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A new Axial Age

KeromeKerome Love, love is mysteryThe Continent Veteran

I came across an interesting article about Karen Armstrong’s new book on a new Axial Age in modern times. For those who don’t know, the Axial Age was the time period from 800 BC to about 200 BC when most of the major religions were formed. To quote from the article:

Most significantly, it is the time when all the great world religions came into being. And in every single case, the spiritualities that emerged during the Axial Age—Taoism and Confucianism in China, monotheism in Israel, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism in India, and Greek rationalism in Europe—began with a recoil from violence, with looking into the heart to find the sources of violence in the human psyche.

http://www.adishakti.org/_/a_new_axial_age_by_karen_armstrong.htm

person

Comments

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think 'Merica! Veteran

    Nice interview. I have her book on the axial age on my reading list, but there are others I want to get to first.

    I've been impressed and liked her in other interviews I've heard with her. I guess I resonate more with Martin Seligman's view of the modern world and pragmatic approach but a major component of the best path and the best medicine are the ones that speak most to you and you are most likely to follow with energy. Its good to see that there are different "right" ways to get up the mountain.

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator

    Great book, along with her A History of God. I definitely recommend both.

    FinnTheHuman
  • KundoKundo Sydney, Australia Veteran

    @Jason said:
    Great book, along with her A History of God. I definitely recommend both.

    A History of God is, IMO, one of the best books ever written about monotheism and its birth.

    Jason
  • FinnTheHumanFinnTheHuman England New

    So Axial Age is Karl Jaspers term. I'm doing a Phd on his philosophy and its relation to the notion of transcendence. So this is a great thread for me

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited October 12

    @Kundo said:

    @Jason said:
    Great book, along with her A History of God. I definitely recommend both.

    A History of God is, IMO, one of the best books ever written about monotheism and its birth.

    Yeah, it's really good. Especially re: the influence of mysticism. I wrote this a few years ago, which was inspired by her book and an article I happened to read at the same time:

    Just finished reading Karen Armstrong's A History of God, which goes well with this article I think. In it, Armstrong explores the history of "God" — a word that we come to discover packs a lot more meaning than simply some celestial Big Brother in the sky — particularly how ideas about God have evolved in the three main monotheistic religions throughout the centuries, and how those ideas have influenced religion, art, science, philosophy, and culture in a dialectical way.

    Throughout the book, Armstrong routinely steers away from God as an objective reality or being, focusing instead on the role of God as a subjective experience in our collective lives, the product of the creative imagination, much like music, poetry, and art. From her point of view, God, or spirituality in general, gives expression to certain ideas, feelings, and experiences that we all tend to have, and it's likely not a coincidence that, "When people try to find an ultimate meaning and value in human life, their minds seem to go in a certain direction. They have not been coerced to do this; it is something that seems natural to humanity" (394).

    She continually stresses the symbolic nature of these ideas, however, since the full reality of the absolute can't be put into words, stressing again and again that they become dangerous when taken too literally and clung to in a fundamentalistic way. Religion is always at its best when this is understood. Our ideas about God, the universe, or anything else for that matter, constantly grow and change, which in turn revolutionizes the way we perceive and interact with the world and one another. She demonstrates that, when one idea of God is no longer tenable or useful, it fades away to be replaced by one that does, illustrating an evolution of consciousness as we expand our understanding of the world and ourselves.

    One idea I found especially interesting is that, since the philosophical death of God that's come about in the last couple hundred years, there's been nothing to take its place, leaving a void in our psyches. Armstrong suggests that we create a faith for ourselves to cultivate our sense of the wonder and ineffable significance of life, but "the aimlessness, alienation, anomie and violence that characterize so much of modern life" seem to indicate that that's no longer the case (397-8). We need to create a new focus of meaning, however, not fall back onto fundamentalism, apocalypticism, and 'instant' charismatic forms of religiosity that are currently prevalent in the US and other parts of the world.

    Although I know there are many who'd strongly disagree with me on this, I'm inclined to side with Armstrong's assessment. While I think it's important to try and liberate society from its suffering and alienation by changing the material conditions that support it, which includes building on our scientific understanding of the world, I also think there's a spiritual dimension that needs to be addressed. Religion, then, isn't just some kind of spiritual painkiller; it can also be part of the cure.

    lobsterKundo
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited October 12

    @FinnTheHuman said:
    So Axial Age is Karl Jaspers term. I'm doing a Phd on his philosophy and its relation to the notion of transcendence. So this is a great thread for me

    Yeah, this might be a good book for you then. Not so much re: Jaspers as much as this time period and its influence on history and the notion of transcendence.

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think 'Merica! Veteran
    edited October 12

    @Jason said:
    Although I know there are many who'd strongly disagree with me on this, I'm inclined to side with Armstrong's assessment. While I think it's important to try and liberate society from its suffering and alienation by changing the material conditions that support it, which includes building on our scientific understanding of the world, I also think there's a spiritual dimension that needs to be addressed. Religion, then, isn't just some kind of spiritual painkiller; it can also be part of the cure.

    I suppose you're talking about me. I don't think we are as far apart as you seem to think. I would take your statement here and just change around the focus as to what is more salient to me.

    I would say that it's important to try and liberate society from its suffering and alienation by changing the spiritual conditions that support it, which includes building on our scientific understanding of the evolutionary psychology of humans, I also think there's a material dimension that needs to be addressed. And I agree with your last sentence even if I imperfectly uphold that view in practice. Specifically, I am on board with a Marxist style economy if it were first populated by enlightened, selfless beings or the drudgery was provided by robots.

    When these differences play themselves out into policy realms they manifest themselves in different conclusions. IMO we are all on the same team, but politics and ideologies warp and concretize temperamental differences into these monumental, insurmountable differences. I've used the analogy of a sports team here before. Offensive and defensive players have different roles and those roles dictate different styles and tactics to achieve a common goal, but rather than working together we dig our trenches and start to convince ourselves that the other aspect of the team is doing it wrong because they aren't doing it like us. I view the world in terms of yin and yang supporting and working off each other rather than a battle of good vs evil.

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited October 12

    @person said:

    @Jason said:
    Although I know there are many who'd strongly disagree with me on this, I'm inclined to side with Armstrong's assessment. While I think it's important to try and liberate society from its suffering and alienation by changing the material conditions that support it, which includes building on our scientific understanding of the world, I also think there's a spiritual dimension that needs to be addressed. Religion, then, isn't just some kind of spiritual painkiller; it can also be part of the cure.

    I suppose you're talking about me. I don't think we are as far apart as you seem to think. I would take your statement here and just change around the focus as to what is more salient to me.

    I would say that it's important to try and liberate society from its suffering and alienation by changing the spiritual conditions that support it, which includes building on our scientific understanding of the evolutionary psychology of humans, I also think there's a material dimension that needs to be addressed. And I agree with your last sentence even if I imperfectly uphold that view in practice. Specifically, I am on board with a Marxist style economy if it were first populated by enlightened, selfless beings or the drudgery was provided by robots.

    When these differences play themselves out into policy realms they manifest themselves in different conclusions. IMO we are all on the same team, but politics and ideologies warp and concretize temperamental differences into these monumental, insurmountable differences. I've used the analogy of a sports team here before. Offensive and defensive players have different roles and those roles dictate different styles and tactics to achieve a common goal, but rather than working together we dig our trenches and start to convince ourselves that the other aspect of the team is doing it wrong because they aren't doing it like us. I view the world in terms of yin and yang supporting and working off each other rather than a battle of good vs evil.

    ? No, I'm not talking about you — unless you mean you in the general sense of people who are completely hostile towards religion a la new atheists in the vein of Dawkins et al. — since I wrote this years ago in that context, completely unrelated to newbuddhist whatsoever... It's not always about you. Did you even read the article, or...?

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think 'Merica! Veteran
    edited October 12

    Okay, I took that last paragraph as an afterword to the bulk of what you wrote.

    Regarding the main point of your post, you might be interested in the most recent Mind and Life xxxiii discourse with HHDL. They focus on Social and Emotional Learning as a way to promote secular ethics, which might function in a similar way psychologically and socially that religion has in the past.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    With regard to the actual book, "A New Axial Age" _ I can't find it on Amazon.UK... Has it even been published yet? All I can locate through Google, is the article....

  • Not published yet @federica
    Ordering from the library may entail a long wait as she is a popular author.

    As a consolation her outstanding website ...
    https://charterforcompassion.org

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    @federica said:
    With regard to the actual book, "A New Axial Age" _ I can't find it on Amazon.UK... Has it even been published yet? All I can locate through Google, is the article....

    Yes I went looking for the book as well but couldn’t find it, I guess she is still working on it. The idea really appealed to me though, and I feel in a way that she is right, that we are at a time when the old religions are going to slowly disappear across a few generations, and that something new will take its place.

    If you look at the rise of secularism across much of Europe, the whole New Age movement, the pattern of people becoming “spiritual but not religious”, they are all indicators of the shift away from today’s religions into something different. I feel the secular aspect is perhaps a halfway house, something transitional.

    The book is definitely on my reading list.

    person
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited October 13

    @person said:
    Okay, I took that last paragraph as an afterword to the bulk of what you wrote.

    Regarding the main point of your post, you might be interested in the most recent Mind and Life xxxiii discourse with HHDL. They focus on Social and Emotional Learning as a way to promote secular ethics, which might function in a similar way psychologically and socially that religion has in the past.

    Nope, was part of the original.

    I will definitely have to check that out. I also agree with you about "building on our scientific understanding of the evolutionary psychology of humans," although I'm of the position that the material basis of our surroundings, social institutions, and social relations play a big role in shaping that psychology. The world around us conditions what we do and think, and those who control the means of production also shape our ideas as they control the production of both material and intellectual commodities and help shape the values of society.

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator

    @federica said:
    With regard to the actual book, "A New Axial Age" _ I can't find it on Amazon.UK... Has it even been published yet? All I can locate through Google, is the article....

    My mistake. The book I was thinking of is The Great Transformation by Armstrong, which deals with the Axial Age. Will be interested to read the new one.

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator

    @FinnTheHuman said:
    So Axial Age is Karl Jaspers term. I'm doing a Phd on his philosophy and its relation to the notion of transcendence. So this is a great thread for me

    I was swayed by her account via Jaspers, and do see a great transformation of sorts during this time, both in structures and reach of civilizations and in their myths and ideas. That said, there are others who are less convinced, such as the author of A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2006/mar/18/highereducation.news

    FinnTheHuman
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    @Jason said:

    @federica said:
    With regard to the actual book, "A New Axial Age" _ I can't find it on Amazon.UK... Has it even been published yet? All I can locate through Google, is the article....

    My mistake. The book I was thinking of is The Great Transformation by Armstrong, which deals with the Axial Age. Will be interested to read the new one.

    I received my copy of "A History of God" today. Am diving in headlong... Looking forward to reading it, and am also awaiting her next tome....

    Kundo
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