Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age

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Harvard University Press, Sep 15, 2011 - History - 746 pages
13 Reviews

Religion in Human Evolution is a work of extraordinary ambition‚e"a wide-ranging, nuanced probing of our biological past to discover the kinds of lives that human beings have most often imagined were worth living. It offers what is frequently seen as a forbidden theory of the origin of religion that goes deep into evolution, especially but not exclusively cultural evolution.

How did our early ancestors transcend the quotidian demands of everyday existence to embrace an alternative reality that called into question the very meaning of their daily struggle? Robert Bellah, one of the leading sociologists of our time, identifies a range of cultural capacities, such as communal dancing, storytelling, and theorizing, whose emergence made this religious development possible. Deploying the latest findings in biology, cognitive science, and evolutionary psychology, he traces the expansion of these cultural capacities from the Paleolithic to the Axial Age (roughly, the first millennium BCE), when individuals and groups in the Old World challenged the norms and beliefs of class societies ruled by kings and aristocracies. These religious prophets and renouncers never succeeded in founding their alternative utopias, but they left a heritage of criticism that would not be quenched.

Bellah‚e(tm)s treatment of the four great civilizations of the Axial Age‚e"in ancient Israel, Greece, China, and India‚e"shows all existing religions, both prophetic and mystic, to be rooted in the evolutionary story he tells. Religion in Human Evolution answers the call for a critical history of religion grounded in the full range of human constraints and possibilities.

  

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Review: Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age

User Review  - Bill - Goodreads

A very challenging read, and while I do not think I agree with everything, even those parts I think I disagreed with (I did mention it was challenging, didn't I) still caused me to think about things in a slightly different way. Read full review

Review: Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age

User Review  - S Brent - Goodreads

Excellent work, as might be expected from Bellah. Wish it had less of the academic "review of all other books on the subject" and more his own argument. The work on "play" is key, and its clear that he came to that too late. Needs to be rewritten (sigh) with play front and center. Read full review

Contents

1 Religion and Reality
1
2 Religion and Evolution
44
The Production of Meaning
117
Meaning and Power
175
God and King
210
Introduction and Ancient Israel
265
Ancient Greece
324
China in the Late First Millennium BCE
399
Ancient India
481
10 Conclusion
567
Notes
609
Index
715
Copyright

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About the author (2011)

Robert N. Bellah is Elliott Professor of Sociology Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley.

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