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

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

Religion in Human Evolution is a work of extraordinary ambition--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's treatment of the four great civilizations of the Axial Age--in ancient Israel, Greece, China, and India--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.

Title:Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age
Edition Language:English
ISBN:9780674061439
Format Type:

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

  • ka?yap

    A comprehensive historical analysis of human religion and thought, starting with the animal play and ending with the axial age breakthroughs. The major evolutionary theme being the development from th...

  • Michael Brady

    This is strong piece of work. Bellah has assembled an imposing cathedral drawing brick by brick from cosmology, paleontology, archeology, biology, neurology, anthropology, mythology, philosophy, theol...

  • Thomas Ray

    A history of human civilization, and religion's place in it. Small hunter-gatherer tribes have powerful beings that people identify with, whose aspects people take on during rituals. Only when human s...

  • Simon Lavoie

    Robert Bellah has a strong reach in contemporary sociology and social sciences. Among other things, his cultural analysis of American society is renown for having both sustained and strengthen Tocquev...

  • Gokhan Balaban

    For the person who understands it, reading Aristotle’s Metaphysics can set off a subliminal dance.Robert BellahIn an important sense, all culture is one: human beings today owe something to every cu...

  • Megan

    This is a dense book intended for the serious scholar instead of general readers.If you’re interested in Religious Studies, this book studies why religion is a universal human phenomenon, found in a...

  • Mohammed Khogir

    I have a debated long on how to write a review of this book and came up with nothing but jumbled thoughts. This is truly a work to stand in front with nothing but awe. I cannot over-emphasize how much...

  • Jim Parker

    This book takes much effort to read but the reader is rewarded, at least in my case, with a much improved understanding of how religion and society have changed together through the part of history co...

  • Miriam

    The grand sweep of the book is breathtaking. Unfortunately, Bellah fell into the trap of authors who have enjoyed their research too much -- it was largely descriptive and did not live up to its analy...

  • Wing

    Thirteen years in the making, and finished two years prior to his death, Professor Bellah's 600-page tome is, I think, a contemplation on the tension between the universalistic and the particularistic...