Axial Civilizations and World History

Axial Civilizations and World History

Axial Civilizations and World History

Axial Civilizations and World History

Synopsis

The overarching theme of the book is the historical meaning of the Axial Age, commonly defined as a period of several centuries around the middle of the last millennium BCE, and its cultural innovations. The civilizational patterns that grew out of this exceptionally creative phase are a particularly rewarding theme for comparative analysis. The book contains essays on cultural transformations in Ancient Greece, Ancient Israel, Iran, India and China, as well as background developments in the core civilizations of the Ancient Near East. An introductory section deals with the history of the debate on the AxialAge, the theoretical questions that have emerged from it, and the present state of the discussion. The book will be useful for comparative historians of cultures and religions, as well as for historical sociologists interested in the comparative analysis of civilizations. It should also help linking the fields of classical, biblical and Asian studies to broader interdisciplinary debates within the humanities sciences.

Excerpt

Axial or Axial Age civilizations (as wc shall see, the two variants have different connotations) have been central to a broader debate on civilizational themes and problems during the last two decades. The growing interest in civilizations and ways of comparing them can, in more general terms, be seen as an integral part of the “historical turn” that has opened up new horizons of social inquiry. In that context, new approaches to the Axial Age exemplify a more widespread effort to translate ideas inherited from the philosophy of history into the language of historical sociology. The notion of an Axial Age—a period of radical cultural transformations in several major civilizational centres, unfolding during four or five centuries around the middle of the last millennium BCE—can probably be traced back to the eighteenth century. The much more recent attempt to link this vision of a formative past to sociological perspectives gave rise to a discussion documented in important texts. Although the conferences and publications of the 1980s did much to clarify key issues, many central questions remained open; at the same time, further historical research on the cultures and traditions involved in Axial Age transformations has thrown light on previously unexplored aspects.

A new round of discussion took place at a conference in Florence in December 2001, organized under the joint auspices of the European University Institute, the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, and the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study in the Social Sciences. Most of the contributions to this volume were first presented there.

Sec Eisenstadl (1986, 1987 and 1992).

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