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

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

ISBN13: 9780674061439
ISBN10: 0674061438
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

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.

Review:

"In this magisterial effort, eminent sociologist of religion Bellah (Habits of the Heart) attempts nothing less than to show the ways that the evolution of certain capacities among humans provided the foundation for religion. He traces three stages of cultural evolution that give rise to various types of religion. Thus, mimetic culture was primarily gestural and nonverbal; dance might have been one of the earliest forms of such culture. Mythic culture arises as language develops and complex explanatory narratives emerge. Archaic religion evolves out of the capacity for mimesis and myth, but as society becomes more complex, religions attempt to clarify the differences between themselves, to question old narratives, and to call into question the old hierarchies in the name of spiritual and ethical universalism. Within this new theoretic culture, the great axial religions of the ancient Near East, China, Greece, and India combine the capacities for myth and ritual even as they develop the capacity to theorize. Bellah brings his thesis to life by illustrating profusely this development in each type of religion. Those with the stamina to trudge through Bellah's dense prose will be rewarded with a wealth of sparkling insights into the history of religion. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Book News Annotation:

Bellah (emeritus, sociology, U. of California-Berkeley) explores how religious observances change people's perception of the world, and argues that the change is intertwined with human evolution for as far back as there is evidence for it. He covers religion and reality; religion and evolution; the production of meaning in tribal religion; meaning and power in the shift from tribal to archaic religion; god and king in archaic religion; and the axial age in Israel, Greece, China, and India. Belnap Press in an imprint of Harvard University Press. Annotation ©2011 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Synopsis:

This ambitious book probes our biological past to discover the kinds of lives that human beings have imagined were worth living. Bellah's theory goes deep into cultural and genetic evolution to identify a range of capacities (communal dancing, storytelling, theorizing) whose emergence made religious development possible in the first millennium BCE.

Synopsis:

Robert Bellah is a 2000 National Humanities Medal Winner

Synopsis:

An ABC Australia Best Book on Religion and Ethics of the Year, 2011

About the Author

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

University of California, Berkeley

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

sporter, May 4, 2011 (view all comments by sporter)
This is a critical, historical sociology of religion of the highest order. It puts into perspective many of the questions many of us have about religion. I read this book in manuscript and whether you're secular or religious or a bit of both or neither, I highly recommend reading this book. Robert Bellah has been thinking about the topic at least since 1964 when he published "Religious Evolution" in the American Sociological Review. In a way, it's a general theory of religion; and he's been developing it for more than 40 years of a distinguished teaching and writing vocation at Harvard and the University of California at Berkeley. So the author has thought extraordinarily long and deeply about the topic. Bellah's approach is one that recognizes the importance but partial independence of all the variables: cultural, biological, social, political, economic, etc. This book is, in part, a work of critical retrieval - what in the traditions of ancient Israel, Greece, China, and India might speak to us today. It is also informed by an Enlightenment critique of tradition. It tells a very human and grand story. It helps us to understand - in wide perspective - where we've been and where we might be going. The book's in-depth understanding of the past holds a mirror up to our modern selves in a vivid comparative-historical perspective that illuminates our modernity and its meaning in a coherent, wholistic way.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780674061439
Author:
Bellah, Robert Neelly
Publisher:
Belknap Press
Author:
Bellah, Robert N.
Location:
Cambridge
Subject:
History
Subject:
World History-Ancient History
Subject:
Religion Comparative-General
Subject:
Social Science-Sociology of Religion
Subject:
HISTORY / Ancient/General
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Cloth
Publication Date:
20110915
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Language:
English
Pages:
784
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in

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Related Subjects


History and Social Science » World History » Ancient History
History and Social Science » World History » General
Religion » Comparative Religion » General
Religion » Western Religions » Social and Political Issues

Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age New Hardcover
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$39.95 In Stock
Product details 784 pages Belknap Press - English 9780674061439 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "In this magisterial effort, eminent sociologist of religion Bellah (Habits of the Heart) attempts nothing less than to show the ways that the evolution of certain capacities among humans provided the foundation for religion. He traces three stages of cultural evolution that give rise to various types of religion. Thus, mimetic culture was primarily gestural and nonverbal; dance might have been one of the earliest forms of such culture. Mythic culture arises as language develops and complex explanatory narratives emerge. Archaic religion evolves out of the capacity for mimesis and myth, but as society becomes more complex, religions attempt to clarify the differences between themselves, to question old narratives, and to call into question the old hierarchies in the name of spiritual and ethical universalism. Within this new theoretic culture, the great axial religions of the ancient Near East, China, Greece, and India combine the capacities for myth and ritual even as they develop the capacity to theorize. Bellah brings his thesis to life by illustrating profusely this development in each type of religion. Those with the stamina to trudge through Bellah's dense prose will be rewarded with a wealth of sparkling insights into the history of religion. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Synopsis" by , This ambitious book probes our biological past to discover the kinds of lives that human beings have imagined were worth living. Bellah's theory goes deep into cultural and genetic evolution to identify a range of capacities (communal dancing, storytelling, theorizing) whose emergence made religious development possible in the first millennium BCE.
"Synopsis" by , Robert Bellah is a 2000 National Humanities Medal Winner
"Synopsis" by , An ABC Australia Best Book on Religion and Ethics of the Year, 2011
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