Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age (Hardcover)

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ITEM# 13509386
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ITEM#: 13509386

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.


ISBN 9780674061439
Genre RELIGION / History
Format Hardcover
Pages 746
Publisher Date 2011-09-15 00:00:00.0
Publisher Belknap Pr
Copyright Year 2011
Height 9.5 in
Wdth 6.75 in
Thickness 2.0 in
Unit weight 2.55 lb
Language English
Subtitle From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age
Audience College/higher education
Authors Bellah, Robert Neelly
Country of Origin United States

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  • Very fascinating book
    Verified Purchase

    This book is enormous. It is very academic. I don't think it's possible to read this kind of book with understanding while listening to any type of music, excepting classical. I expect that this book will appeal primarily to the pale-faced library-dwelling researchers active in this field. Nonetheless, the book is, I think, accessible to any normal human in possession of patience and an interest in various human norms and the rather significant role that religion has played in their development (wait did I write that backwards?). I have not completed a reading of this book from cover to cover but it is quite clear to me that the enormous page count is justified. In his discussion, the author defines terms carefully and quite impressively, in my opinion, discusses the many different (though themselves interrelated) conceivable variables that have affected the development of a number of major cultural traditions. I like this book. I anticipate enjoying it as food for thought for years to come. I'm sure the scholar's have serious opinions about this book and it's perceived inadequacies but I'm - at best - a plebeian with respect to these matters and I couldn't be happier having it as an thorough and well-written reference on my shelf.

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