- Hardcover: 784 pages
- Publisher: Belknap Press (Sept. 15 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674061438
- ISBN-13: 978-0674061439
- Product Dimensions: 17.1 x 5.1 x 24.1 cm
- Shipping Weight: 1 Kg
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #299,461 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age Hardcover – Oct 15 2011
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This book is the opus magnum of the greatest living sociologist of religion. Nobody since Max Weber has produced such an erudite and systematic comparative world history of religion in its earlier phases. Robert Bellah opens new vistas for the interdisciplinary study of religion and for global inter-religious dialogue. (Hans Joas, The University of Chicago and the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies, Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg)
This is an extraordinarily rich book based on wide-ranging scholarship. It contains not just a host of individual studies, but is informed with a coherent and powerful theoretical structure. There is nothing like it in existence. Of course, it will be challenged. But it will bring the debate a great step forward, even for its detractors. And it will enable other scholars to build on its insights in further studies of religion past and present. (Charles Taylor, author of A Secular Age and Dilemmas and Connections)
Robert Bellah's <i>Religion in Human Evolution</i> is the most important systematic and historical treatment of religion since Hegel, Durkheim, and Weber. It is a page-turner of a bildungsroman of the human spirit on a truly global scale, and should be on every educated person's bookshelves. Bellah breathes new life into critical universal history by making ancient China and India indispensable parts of a grand narrative of human religious evolution. The generosity and breadth of his empathy and curiosity in humanity is on full display on every page. One will never see human history and our contemporary world the same after reading this magnificent book. (Yang Xiao, Kenyon College)
This great book is the intellectual harvest of the rich academic life of a leading social theorist who has assimilated a vast range of biological, anthropological, and historical literature in the pursuit of a breathtaking project. Robert Bellah first searches for the roots of ritual and myth in the natural evolution of our species and then follows with the social evolution of religion up to the Axial Age. In the second part of his book, he succeeds in a unique comparison of the origins of the handful of surviving world-religions, including Greek philosophy. In this field I do not know of an equally ambitious and comprehensive study. (Jürgen Habermas)
<i>Religion in Human Evolution</i> is a work of remarkable ambition and breadth. The wealth of reference which Robert Bellah calls upon in support of his argument is breath-taking, as is the daring of the argument itself. A marvellously stimulating book. (John Banville, novelist)
Bellah's reexamination of his own classic theory of religious evolution provides a treasure-chest of rich detail and sociological insight. The evolutionary story is not linear but full of twists and variations. The human capacity for religion begins in the earliest ritual gatherings involving emotion, music and dance, producing collective effervescence and shared narratives that give meaning to the utilitarian world. But ritual entwines with power and stratification, as chiefs vie with each other over the sheer length, expense, and impressiveness of ritual. Archaic kingdoms take a sinister turn with terroristic rituals such as human sacrifices exalting the power of god and ruler simultaneously. As societies become more complex and rulers acquire organization that relies more on administration and taxation than on sheer impressiveness and terror, religions move towards the axial breakthrough into more abstract, universal and self-reflexive concepts, elevating the religious sphere above worldly goods and power. Above all, the religions of the breakthrough become ethicized, turning against cruelty and inequality and creating the ideals that eventually will become those of more just and humane societies. Bellah deftly examines the major historical texts and weighs contemporary scholarship in presenting his encompassing vision. (Randall Collins, author of The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change)
In this magisterial effort, eminent sociologist of religion Bellah attempts nothing less than to show the ways that the evolution of certain capacities among humans provided the foundation for religion...[Readers] will be rewarded with a wealth of sparkling insights into the history of religion. (Publishers Weekly 2011-08-08)
Bellah's book is an interesting departure from the traditional separation of science and religion. He maintains that the evolving worldviews sought to unify rather than to divide people. Poignantly, it is upon these principles that both Western and Eastern modern societies are now based. What strikes the reader most powerfully is how the author connects cultural development and religion in an evolutionary context. He suggests that cultural evolution can be seen in mimetic, mythical, and theoretical contexts. (Brian Renvall Library Journal 2011-08-01)
<i>Religion in Human Evolution</i> is not like so many other "science and religion" books, which tend to explain away belief as a smudge on a brain scan or an accident of early hominid social organization. It is, instead, a bold attempt to understand religion as part of the biggest big picture--life, the universe, and everything...One need not believe in intelligent design to look for embryonic traces of human behavior on the lower rungs of the evolutionary ladder. [Bellah's] attempt to do just that, with the help of recent research in zoology and anthropology, results in a menagerie of case studies that provide the book's real innovation. Not only the chimps and monkeys evoked by the word "evolution" in the title, but wolves and birds and iguanas all pass through these pages. Within such a sundry cast, Bellah searches for a commonality that may give some indication of where and when the uniquely human activity of religion was born. What he finds is as intriguing as it is unexpected...Bellah is less concerned with whether religion is right or wrong, good or bad, perfume or mustard gas, than with understanding what it is and where it comes from, and in following the path toward that understanding, wherever it may lead...In a perfect world, the endless curiosity on display throughout <i>Religion in Human Evolution</i> would set the tone for all discussions of religion in the public square. (Peter Manseau Bookforum 2011-09-01)
Ever since Darwin, the theory of evolution has been considered the deadly enemy of religious belief; the creation of Adam and Eve and the process of natural selection simply do not go together. In <i>Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age</i>, the sociologist Robert Bellah offers a new, unexpected way of reconciling these opposites, using evolutionary psychology to argue that the invention of religious belief played a crucial role in the development of modern human beings. (Barnes and Noble Review 2011-09-14)
About the Author
Robert N. Bellah was Elliott Professor of Sociology, Emeritus, at the University of California, Berkeley.
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Religion in Human Evolution is his last œuvre . It is a truly ambitious, remarkable piece of work spawning 13 years of effort.
Chapters 1 & 2 set a broad perspective that discard prior, taken for granted, distinctions (prehistory/history, animal/human, nature/culture). Bellah gives some glimpses on Big Bang Theory and emergence of life scenario ; then contrasts atomistic-pessimistic and emergentist-optimists cosmologies, and merges many stimulating bio-psycho-cultural concepts and hypothesis (niche construction, shared intention and attention, cooperative breeding, nurturance, animal play, enactive and narrative-self, unitive experience).
Chapters 3-9 carefully recollects rituals, myths and narratives, gathered from (roughly) the world over, that coincide with tribal (mimetic), chiefdom, archaic state (mythic), and axial (theoretic) religions.
Tribal-mimetic ones are reconstructed through the ethnographic studies of the Kalapalo (Brazil), Najavo (North America), and Warlbiri (Australia). Bellah shows how the durkheimian collective effervescence bolstered by rituals can rightfully be linked with gestural, prelinguistic communication. Danse, music and transe-state recapture the ways of Powerful Beings, by the mimesis of which group members gathers qua group members, going beyond the ordinary clivages (households and lineages) that pervade their day-to-day life.
Mythic cultures are reconstructed through the recollection of Polynesian cultures (Tokopia and Hawai'i), and of ancient Mesopotamian, Egyptian and Chines cultures (Zhang and west Zou China). While mimetic, tribal cultures were egalitarian (or reverse-hierarchical, following Christoph Boem) – everyone participated in rituals and their preparation – the mythic stage shows the opposite. Only chiefs or priests perform rituals, in separate space. While gestural, music and danse still animate rituals in lineages and tribes, these no longer hold the day at the polity level. Secret speechs and formulas, sustained by sacrifice (be it of animals or of human) and by impressive constructions (temples or graves), underline and magnify the separateness of the Gods and of their human counterparts. Myths are narrative about the advent of order as it currently stands; its advent through the first, distant cohabitation of powerfull-god beings with human, cohabitation where sacred skills and knowledge where transmitted, cohabitation latter to be disrupted by a catastrophe (war, dispute, betrayal). Myths are global, pervasive way to see and act in the world, to produce and reproduce its order. A thinking where things stands in the words and representations itself (god is the word god – at least what is left of it after the orignal split ; saying is doing).
Axial age religions are reconstructed through the studies of ancient Isreal and Judea, of Greece, of India and China in the first millenium before common era. Whereas, in a way that recall Thom Scott-Phillips' argument against Chomsky, ancient cultures appear to be full of ambiguous terms, that hold for countless entities and processes, axial ones are still ambiguity-ridden, but overal, they are on the verge of a collapse toward specializing in many bounded meaning systems (our current iron cage). Axial age is about a legitimation crisis of the state, brought by a universal ethics, detached of hierarchical particularisms, and by theoretic thinking (logical thinking about thinking, propelled in large part by writing).
Preceded by a breakdown of kingdoms through invasion and conquest (echoing Peter Turchin) axial age's breakpoint is said to have been posthumous, brought by detached intellectuals, renouncers, who have lived like homeless and mendicant (Buddha, Parmenide, Plato, Aristotle, the isrealite prophets, Confucious' pupils – who where closer to office clerks). Seeing the social whole as if from the outside, preaching the formation of totally new individuals that can both disrupt the current order of things as it stands, and fit the universal dimension of moral (the Heaven mandate, the Dharma, the Reason, the Being, the Will of God), such is the Axial age legacy. Forming niches of believers (church, schools, universities), apart from the ordinary – day to day work and sleep, free to entertain and nourish their faith in such an advent of the moral realm without transgressing the order, is one of axial age's consequences.
Chapter 10 is tatamount to Bellah admitting the fact that justifies the blend of admiration and lack of enthusiasm I feel towards . It fall shorts of working its empirical data (maybe not 3-9 but 4-9) following its thrilling perspective (chapter 1 & 2). Bellah admits of not having had enough time to work things out as intentend (niche construction, organism-steered evolution, new cooperation modes, and the like). The link with animal-play (see below) and the religious field is thin – only the images of gods as nurturant are there to recall. Chapter 10 makes justice to this hypothesis of a relaxed field prompted by nurturance and play. On another plan, it verses in a kind of dull acceptance of religious pluralism counteracted by an ecological anxiety (for the 6th extinction that still rages since 100 000, that is, since homo erectus began to make weapon and drive large mammal extinct wherever he go).
I shall be fair in saying that this book goes far beyond the ordinary, typological, abstracted-from-prior abstractions, way that sociologists build meta-narratives. So its lack could be seen as an asset. Bellah certainly do not force datas to comply with one model / hypothesis. Few if any of the ethnographic and literrary cases studied can be said to match clearly with the cultural-cognitive stages borrowed from Merlin Donald (mimetic, mythic, theoretic). Bellah let the variability and in-betweenness nature of animal-human-social facts stands in their own throughout. That may be memorization and abstract un-friendly, but it is honnest and exemplar of a good humanistic science.
Robert Bellah (1927 -- 2013) taught sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, and wrote extensively about the sociology of religion. His "Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic To the Axial Age" is, as Taylor described it, a "trailblazing" work with many insights, the chief of which, for me, was the importance it found in play. Bellah wrote the book over a 13 year period, and it displays astonishing erudition. The book is cross-disciplinary with lengthy, detailed considerations of psychology, cosmology, evolutionary theory, sociology, philosophy, and history, among much else. The book is long, difficult, insightful, and difficult to pin down. It seems to wander and get sidetracked and it is easy to lose the thread of the discussion. The subject of play is discussed in the first several chapters of the book before Bellah, by his own admission, loses sight of its importance in the latter chapters only to return to the subject in his lengthy conclusion, which is far more than a summation of the material that came before.
Bellah offers several provisional definitions of religion, including a definition derived from Emil Durkheim: "religion is a system of beliefs and practices relative to the sacred that unite those who adhere to them in a moral community." But a major theme of the book is the complexity of religion: Bellah argues that religions, in part, grow from their particular cultural settings. The nature of religion can best be seen at the end of a long study rather than at the beginning. Among the goals of the book, shared with the work of Charles Taylor and many others, is exploring the nature of religion in an age where some people believe that science is the sole means of legitimate knowledge. Bellah, of course, fully accepts science. The burden of his book is to argue against scientific reductionism, whether to physics or biology, in favor of an emergentism in which more complex forms of life acquire their own capacities which cannot be reduced simply to the movement or atoms or other component factors. So too, Bellah argues against a hard determinism in favor of the possibility that emerging forms of life gradually develop certain possibilities for free action. The possibility of play comes to the forefront. In the opening chapter of the book, "Religion and Reality" Bellah develops a pivotal distinction between the life of the everyday -- driven by the needs of survival- and a world beyond this pragmatic needs of daily life. As Bellah states, "one of the first things to be noticed about the world of daily life is that nobody can stand to live in it all the time." (p.3) This insight and the entire opening chapter are critical to the book's argument.
Roughly the first half of the book explores the development of religion and ritual through insights derived from psychology and biology. This approach might seem to give a naturalistic tenor to Bellah's approach but that is not his goal. The argument still becomes difficult in places.
After exploring the development of religious impulses through psychology and biology, Bellah turns to show how religion develops in different types of societies. He explores many individual societies and types of societies with a great display of specifics and learning. He examines egalitarian hunter-gathering societies and moves on to large "archaic" societies such as the Kingdom of Hawaii just before European contact or the Kingdom of Egypt. Broadly, Bellah argues that in these early, highly structured archaic states there is a connection and a unity between the political and the divine. The distinctions that moderns tend to make do not develop until later.
The heart of the book consists of four long chapters about the "Axial Age" of about the fifth century B.C.E where four different cultures worked in different ways towards a separation of the human and the divine that remain pivotal to the way we understand ourselves. The four cultures are 1. Ancient Israel; 2. Ancient Greece, 3. China in the Late First Millenium BCE and 4. Ancient India. In each case, Bellah examines in detail the growth of separate, critical way of though from an earlier archaic culture in which religion was not clearly differentiated from human rule. Among the many points Bellah makes is that each case is different and understands religion differently. He wants to argue ultimately for a pluralistic approach to religious life in which individuals can learn from others without thinking that their approach to religion is the best or the only way.
The discussions of the four "Axial Age" cultures are lengthy but a joy to read. There is much to be learned from Bellah's explorations of the Hebrew prophets, Confucius and Mencius, the Buddha in the texts of Theravada Buddhism and the extensive writings of the Hindus both before and after the Buddha, and of the Greek tragedians and --perhaps the figure closest to Bellah's heart -- Plato. With all the discussion which includes history, philosophy, and religion, the biological and psychological discussions in the earlier part of the book seem to get lost, as does the importance Bellah has ascribed to play. The book seems to me to become disjointed and more convincing in parts than as a unified whole.
I learned a great deal from Bellah's insights into cultures that I have studied to some degree -- the Greeks, Indians, and Ancient Israelites -- and about the Chinese, with which I was less familiar. Bellah argues that there are different ways of understanding reality, both the reality studied by science and the reality studied by culture and religion which differ among themselves. He writes early in the book, describing his project: as a "history of histories and a story of stories":
"I have become involved with many of the stories I recount to the point of at least partial conversion. In the extensive work that went into the four chapters dealing with the axial age .... I found myself morose as I completed each chapter, having come to live in a world I didn't want to leave but wanted to go on learning more about. Another way of putting it is that in each case I was learning more about myself and the world I live in. After all, that's what stories do." (p.45-46).
Bellah's book shows a life long love of history, learning, and of different forms of religious feeling and thought. From the earliest to the latest cultures, a theme of the book is that "nothing is ever lost."' If the book is less than fully cohesive, it is an inspiring work which rekindled my own love of the cultures and thinking it describes and encouraged me to learn more. Readers with a serious interest in religion will both struggle with and benefit from Bellah's book.
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I was SO not disappointed! Sociologist Bellah, in what he calls his master work, brings in many fully attributed scholarly understandings as he builds a coherent argument for the development of religious practice and thought from the very beginning of humanity, through tribal (mimetic ritual), then archaic (mythic ritual), then axial phases of development, with detailed discussions of exemplar societies. Bellah's genius, for me, is his ability to pull all this seemingly disparate information into a unified whole, a vision of how humanity came to this point.
Basically, once I started this, I have not been able to put it down, fascinated by his theory and his examples, as well as by the resultant evolutionary process. I'm up to the Greeks' axial advancements, greatly anticipating his discussions of India and China to round it all out, and wanted to let other readers know that it's a marvelous read.