Ideas That Shaped Our Modern World
Humans are a problem-solving animal. We evolve both physically and mentally in response to challenges, which enables us to move beyond our inheritance. Throughout history, religion has always played a part.
Contributing writer for this section: Sally Mallam
Stephen K. Sanderson
Throughout history, at least from Paleolithic times to the present day, religion plays a part in all human societies. Why is this? What drives this universal aspect of the human experience?
About 35,000 years ago, our ancestors first began to conceive of a tiered cosmos and to formulate rituals to engage influential forces above and below—an idea that has been with us ever since.
The relationship between people and their god(s) was of primary importance all over the world. As populations grew, settlements became cities. Order was achieved through religious hierarchy – priests and leaders ensured that they had access to “secrets” using religion to stay powerful.
It was a pivotal time in early human history when, in four distinct parts of the world, our ancestors began to reflect for the first time on individual responsibility and the meaning of life and death. The concept of one single God—to be worshipped not through ritual but through daily life—developed around personal transformation and responsibility.
Understanding how religious traditions evolved and intermingled sheds light on contemporary beliefs and rituals, the forces that shape human thought, and our mind’s great potential for change and development.
Like all the Axial prophets and teachers, his aim was spiritual revitalization—a new “kingdom” in which those who listened and followed could fulfill their potential and destiny.
The Roman Empire was a melting pot of cultures, each with its own stories, myths, legends and beliefs—many of which live on in contemporary Christian beliefs and ritual.
The decline in traditional values was an existential threat to his tribe. Muhammad’s insight was that social reform had to be based on a new spiritual foundation.
The Unseen World: The Rise of Gods and Spirits
The Institute for Cultural Research