Axial Age Thought

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.

  • Spiritual Foundations

  • Spiritual Foundations of Today

    From 900–200 BCE a new mode of thinking developed almost simultaneously in four distinct areas of the world. In each area this was a time of change, social unrest, and political upheaval.

  • Judaism

  • Birth of the Old Testament

    The Jewish oral tradition in its earliest times included stories absorbed and adapted from the whole region.

  • The Jewish People

    The Bible presents a problem as far as historical accuracy goes, mainly because it was never intended to be a literal history.

  • The Axial-Age Prophets

    Axial-Age prophets no longer saw Yahweh as a god of war, or one appeased by empty ritual, they emphasized a more individual relationship with Yahweh that involved individual responsibility, morality and justice.

  • The Babylonian Captivity

    In exile the Jews learned that Yahweh could be worshiped away from the Temple in Jerusalem, even in a foreign land. He could be worshipped in their way of life anywhere.

  • Hinduism

  • Axial age Thought: Hinduism

    The Hindus saw death as the passing of one’s own spirit into another new being, reincarnated in a continuous series of births, deaths and rebirths. Karma was like a physical law—what happens is a consequence of one’s own choice and behavior.

  • Buddhism

  • Axial age Thought: Buddhism

    Siddattha Gotama—the “Awakened One”—advised pupils not to accept anything simply because it is traditional or comes from sacred text or charismatic teacher. He emphasized the need to check one’s views, test ideas, and guard against the possibility of bias.

  • Zoroaster

  • Axial Age Thought: Zoroaster

    The prophet Zarathustra, known to the Greeks as Zoroaster, lived about 1200 BCE, three hundred years before Karl Jasper’s Axial Age, yet aspects of what he taught transformed Aryan beliefs in a way that anticipated the Axial Prophets.

  • Greece

  • Greece: The European Axial Age

    Something extraordinary in the history of humanity occurred 2500 years ago in Athens—they organized themselves into a radically democratic government.

  • The Peloponnesian War 431BC – 404BC

    By the second half of the fifth century Athens and Sparta emerged as the two most powerful states in Greece.

  • Religious Life in the Greek Axial Age

    Greek religion was part of the attempt to reinforce a common sense of purpose, civic cohesion, and community. Faith was a private matter, whereas religion was a public affair enacted for the good of all.

  • Religious Life in the Greek Axial Age (Part 2): The Mystery Cults

    Shrouded in secrecy, ancient mystery cults offered the Greeks – men, women, slaves and freemen - an opportunity to experience a personal mystical and transcendent experience.

  • The Panhellenic Games

    The agon, or contest, was at the center of life for the Greeks in their striving towards individual excellence, while preparing them both physically and mentally for conflict.

  • The Theater of Ancient Greece

    The idea of democracy was nurtured in the outdoor amphitheaters that dotted the hillsides throughout the many city-states of ancient Greece.

  • The Pre-Socratic Philosophers

    Against a background of continuous strife, innovative thinkers came from both the eastern and western regions of the Greek world.

  • Socrates (470–399 BCE)

    All that is known about Socrates, the Founder of Western Philosophy comes from the accounts of others: mainly the philosopher Plato and the historian Xenophon, who were both his pupils.

  • Aristotle (384–322 BCE)

    Aristotle’s works shaped centuries of philosophy from Late Antiquity through the Renaissance.

  • China

  • China

    Chinese Axial Age philosophers expressed a new ethic in response to social and cultural upheaval. Instead of simply serving our own interests or the interests of friends, family, clan and nation, we should accept responsibility for our own life, actions and thoughts.

  • The Spring and Autumn Period (770–476 BCE)

    This period took its title from The Spring and Autumn Annals, collections of sayings attributed to Confucius.

  • The Hundred Schools of Thought

    During the chaos and confusion of the bloody battles and the social disruption of the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States periods, a new and vital cultural and intellectual movement emerged that to this day profoundly influences the lifestyles and social consciousness of millions of people.

God 4.0

On the Nature of Higher Consciousness and the Experience Called “God”

By Robert Ornstein with Sally Ornstein

Review by Denise Winn
Contributing Writer

Countless research findings reveal the existence of a second network of cognition that transcends everyday consciousness. It is what people have tried to activate, from the earliest shaman-sages to Moses 3,500 years ago, to Jesus 2,000 years ago, to Muhammad 1,400 years ago, all the way up to the myriad of contemporary seekers. Read more 

A Contemporary Look at the Nature of Religious Experience

Review by George Kasabov
Contributing Writer

People can persuade themselves of anything. Many believe that death is a transition to a transcendental world, that miracles occur through the will of God, or that our lives are ruled by immaterial spirits. How is it that, in our scientific age, when we have learned so much about the evolution of the universe and the nature of life, so many still cling to such beliefs? Why is it that faith – belief in the unprovable – is considered a virtue?

Returning to the Spirit in “Sacred Nature”

By Farooq Chadhry

A review of Sacred Nature by Karen Armstrong

A staggering 33 million people have been internally displaced in Pakistan. Because climate change is likely to have played a role in the heavy rains, the displaced can be considered “climate refugees”— a term that the novelist Fatima Bhutto urges us remember, as we will all be impacted by climate change, and many of us will become migrants as a result, if we haven’t already.

Religious Evolution and the Axial Age

From Shamans to Priests to Prophets

Hardcover edition 2018

By Stephen K. Sanderson

Reported by Sally Mallam
Contributing Writer

Why are there are so many different types of religion and how and why has religion evolved over time? The answer lies in both our biological and our sociocultural evolution.

Further Reading