Religion, the Axial Age, and theoretic culture
I recently read the late Robert Bellah’s ‘Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age.’ Although the title of the book seems to narrow it to just religion, in ancient societies, religion was just about everything, so the book ended up being about the development of cultures, which isn’t too surprising given Bellah’s background in sociology.
One of the topics Bellah covers is Merlin Donald‘s concept of theoretic culture, that is culture that includes thinking about thinking. The idea is that world religions, philosophy, science, and other forms of relatively advanced thought are aspects of theoretic culture that developed during the Axial Age.
Bellah discusses different stages of cultural transmission. Each builds on the previous ones, with theoretic being the final one.
The earliest stage, which strictly speaking isn’t really cultural transmission but it’s a crucial building block, is episodic memory, that is remembering specific events…
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