Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ $3.99 shipping
The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions Hardcover – March 28, 2006
|New from||Used from|
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Having already recounted "a history of God," the redoubtable Armstrong here narrates the evolution of the religious traditions of the world from their births to their maturity. In her typical magisterial fashion, she chronicles these tales in dazzling prose with remarkable depth and judicious breadth. Taking the Axial Age, which spans roughly 900 B.C.E. to 200 B.C.E., as her focal point, Armstrong examines the ways that specific religious traditions from Buddhism and Confucianism to Taoism and Judaism responded to the various cultural forces they faced during this period. Overall, Armstrong observes, violence, political disruption and religious intolerance dominated Axial Age societies, so Axial religions responded by exalting compassion, love and justice over selfishness and hatred. Thus, the central Buddhist and Jain practice of ahimsa, doing no harm, developed in India in reaction to the self-centeredness of Hindu ritual, and Hebrew prophets such as Amos proclaimed that justice and mercy toward neighbors offered the only correct way of walking with God. Accounts of the world's religions often present them as discrete entities developing apart from each other in a vacuum. Armstrong's magnificent accomplishment offers us an account of a violent time much like ours, when religious impulses in various locations developed practices of justice and love. (Apr. 3)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From Bookmarks Magazine
If you've already written God's biography (A History of God), surely it's a cakewalk to tackle the era before His ascendancy in theological affairs. But making sense of four disparate cultures and religious traditions in the space of 400 pages proves to be a risky proposition for Armstrong. Critics agree that her central theme, "the gradual elimination of violence from religion" (New York Times), makes for compelling reading, as does her weaving together of similarities among disparate faiths. Though her analysis shines, many reviewers feel the book suffers from too broad a focus; centuries are foreshortened, and even her supporters feel her conclusion doesn't do the book justice. With classic titles like The Battle for God and Islam: A Short History in her bibliography, the "runaway nun" remains our preeminent writer on popular religion, but this tome might best be reserved for her hardcore followers.<BR>Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support?
Top Customer Reviews
Armstrong's topic in this book is the Axial Age - those seven centuries from 900BCE to 200BCE that were marked by violence and warfare. In four different regions of the world, four great theologies (or ideologies) arose specifically to oppose these violent trends:
China - Daoism and Confucianism
India - Hinduism and Buddhism
Palestine - Judaism, which led to Christianity and Islam
Greece - philosophical rationalism
In all four geographical regions, the initial teaching was of tolerance, love, and humane treatment of others - despite the tendency for some of these to evolve into something else. Each tradition formulated its own version of the Golden Rule because what mattered was how one acts - putting ethical behavior at the heart of the spiritual life. The original prophets never relied on dogma - their emphasis was consistently on compassion. "The consensus of these four areas is an eloquent testimony to the unanimity of the spiritual quest of the human race. The Axial peoples all found that the compassionate ethic worked."
When secondary prophets or philosophers did start to insist on obligatory doctrines, it was usually a sign that the movement was losing its momentum. In our religious institutions and their dogmas, we are at times creating the exact type of religiosity that the prophets from the Axial Age were trying to get rid of.
Armstrong follows the progress of the religious development of the four Axial peoples side by side, charting their progress, sometimes in fits and starts. According to the author, we have never surpassed the insights of the Axial Age. Each generation since has tried to adapt the original insights to their particular situation and that is our task today.
The following themes are apparent throughout:
1. God is made in man's image rather than the other way around. He is a projection of man's cultural needs, changing as culture evolves, and as new charismatic leaders present themselves.
2. Each tradition wrestled with Mythos versus Logos - the more mystical, spiritual, and tolerant approach versus the one more analytical and theological. An emphasis shift from a mystical, unknowable God to a more personal God has its advantages, but tends to allow intolerance and fundamentalism.
3. When concentrating on the similarities as to how humanity has always searched for God, they are more obvious than the differences.
Armstrong started life with a conservative faith which has changed over the years to a more liberal and mystical one in her quest for God, sans dogma. Many Christians have lived a similar scenario, yet maintained their original beliefs. This book is not a polemic, and I think most people of any faith would not be offended by her approach. In "The Great Transformation," Armstrong is her usual scholarly and convincing self, with insightful comments on every page that would be hard to find elsewhere. "Religion is like a raft," she has said, explaining the Buddhist view of it. "Once you get across the river, moor the raft and go on. Don't lug it with you if you don't need it any more."
In a series of well organized and clearly developed chapters Armstrong traces the development of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Greek philosophy, Confucianism, Daoism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Armstrong provides context for the developments of these thought systems by succinctly describing the troubles of the time: invasions, epidemics, and the ebb and flow of cultural diffusion and change. She then relates these problems to the developing thought systems and shows how their influence penetrated the minds of the seers, prophets, and philosophers who were at work throughout the turmoil. Most interestingly, she interconnects the ideas with each other, showing how similar circumstances and contacts created philosophies and religions which shared the same concerns and often advocated many of the same solutions.
The Great Transformation should be on the shelves of all who seek to better understand the origins of so much of our human cultural heritage.
The great German psychiatrist and philosopher Karl Jaspers first proposed the idea of an "Axial period" that ran from approximately 800 to 200 BCE. During this time all the fundamental creations that underlie our current civilization came into being. It was also during this time that four of the world's great religions and philosophical traditions emerged: Hinduism and Buddhism in India; Confucianism and Taoism in China; Monotheism in Israel, that eventually gave expression to Judaism, Christianity and Islam; and rationalism in Greece. Some experts - including Jaspers - included a fifth: Zoroastrianism in Persia. Most scholars now consider that Zoroastrianism emerged before the Axial period, so it is discussed in this book, but is not one of the four great strands.
Following Jaspers' lead, Karen Armstrong credits this six to seven hundred year period as the turning point in the development of human spiritual consciousness. She describes these developments as a reaction to political disintegration and religious intolerance that lead large numbers of people to turn away from their customary systems of ritual and worship, and instead to search for and to create new systems based on justice, compassion and love. This search provided the catalyst for major transformations in religious culture.
Though she is a scholar, Karen writes a clear and easily digestible account about the spiritual heart of each of these religious doctrines, and shows that they all have some things in common: primarily the need for compassion and love in overcoming violence, hatred and selfishness. All the great sages of the time from Socrates to some of the Old Testament prophets, the mystics of the Upanishads and the Buddha taught the central importance of personal responsibility and self-criticism, which had to be followed by practical. effective action.
Although a great step forward, the emergence of the ethics and religions of the Axial period was far from perfect. As the most glaring example, women were largely excluded from a significant place in most of these systems.
Karen's approach also begs another question: did religions emerge as a reaction to the times or had some people reached a point in their development where they were able to receive Divine guidance?
It is easy to see many of the parallels between the Axial period and the turmoil of today. Perhaps a return to the ethos of the time, in an evermore interconnected world, armed now with the cognitive and emotional insights of the last two thousand years, might help provide the guidelines for another great step forward along the spiritual path. And a way of dealing with some of the problems that threaten to engulf us.
As Karen Armstrong say, "In the last resort, "love" and "concern" will benefit everybody more than self-interested or shortsighted policies."
This book makes for absorbing and inspirational reading, and shows the importance of returning to the roots of our different faiths.