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The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions Hardcover – March 28, 2006
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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)
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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.
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If you want to understand the development of religious thinking, and more importantly, the cultural and historic setting for that development, I'd highly recommend this book. Just be prepared to spend the time needed. This is the third book I've read by this author and I've learned a lot from them.
Dr. Armstrong starts the book from when the first humans began to resemble an Axial movement. The book’s organization is a bit different from others, since each chapter encompasses a central theme rather than a certain people. Slowly but surely, the book starts to pick up and cover different messages for each period of time. For example, there is one chapter that discusses the notion of self-kenosis, which is the process of emptying all the thoughts from one’s mind and submitting to a divine will.
While I do wish that Armstrong could’ve organized each chapter or part by each separate culture, I do understand why she didn’t do so. It makes sense to want to see what each culture’s beliefs were at a certain time period. The supporting evidence was laid out well, and usually at the end of each chapter, she would relate the evidence to how significant it was to the Axial Age.
After reading this book, I can definitely say that I recommend “The Great Transformation” to anyone who is interested in seeing how early religions and philosophies were all intertwined in one form or another. It is a very interesting read, and Armstrong does a fantastic job with laying down her arguments and specifying certain areas of uncertainty.
I recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of religion. It is well written and well documented. It is an unbiased, historical accounting of the development of religion, not a novel. It is full of information that I found directly and indirectly affected my concept of spirituality.
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Karl Jung is not the one who coined the term Axial Age.Read more