Some notes from Robert Bellah’s fascinating work  on civilization between ca. 600 BCE and 400 BCE.

Primitive religion: The whole community, or a large part of it, participate in ritual.



Archaic religion: The ritual focuses on one person, the divine or quasi-divine king, and only a few

members of thre top royal or priestly elite participate.

The elevation of ancient kings and ancient gods to previously unknown status went hand in hand.



In the archaic epoch, the cosmos was still viewed as a state, and humanity, nature and supernature were still all connected. But now the elevation of the kingly/priestly class, as well as the gods, began to create social imbalances.

In the archaic age, the first cracks in the immutable divine backing of the king began to appear, but in the axial age, ideas such as “we can replace a wicked king” became possible.

The axial age is roughly 600 BCE — 400 BCE.

“… Included the China of Confucius and Lao-Tse, the India of Buddha, the Iran of Zoroaster, the Palestine of the Prophets and the Greece of the philosophers, the tragedians and the historians.” — Arnaldo Momigliano, Alien Wisdom: The Limits of Hellenization, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1975, pp. 8-9.


The association between king and god remains (from the archaic age), but they get transformed in remarkable new ways during the axial age.

Examples of the way in which the old connection was reaffirmed in strange new ways:

Socrates, Confucius, the Buddha, Cyrus, Jesus and Mohammed were kings but not (normal) kings (Cyrus was “anointed” in the Heilsgeschichte even though he was a pagan king).

Nothing is ever lost!

Karl Theodor Jaspers (February 23, 1883 – February 26, 1969) was a German psychiatrist and philosopher who had a strong influence on modern theology, psychiatry and philosophy.



Eric Voegelin: Don’t immanentize the eschaton!





Shmuel Noah Eisenstadt (Hebrew: שמואל נח אייזנשטדט) (born September 10, 1923 in Warsaw) is an Israeli sociologist. In 1959 he was appointed to a teaching post in the sociology department of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.


Merlin Wilfred Donald (born November 17, 1939) is a Canadian psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist, and a researcher, educator, and author in the corresponding fields.


Jerome Seymour Bruner (born October 1, 1915) is an American psychologist who has contributed to cognitive psychology and cognitive learning theory in educational psychology, as well as to history and to the general philosophy of education. Bruner is currently a senior research fellow at the New York University School of Law.

  1. Narrative diachronicity: The notion that narratives take place over some sense of time.
  2. Particularity: The idea that narratives deal with particular events, although some events may be left vague and general.
  3. Intentional state entailment: The concept that characters within a narrative have "beliefs, desires, theories, values, and so on" (7).
  4. Hermeneutic composability: The theory that narratives are that which can be interpreted in terms of their role as a selected series of events that constitute a "story." See also Hermeneutics
  5. Canonicity and breach: The claim that stories are about something unusual happening that "breaches" the canonical (i.e. normal) state.
  6. Referentiality: The principle that a story in some way references reality, although not in a direct way; narrative truth can offer verisimilitude but not verifiability.
  7. Genericness: The flip side to particularity, this is the characteristic of narrative whereby the story can be classified as a genre.
  8. Normativeness: The observation that narrative in some way supposes a claim about how one ought to act. This follows from canonicity and breach.
  9. Context sensitivity and negotiability: Related to hermeneutic composability, this is the characteristic whereby narrative requires a negotiated role between author or text and reader, including the assigning of a context to the narrative, and ideas like suspension of disbelief.
  10. Narrative accrual: Finally, the idea that stories are cumulative, that is, that new stories follow from older ones.

Having fun discussing Robert Bellah’s ‘Religious Evolution’


(From Beyond Belief)

Prof. Robert N.  Bellah
Department of Sociology
University of California
Berkeley, California



Quote of the Day:
In matters of conscience, the law of the majority has no place.
–“Mahatma” Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

(p.20) What were the preconditions for the systematically scientific study of religion?

By the time of Hegel, religion had been brought back into philosophical speculation.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (August 27, 1770 – November 14, 1831) was a German philosopher, and along with Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, one of the creators of German idealism.

Hegel developed a comprehensive philosophical framework, or “system”, to account in an integrated and developmental way for the relation of mind and nature, the subject and object of knowledge, and psychology, the state, history, art, religion, and philosophy.

By the time of Henry Thomas Buckle, the study of history had been enlarged to include culture and the history of civilization.
Henry Thomas Buckle (24 November 182129 May 1862) was an English historian, author of a History of Civilization


ABOUT EVOLUTION (Bellah, Religious Evolution p. 21(b)

Evolution should be about increasing differentiation and complexity to increase the organism’s (social structure) chances of survival.

AND NOW: Bellah’s Definition of Religion!

A set of symbolic forms and acts that relate humans to the ultimate conditions of their existence

p. 21(c) What is it that evolves?

Neither humanity, not God, but the complexity of the
religion as a symbol system.

He gives an example: Christianity, Judaism and Islam have evolved more complex symbolic representations of God than other, primitive, monotheistic religions.

NEXT: The massive facts of religious evolution

p.22: From about one millennium BCE: Religious rejection of the world

Ancient Greece, Israel, Japan and China

“He who has got rid, as far as he can, of eyes and ears and, so to speak, of the whole body, these being in his opinion distracting elements when they associate with the soul hinder her from acquiring truth and knowledge–who, if not he, is likely to attain to the knowledge of true being?” (Plato: Phaedo, 65e-66a) It lasted for 2000 years.

p.23 b Contrast this with the absence of world rejection before the fist millennium BCE and in the modern world.

[NOW PLAYING ON iTUNES: Uwe Gronostay; Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, RIAS Chamber Chorus, Edith Wiens – soprano – Mozart Musical Masterpieces – Requiem, K626: Requiem æternam]

Three presuppositions about the evolution of religions:

Religious symbolizations become more differentiated over time.

Conceptions of action, the actors, religious organizations, and the place of religion in society change in ways related to the changes in symbolization.

Religious evolution is also related to other sociocultural evolutionary changes.



I. Primitive Religion

II. Archaic Religion

III. Historic Religion

IV. Early Modern Religion

V. Modern Religion


Religious symbol system: Le Monde Mythique (Lévy-Bruhl). Australian: The Dreaming (Stanner). Time is “everywhen.” Mythical characters are ancestral figures (human and animal) who do mighty deeds, but they are not worshiped as gods.

Two main features of primitive religion

The features of the mythical world are related to the modern world to a high degree.

The organization of the symbol structure of primitive religions is extremely fluid (cf. “The Dreaming.”)

The Dinka are a group of tribes of south Sudan, inhabiting the Bahr el Ghazal region of the Nile basin, Jonglei and parts of southern Kordufan and Upper Nile regions. They are mainly agro-pastoral people, relying on cattle herding at riverside camps in the dry season and growing millet (Awuou) and other varieties of grains (rap) in fixed settlements during the rainy season.

Other Features of Primitive Religion

· Religious organization does not exist as a separate social structure. Church and society are one.

· Religious roles are fused with daily roles.

· Life is a “one possibility thing” – Stanner.

Emeritus Professor W.E.H. “Bill” Stanner was an Australian anthropologist who worked extensively with Indigenous Australians and played an important role in establishing the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. He also led the North Australia Observation Unit (NAOU), the “Nackeroos” or “Curtin’s Cowboys” formed in March 1942 and disbanded March 1945, they patrolled northern Australia for signs of enemy activity.

Born: 1905

Died: 1981


Not only Greece and Rome, but also Africa, Polynesia, India, China.


Features of Archaic Religion

Emergence of a true cult with priests, gods, worship, and sacrifice. Sometimes divine of priestly kingship.

Mythical beings are more objectified. They can control the human and natural world. They have become gods.

Religious action takes the form of cult. Worship and especially sacrifice is the communication medium between humans and gods.

Historic Religion

· Judaism, Islam.

· Dualistic – element of transcendence

· Dualism – difference between this life and life after death

· God has neither court, nor relatives, nor His own myth.

· Humans are now not bound by tribe or clan, not by the god they serve, but by the fact that they are capable of salvation.

· Historic religion convicts humans of a basic flaw – indifference toward God.

· Society split between religious and political organizations.

· Emergence of a religious elite.


· The Reformation broke through mediated salvation and made salvation available to any human being.

· The symbology concentrates on a direct relationship between the human and transcendent reality.

· Religious action become the whole of life.

· It rejects papal authority and the two class system: the two classes now are the elect and the reprobates.

+ 2 Modern Religion

The destruction wrought by Immanuel Kant.

· Religion is now grounded in the structure of the human condition.(Use in thesis).p.40

· This paper (Bellah’s) is a symptom of this condition.

· Schleiermacher and liberal theology.

· Barth was simply a reactionary.

· But Tillich, Bonhoeffer and Bultmann took up the challenge.