Stephen K. Sanderson. Religious Evolution and the Axial Age: From Shamans to Priests to Prophets (Bloomsbury, 2017).
Religious Evolution and the Axial Age: From Shamans to Priests to Prop
hets is devoted to describing and explaining the evolution of religion over the past ten millennia. The volume shows that during this time an overall evolutionary sequence can be observed, running from the spirit- and shaman-dominated religions of small-scale societies to the archaic religions of the ancient civilizations and then to the salvation religions of the Axial Age.
Stephen K. Sanderson draws on ideas from the new cognitive and evolutionary psychological theories, as well as comparative religion, anthropolog
y, history, and sociology. He argues that religion is a biological adaptation that evolved in order to solve a number of human problems, especially those concerned with existential anxiety and ontological insecurity.
Much of the focus is on the Axial Age, the period in the second half of the fi
rst millennium BCE that marked the greatest religious transformation in world history. The book shows that as a result of massive increases in the scale and scope of war and large-scale urbanization, the problems of existential anxiety and ontological insecurity became particularly acute. Ultimately, Sanderson argues that new religions emphasizing salvation and release from suffering-Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism-arose to cope with the changing religious needs.