Concept

Axial Age

Summary
Axial Age (also Axis Age, from the German Achsenzeit) is a term coined by the German philosopher Karl Jaspers. It refers to broad changes in religious and philosophical thought that occurred in a variety of locations from about the 8th to the 3rd century BC. According to Jaspers, during this period, universalizing modes of thought appeared in Persia, India, China, the Levant, and the Greco-Roman world, in a striking parallel development, without any obvious admixture between these disparate cultures. Jaspers identified key thinkers from this age who had a profound influence on future philosophies and religions, and identified characteristics common to each area from which those thinkers emerged. The historical validity of the Axial Age is disputed. Some criticisms of Jasper's include the lack of a demonstrable common denominator between the intellectual developments that are supposed to have emerged in unison across ancient Greece, the Levant, India, and China; lack of any radical discontinuity with "preaxial" and "postaxial" periods; and exclusion of pivotal figures that do not fit the definition (for example, Jesus, Muhammad, and Akhenaten). Despite these criticisms, the Axial Age continues to be an influential idea, with many scholars accepting that profound changes in religious and philosophical discourse did indeed take place but disagreeing as to the underlying reasons. To quote Robert Bellah and Hans Joas, "The notion that in significant parts of Eurasia the middle centuries of the first millennium BC mark a significant transition in human cultural history, and that this period can be referred to as the Axial Age, has become widely, but not universally, accepted." Jaspers introduced the concept of an Axial Age in his book Vom Ursprung und Ziel der Geschichte (The Origin and Goal of History), published in 1949. The simultaneous appearance of thinkers and philosophers in different areas of the world had been remarked by numerous authors since the 18th century, notably by the French Indologist Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron.
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