A systematic assessment of 'Axial Age' proposals using global comparative historical evidence

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Description: Proponents of the Axial Age contend that parallel cultural developments between 800 and 200 BCE in what is today China, Greece, India, Iran, and Israel-Palestine constitute the global historical turning point towards modernity. While the Axial Age concept is well-known and influential, deficiencies in the historical evidence and sociological analysis available have thwarted efforts to evaluate the Axial Age concept’s major global contentions. As a result, the Axial Age concept remains controversial. Seshat: Global History Databank provides new tools for examining this topic in social formations across Afro-Eurasia during the first two millennia BCE and first millennium CE, allowing scholars to empirically evaluate the many varied— and contrasting—claims put forward about this period. Our systematic investigation undercuts the notion of a specific 'age' of axiality limited to a specific geo-temporal localization. Critical traits offered as evidence of an axial transformation by proponents of the Axial Age concept are shown to have appeared across Afro-Eurasia hundreds and in some cases thousands of years prior to the proposed Axial Age. Our analysis raises important questions for future evaluations of this period and points the way towards empirically-led, historical-sociological investigations of the ideological and institutional foundations of complex societies.

License: CC-By Attribution 4.0 International

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