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Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age

4.02  ·  Rating Details ·  241 Ratings  ·  26 Reviews
"Religion in Human Evolution" is a work of extraordinary ambition a wide-ranging, nuanced probing of our biological past to discover the kinds of lives that human beings have most often imagined were worth living. It offers what is frequently seen as a forbidden theory of the origin of religion that goes deep into evolution, especially but not exclusively cultural evolutio ...more
Hardcover, 1st edition, 776 pages
Published September 15th 2011 by Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
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A comprehensive historical analysis of human religion and thought, starting with the animal play and ending with the axial age breakthroughs. The major evolutionary theme being the development from the mimetic to mythic and narrative to the theoretic stage of the axial age. The ability to construct narratives that ultimately led to the development of “theoretic culture”.

More of a descriptive work rather than an analytic one, he considers the religious development from tribal to archaic to axial
Michael Brady
Mar 29, 2012 Michael Brady rated it liked it
This is strong piece of work. Bellah has assembled an imposing cathedral drawing brick by brick from cosmology, paleontology, archeology, biology, neurology, anthropology, mythology, philosophy, theology, politics, and literature to address the role of religion in human history. I found it very challenging to read and remain engaged with - it took me five months to complete its 606 pages - but I think it will sink in and become part of my thinking on the issues examined.
Thomas Ray
Jan 30, 2017 Thomas Ray rated it it was amazing
A history of human civilization, and religion's place in it. Small hunter-gatherer tribes have powerful beings that people identify with, whose aspects people take on during rituals. Only when human society evolves kings does religion evolve gods that are worshiped. Bellah is a sociologist. He sees religion's use to legitimate, and to criticize, authority.

Bellah does not see religion's power to build spiritual strength in the faithful. This is a little odd, in someone who's spent his life studyi
Daniel Gauss
Jan 03, 2015 Daniel Gauss rated it did not like it
Leave it to an academic to take a topic everyone finds engaging and to bore you to death with it.

Basically, let me help you. There have been 3 basic religious trends - when we were hunter gatherers we embraced shamanism. When we were agriculturalists, we embraced magic (read The Golden Bough - an amazing book that puts Bellah to shame) and when cities developed a new type of 'religion' - what we call religion - developed.

There is no one definition that can incorporate all these trends, but Bel
Jim Parker
Mar 10, 2012 Jim Parker rated it it was amazing
This book takes much effort to read but the reader is rewarded, at least in my case, with a much improved understanding of how religion and society have changed together through the part of history covered in the text.

I was particularly impressed with how an ethical view of the world developed quite differently in different parts of the world but certainly bears a very common thread. Another thread I found very informative was how different cultures justify behaviors which are outside their mora
Aug 03, 2012 Tom marked it as to-read
Interesting interview with author in Hedgehog Review.
Robin Friedman
Jan 17, 2017 Robin Friedman rated it really liked it
The nature and significance of religion never ceases to fascinate. I became interested in reading Robert Bellah's "Religion in Human Evolution" (2011) as a result of a brief discussion on the book in philosopher Charles Taylor's recent work, "The Linguistic Animal" (2016), a study which shares much with Bellah's. Taylor praises Bellah's work for stressing the importance of play in understanding human development and in understanding religion. Taylor writes that play, in Bellah's study, is biolog ...more
Dipa  Raditya
Sep 28, 2012 Dipa Raditya rated it it was amazing
Judul Buku :

Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age

Pengarang : Robert N,Bellah

Tebal : 744 hal.

Cara pandang Robert N. Bellah dalam melihat agama dimulai dari hal
yang paling sederhana yaitu teori tentang agama sipil. Dua kata
agama dan sipil bersanding menyiratkan sebuah arti bahwa hubungan
antara agama dan masyarakat sama-sama memiliki nilai yang bertaut satu
dengan yang lain. Agama , bagi Robert N.Bellah tidak memerlukan suatu
keterlibatan dunia supernatural sama sekali. M
I admit upfront that I have not read this book cover to cover but spot-read along the way, and for that reason I am not assigning a rating.

Bellah is a name known and admired in the social sciences, but this massive work did not move me, and for this reason.

People interested in "religion" can be said to fall in two major groups: those for whom religion is a social phenomenon, and those for whom religion plays an important part in their life. Of course overlap can and does occur.

But this book is
Dec 18, 2012 Miriam rated it liked it
The grand sweep of the book is breathtaking. Unfortunately, Bellah fell into the trap of authors who have enjoyed their research too much -- it was largely descriptive and did not live up to its analytical promise.

If you're looking for a one book review of the literature on the religious impulse in biological evolution, the modern academic understanding of the development of Judaism through to the later prophets, a history of Greek social and political development and how it led to Plato and Ari
Lindsay Moore
Sep 22, 2012 Lindsay Moore rated it liked it
Half way through this massive book. Charles Taylor mentions it near the end of his work entitled A Secular Age. I'm looking for something very deep about the nature of religion, religious experience, and its truth - if there is any truth in it....
So far, it seems that Robert Bellah thinks evolutionary theory will provide an insight. I find that less interesting and unlikely.
Mostly I am reading the book for his handling of the "axial age," that period that started around 500 BCE when all the gr
Karen Blanchette
Jul 08, 2014 Karen Blanchette rated it liked it
This book was long and dense so it took me forever just to get through it, let alone to really appreciate what he was saying. I appreciated the attention to each of the 4 civilizations and their approach to religion. It was cool to see how much overlapped between them all and how each civilization tells the same general stories over and over again. I really loved the conclusion, particularly his discussion on agricultural mass extinction and religious plurality. I felt it tied the contents in ni ...more
Roy Kenagy
Nov 22, 2011 Roy Kenagy marked it as to-read
Review - Richard Madsen at The Immanent Frame:

"Bellah’s new masterpiece, Religion in Human Evolution is comparable in scope, breadth of scholarship, and depth of erudition to [Max] Weber’s study of world religions, but it is grounded in all of the advances of historical, linguistic, and archeological scholarship that have taken place since Weber, as well as theoretical advances in evolutionary biology and cognitive science."
John Wylie
Feb 20, 2012 John Wylie rated it really liked it
A towering scholar! Very good in giving a sweeping and authoritative account of the "Archaic Age" in which gods appeared with special relationships with kings, transforming into the "Axial Age" represented by the Greek philosophers, the Hebrew prophets, Buddhist India, and Confucian China. I thought his evolutionary take quite lame and almost an afterthought.
Mar 30, 2012 Lyndon rated it really liked it
A book to be read when you're not in a hurry. Bellah draws and investigates from all kinds of angles, leaving the reader sometimes wondering what sort of book was he trying to write? Well, a large, generous and penetrating work that shys from simple analysis of pre- and axial ages where economics, religion and politics became dominant factors in human wellbeing and culture.
David Alkek
Jun 06, 2013 David Alkek rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
This scholarly tome takes the human saga from earliest times. It attempts to outline in a detailed way the development of religious thinking. It is especially good in the Axial age. However in order to be inclusive, Bellah has become pedantic, burdensome, and at times boring. A good reference if you don't want to read every word.
May 09, 2014 Bill rated it really liked it
A very challenging read, and while I do not think I agree with everything, even those parts I think I disagreed with (I did mention it was challenging, didn't I) still caused me to think about things in a slightly different way.
S Brent
Aug 10, 2012 S Brent rated it really liked it
Excellent work, as might be expected from Bellah. Wish it had less of the academic "review of all other books on the subject" and more his own argument. The work on "play" is key, and its clear that he came to that too late. Needs to be rewritten (sigh) with play front and center.
Aug 18, 2011 Allison rated it liked it
Sprawling and scholarly, in the Durkheimian/Weberian tradition. The first 3 chapters are all set-up, and probably could be interwoven with the substantive traditions. Most of the humor can be found in his endnotes... but you sure learn a lot about ancient religions :)
Leif Guiteau
Jul 28, 2014 Leif Guiteau rated it really liked it
Great, informative book, yet it was extremely deep, and is not for the amateur reader. Very heady, written in a "professor voice," so if someone is not well-educated, it's not for you. Otherwise, very informative and well-written.
A. J.
Apr 22, 2012 A. J. rated it it was ok
I was so excited to start this book. My two favorite topics (evolution and religion) in one book. Alas, after a few chapters, I quit (I think this is only the second time I have ever not finished a a book). It was work, too much work, to read. I likened it to chewing a mouth full of marbles.
Apr 11, 2012 Maya rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion
Very interesting read. Especially when the author gets to the Axial Age of religion. Lots of food for thought.
Sep 01, 2013 Kenneth rated it it was amazing
Dec 28, 2015 Elbrio rated it did not like it
too dense
Erik Th
Erik Th rated it really liked it
Dec 15, 2013
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Jul 14, 2016
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Casey rated it it was ok
Jul 13, 2013
Willy C
Willy C rated it it was amazing
Nov 30, 2013
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Bellah is Elliott Professor of Sociology Emeritus at Cal, and coauthor of Habits of the Human Heart. In 2000, President Clinton awarded Bellah the National Humanities Medal and, in 2007, he received the American Academy of Religion Martin E. Marty Award for the Public Understanding of Religion. Religion in Human Evolution is the result of Bellahs lifetime interest in the evolution of religion and ...more
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“William Butler Yeats wrote, six days before his death: "I know for certain that my time will not be long ... I am happy and I think full of an energy I had despaired of. It seems to me that I have found what I wanted. When I try to put all into a phrase I say `Man can embody truth but he cannot know it.” 1 likes
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