The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions
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The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions

4.02 of 5 stars 4.02  ·  rating details  ·  1,914 ratings  ·  179 reviews
From Karen Armstrong, the bestselling author of A History of God and The Spiral Staircase, comes this extraordinary investigation of a critical moment in the evolution of religious thought.In the ninth century BCE, events in four regions of the civilized world led to the rise of religious traditions that have endured to the present day--the development of Confucianism and...more
Paperback, 592 pages
Published April 10th 2007 by Anchor (first published January 1st 2006)
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William
Karen Armstrong takes great mountains, virtual Everests, of wretched scholarly prose and turns them into something highly readable. She is a first-rate disseminator and popularizer of the history of religion. The Great Transformation reviews the history of what Karl Jaspers famously termed the "Axial Age." During this period, roughly 900-200 B.C.E., the foundations for all of our present religious traditions were laid down: Hinduism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Jainism, Judaism, the other monotheism...more
John
The Great Transformation argues that the core religious/philosophical traditions of several major civilizations -- China, India, Greece, and Israel -- emerged at about the same time, for the same reasons, and were preoccupied with the same ideas. The time is what philosopher Karl Jaspers called the Axial Age, the period from approximately 700-200 B.C. when these civilizations all developed philosophical or religious tenets that emphasized what we might now call inner spiritual development rather...more
Megan Anderson
This textbook covers the beginnings and transformation of the major world religions through the Axel Age, from 1600 BCE to 220 BCE, plus an epilogue that brings the history into the current time.

I borrowed this from our friend Steve last fall, and I haven’t had enough brain cells to absorb this much information until now. This was the textbook from one of his religion classes in undergrad (he’s a genius grad school engineer now), and he passed it on to me because he knew I’d love it. I have to g...more
PJ Wetzel
I came to be aware of this book through my research for my distant future fantasy/sci-fi novel 'Ice King: The Last Messiah'. I wanted to understand the origin and evolution of mankind's religious journey in order to project a plausible future. That's a tall order, of course, but for me the study was a fascinating journey. I started by reading Huston Smith's iconic 'The World's Religions' and then began to delve deeper.

Along the way I had a little epiphany: It seemed that many major faith traditi...more
Nicholas Whyte
http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/1541807.html

This is a rather brave attempt to wring significance out of the fact that Confucius, the Buddha, Socrates and Jeremiah all lived at about the same time, between them causing a revolution in the way in which humans relate to the universe in philosophy and religion. It did not completely work for me. I found Armstrong's account of the evolution of the Old Testament as a product of the Jews' exile in Babylon pretty compelling, and we have a couple more of h...more
Charles Matthews
We can be almost certain that somewhere, at this very moment, someone is committing an act of violence in the name of God. That troubling realization underlies this book, an attempt to reach back 2,500 years and more, to survey our earliest attempts to establish systems of belief that promise a release from human strife.

Karen Armstrong's "great transformation" took place in what the philosopher Karl Jaspers called "the Axial Age" – roughly seven centuries, starting around 900 B.C., in which the...more
Kathy
I read this book after reading Armstrong's wonderful book, "The Spiral Staircase." As a person who has never studied religious history, I lack the context for assessing Armstrong's treatment of the Axial Age during which major religions evolved versions of the Golden Rule. Her writing is very clear and easy to read, and she provides extensive documentation and explanations at the back. For me, the book was a captivating journey through a dimension of history that has fueled my curiosity. She sti...more
Anita
The origins of religions have always been fascinating to me. This book does a great job of tracing them all back to the beginning. Very interesting, although the whole chapter on China was a bit long and tedious, and I found it hard to keep it all straight. It's really eye opening though, and leads to a better understanding of what motivates people in the ongoing "my God is better than your God" struggle. When you get right down to it, all religions are based on some type of cult following. They...more
AC Fick
Armstrong is informed and informative without ever being didactic or preachy. This book, given the vast scope of its subject matter -- across time and space -- is infinitely readable, while always being detailed, specific, and accurate.

If you're intrigued by or interested in the history of the major religious and faith-based traditions in the world, this book is rewarding reading.

In fact, this ought to be required reading for all students of humanity; everyone, every last one of us, ought to rea...more
Lori
I have read this two times and now am having it read to me in bed by my husband, a release for gut centered pacifists pained by all these wars.
Cliff
A bit dry but very well researched.
Bill Kte'pi
I'm of two minds here, at least to the extent that I treat a review as a recommendation. On the one hand, Armstrong is one of the best writers of popular histories of Abrahamic religions, and so her overview of one of the most fascinating concepts in the history of religion - the Axial Age, the Big Idea that the first millennium BCE saw similar transformative thinking introduced to the religious and philosophical traditions of many different cultures - is of course invaluable.

On the other hand,...more
Daniel
In the Great Transformation, Karen Armstrong traces the origins and development of spiritual thought during the Axial Age. The Axial Age was a period between approximately 900 - 200 BC, in which new philosophical and religious concepts emerged in four disparate regions - namely China, India, Israel and Greece - and which still have a lasting impact on our world today.

Armstrong does an admirable job of expounding the political and social situations of the period, and how they eventually develope...more
Tom
It took a long time to finish this book, but it is worth the effort. In its scope and importance, it reminds me of Ideas: from Fire to Freud, another very worthwhile book. However, this one is more focused and, in some ways, more original.

Armstrong deals with what the historian Karl Jaspers calls the Axial Age (that period between 900 and 200 BC) during which the major philosophical and religious traditions that exist today, began. She follows developments in this regard in 4 distinct regions an...more
Sean
"The Great Transformation: The Beginnings of Religious Traditions" is the sort of scholarship you can come to expect from Karen Armstrong, an independent scholar from Britain who writes extensively on religious topics. She is able to take quite complicated issues and ideas and his able to make them accessible to a wider audience. This really is the biggest job of a scholar, whether independent or attached to a university- to be able to communicate your thoughts and ideas in a coherent way. If yo...more
Guillermojimenezespneo
Mi estimada Karen es autora de algunos libros fundamentales en la historia de esa parte irracional del alma humana llamada religión. Esa estúpida dicotomía que permitió el nacimiento de las religiones de la sangre con su cauda de sufrimiento, dolor y muerte es explorada con claridad, profundidad, respeto y veracidad de una manera que yo no conocía, ni siquiera imaginaba. Como todo lego en los abismos de la esquizofrenia religiosa. Estaba en el canal Jaynes, para quien la religión es un remanente...more
Mark
I like reading Karen Armstrong's books. This book is a travel through religious history, especially that of the Judaism and Christianity. It includes Islam, but not to the same extent. The book seems centered around the 'axial' age of religions; that is, the movements,mostly early on, that defined religious belief as a changing phenomenon motivated by individual betterment, rather than traditional acceptance of socially defined belief.

The book starts with the Aryans, around 1600 B.C.E and takes...more
Choong Chiat
In this extensive and intensive historical account of how the spiritual/philosophical/religious beliefs of the ancient Indians, Chinese, Greeks and Jews changed as their respective societal conditions underwent different changes, the author presents an eloquent, albeit implicit and perhaps unintended, case for how instead of Man being created in the image of God, it is more likely that God was created in the image of Man.

More explicitly, the author, in the concluding chapter of the book, recomme...more
Adam
From The Washington Post's Book World/washingtonpost.com
In 1948, the German philosopher Karl Jaspers coined the term "Axial Age" to denote an astonishing era, from roughly 900 B.C. to 200 B.C., in which the foundations of the world's great religions were laid. This was the time of Socrates, Elijah, Siddhartha, Confucius. In her magisterial new exploration of the era, Karen Armstrong argues that all Axial Age traditions emphasized justice and were committed to the practice of "disciplined sympat...more
'stina
Armstrong is a former Roman Catholic nun that writes about religion. She wrote a book before this one called "The History of God" that went into the development of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. This one goes further back to look at the parallels of religious development in Greece, India, China and the Middle East. She argues that around the same point in time (from around 900 to 200 bce) each area went through what she calls the Axial Age, where the religions started promoting compassion, lov...more
Nathan
Beginning with an exploration of Asian religious tradition, Karen Armstrong gradually moves to a general, and rather generic, call for religious tolerance. She focuses exclusively on the religious traditions of the Asian continent, notably Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, and while she does a cracking good job of it (her explication of Buddhist belief was the clearest I've ever read), she does so to the neglect of the contributions of the West to religious thought, notably Catholicism and post-Re...more
Bookmarks Magazine

If you've already written God's biography (A History of God), surely it's a cakewalk to tackle the era before His ascendancy in theological affairs. But making sense of four disparate cultures and religious traditions in the space of 400 pages proves to be a risky proposition for Armstrong. Critics agree that her central theme, "the gradual elimination of violence from religion" (New York Times), makes for compelling reading, as does her weaving together of similarities among disparate faiths. T

...more
Gijs Grob
Gelezen in de vertaling van Karina van Santen, Martine Vosmaer en Eelco Vijzelaar.

Een historische overzicht van wat de auteur naar Jaspers de 'spiltijd' noemt, de periode in de menselijke geschiedenis, van pakweg 800 tot 200 v. Chr. waarin al onze moderne religieuze tradities zijn ontstaan.

Armstrong behandelt een enorme hoeveelheid filosofen, theologen, profeten en auteurs, uit vier windstreken (Griekenland, Israël, India en China). Wat er in de rest van de wereld gebeurde, wordt volledig genege...more
Gphatty
It seems like ages since I read this book, so this review is going to be a little mediocre. My apologies.

Armstrong covers the historical foundations of the world's most important religions, which, co-incidentally enough, occurred within the same 500-year-span, worldwide. Historians call this the Axial Age, and when I picked up the book, I was originally intrigued as to what connections Armstrong would possible pull together from a five hundred year span. To me, this seems arbitrarily large, but...more
Adam Snider
Nov 11, 2007 Adam Snider rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Pretty Much Anyone.
Overall this is a good read - I picked it up in an English bookstore in Graz because I had already read her A History of God and The Battle for God. Although the book is certainly written for a nonspecialist audience, it was well-researched without becoming bogged down in detail or footnotes. Armstrong is a very good writer, keeping the reader turning pages and generally offering a work both interesting and informative. The only real issue I would have with the organization of the book is the st...more
Jonathan
The Great Transformation
by Karen Armstrong

If you want to read some history on the beginnings and best elements of world religions, here is 400 pages of it. Armstrong thoroughly explains how the Axial Age (900 to 200 BCE) was a quantum leap in spiritual development through sages bringing about Confucianism, Daoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, philosophical rationalism is Greece, and monotheism in Israel (later bringing Rabbinic Judaism, Christianity and Islam). She says that Axial sages spent as much cre...more
Sabrine Faragallah
I was not as pleased reading this book as I was her two other books, Buddha and A History of God. Her focus on the Axial Age to me felt like a subset of A History of God, and I found the span of time too wide for her to really deep dive into one particular faith or another. While her framework quite interesting as she discussed the progression of the major faiths concurrently during the period of 1000 BCE to 700 BCE, I feel that taking on a challenge such as that one would require a much larger...more
Jillian
I want a sticker that says: "I just finished The Great Transformation" or "Ask me about the Axial Age!". Man, it took me a long time to finish this book. It was truly a project of a read.

The Great Transformation examines in the connections and context of what Karl Jaspers termed the Axial Age (approximately 900-200 BCE). Karen Armstrong brings the attention to detail one has come to expect from her work to explore the beginning of each religious tradition. This is a huge undertaking in both his...more
Beth Barnett
I always find Karen Armstrong's books on history and religion worth reading. This time period of "the great transformation" covers a long era in which religion and early philosophy were tangled and usually synonymous. Armstrong describes the shift from heavily ritual-based religion, in which adherence to and correct execution of the ritual was the most important part of practice, to the development of philosophers within several ancient civilizations who saw religion as a more personal behavior...more
Cheryl
I love the way Karen Armstrong writes about religion; she is a former nun that is now a scholar of religions, and only she could write a book that should have been subtitled How war and politics shaped religion and still make me love it. I learned as much about the different wars across the planet as I did about religion. I suppose I knew that many of the world religions were shaped by the circumstances of the time, which includes war and politics, but they are so intricately linked. The book ma...more
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2637
British author of numerous works on comparative religion.

Elsewhere:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karen_Ar...
http://www.islamfortoday.com/karenarm...
http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/kar...

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.
More about Karen Armstrong...
A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism Islam: A Short History The Case for God

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