Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions” as Want to Read:
The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  3,316 ratings  ·  248 reviews
In the ninth century BCE, the peoples of four distinct regions of the civilized world created the religious and philosophical traditions that have continued to nourish humanity to the present day: Confucianism and Daoism in China, Hinduism and Buddhism in India, monotheism in Israel, and philosophical rationalism in Greece. Later generations further developed these initial ...more
Paperback, 592 pages
Published April 10th 2007 by Anchor (first published January 1st 2006)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Great Transformation, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Great Transformation

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
4.03  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,316 ratings  ·  248 reviews


More filters
 | 
Sort order
William2
Jul 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
P.J. Wetzel
Oct 13, 2013 rated it liked it
I came to be aware of this book through my research for my distant future fantasy/sci-fi novel series 'Eden's Womb'. 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 traditions/inst
...more
Megan Kiekel
Jul 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Nicholas Whyte
Dec 17, 2010 rated it did not like it
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
Tim Pendry

The core of this book is a solid account of the 'spiritual' traditions of four great civilisations (the Hellenistic-Pagan; the Judaean; the South Asian; and the Chinese) during the thousand or so years before the end of the third century BC. As far as it goes, it is an excellent and coherent narrative.

But I have my doubts. The story sometimes seems shoe-horned not only into the contention that all four cultures saw a first axial age that defined Old World culture until a second 'axial age' in th
...more
Sarahj33
Mar 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So I bought this book about three years ago at a street festival in Michigan when I was on a big non-fiction kick. I never got past the first couple of chapters because the writing felt pretty dense and seemed to assume that I had a background knowledge of things like the Assyrian Empire and the Book of Deuteronomy. I still don't know anything about those things, but I decided to give the book another go as part of my quest to actually read all the books that are languishing on my shelves before ...more
Jason
Feb 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Karen Armstrong looks beyond doctrine to find a common core in the religious and philosophical traditions that emerged during the years 900 to 200 BCE - an era the German philosopher Karl Jaspers called the Axial Age. All around the world at the time, people were trying to address the question of violence and endless war.

What she found in the writings of the great thinkers and sages of Confucianism and Daoism in China, Hinduism and Buddhism in India, Judaism and the precursors of Christianity i
...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
Dawn
Much as I’d like to just leave my review to one word, fascinating, I don’t think that would be sufficient.
So, this book left me feeling just a bit uneducated as I know practically nothing about all but one of the religions discussed but I did find it curious, as obviously the author has, that all three would have such similar ideas at approximately the same time. The progression of each religion based on their geographical area and societal influences as well as their ultimate conclusions, whic
...more
Cliff
May 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
A bit dry but very well researched.
Charles Matthews
Dec 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Miroku Nemeth
Jan 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
I have mixed feelings about this book. It's a perspective on history that is interesting in many ways, but very misleading in others. The attribution of nonviolence to peoples who were violent is really quite inexplicable if it was actually a historical analysis of the theoretical "axis age" (that this is a problematic construction is actually borne out by the tortured argument structure of the book), but it is a recurrent theme she uses to support her thesis throughout the 500 and some odd page ...more
Kathy
Feb 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
AC Fick
Jul 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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.
Tom
Apr 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jill Hudson
Jan 14, 2019 rated it liked it
I was surprised by the many gushing reviews this book has received. Yes, it is a useful survey of the emergence and development of several world religions, and a very readable introduction to their characteristics. It also makes a strong case for mutual understanding and tolerance. But for me it just doesn't do 'what it says on the tin'. It offers no real explanation of why so many similar ideas emerged in different cultures at a similar time, though on the cover it says it is going to. Why were ...more
Sean
Jan 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
"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
Mary Ellen
Jul 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Karen Armstrong's scholarly exploration of the Axial Age was esoteric at times, and I found her discussion of Christianity to be surprisingly lacking, but ultimately I loved how she rounded it all out with a discussion of how compassion and the Golden Rule is the heart of all the world's religious traditions. Very inspiring.
Adam
Dec 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Mark
Jan 09, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Daniel Seifert
Armstrong, a religious historian in her own right, discusses four Axial cultures under that while they are not synchronic developments/transformations in human development, they are great Axial figures (900 BC to 200 CE) such as Zoroaster in Persia, Buddha in India, and Laozi and Confucius in China. Wile I am not a ride reader of history, I found helpful this rich background to my familiarity with Rabbinic Judaism, Christianity, and Islam that are categorized as “latter day flowerings of the Axi ...more
Laura
May 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. I have read a lot of Karen Armstrong's work and love the way she explains religion in a scholarly and yet respectful manner for every religious tradition. However, this was my favorite by far. I got lost in her descriptions of the mindset, culture, and beliefs of the peoples of the Axial Age. It was fascinating to visit Ancient Greece, China, India, and Israel. I just couldn't get enough and would have read on another 400 pages.

Sometimes at the end of Armstrong's work she see
...more
Bonnie
Jan 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
An excellent book if you're interested in religion or history, or some perspective on the confusing state of affairs in the world today. Ms. Armstrong explains in depth the changes that occurred in four main civilizations from around 1000 years before and until around 500 years into the common era. The peoples she studies are the Israelites, the Greeks, Indian and Chinese, during times of upheaval for each of them. In general she shows how for each of these groups a greater understanding of indi ...more
JJ Lehmann
Oct 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: in-collection
Although I'm not quite convinced on the concept of an Axial age, it is quite fascinating that so many giants of the religion world arose around the same time. In my opinion, it seems that because of the violence and desperation of the time or perhaps both made the populace open to, and the ground fertile for, the rise of spiritually intelligent people to combat this dukkha. It just seems to easy to connect them all.
That said, every academic field of study needs a person that can popularize its
...more
Erin Britton
May 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In 'The Great Transformation', Karen Armstrong tackles a far greater range of religious philosophies than she has done in previous books. This time, Armstrong considers the numerous ideologies than came into existence during the turbulent five centuries (800 BC to 300 BC) known as the Axial Age. It was during this period that many of the main religious theories - Daoism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Philosophical Rationalism - were developed and Armstrong considers each of these ...more
Chris
Jun 05, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
Originally I tried to read this one as an old fashioned book. However, I found it difficult to find the time to dedicate to it. While it is a very interesting read, it was a slow read for me. I needed time to let the concepts and the history sit in my mind.

Then I decided to get the audiobook version of it. (Thank you Audible.com!) Driving back and forth to work turned out to be a great time to absorb this tome.

It ties in directly to Armstrong's 'Charter for Compassion'. Listening to it felt lik
...more
Nik
Oct 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Karen Armstrong proposes that the test of true religiosity in every single one of the major religious traditions, is to act compassionately and to honor the stranger. She suggests that when looking at the worlds major religious traditions one may discover the spiritual kernel behind all of them when one avoids jettisoning the doctrines within them. She gives a wide and broad view of the axial age within each faith tradition and helps one see the commonality behind this striving for compassion. I ...more
Katie
Jun 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Those with some interest/background in history or religion
Shelves: religion
This is an engaging, well-written, never-boring overview of the development of Confucianism, Tao, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity, and ancient Greek religion between about 900 and 200 BCE. Armstrong takes us all over the East and Near East, to places I had never thought about. She traces the way in which, for unknown reasons, religions in China, India, Greece, and the Near East underwent similar transformations at about the same time--from externalizing to contemplation, militar ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason
  • Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity
  • Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew
  • The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say? The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus
  • Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture
  • Discovering God: The Origins of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief
  • Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but Not Literally
  • Aristotle's Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Middle Ages
  • Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations
  • The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia—and How It Died
  • The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity
  • Pagans and Christians
  • The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant
  • The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries: Cosmology and Salvation in the Ancient World
  • How Jesus Became Christian
  • A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years
  • From Jesus to Christianity: How Four Generations of Visionaries and Storytellers Created the New Testament and Christian Faith
  • Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't
See similar books…
2,230 followers
Karen Armstrong, a comparative religion specialist is the author of numerous books on religion, including The Case for God, A History of God, The Battle for God, Holy War, Islam, Buddha, and Fields of Blood, as well as a memoir, The Spiral Staircase.

Her work has been translated into 45 languages. In 2008 she was awarded the TED Prize and began working with TED on the Charter for Compassion, cr
...more
“Unless there is some kind of spiritual revolution that can keep abreast of our technological genius, it is unlikely that we will save our planet. A purely rational education will not suffice.” 3 likes
“Oedipus had to abandon his certainty, his clarity, and supposed insight in order to become aware of the dark ambiguity of the human condition.” 3 likes
More quotes…