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From one of the world’s leading writers on religion and the highly acclaimed author of the bestselling A History of God, The Battle for God and The Spiral Staircase, comes a major new work: a chronicle of one of the most important intellectual revolutions in world history and its relevance to our own time.
In one astonishing, short period—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 into the present day: Confucianism and Daoism in China; Hinduism and Buddhism in India; monotheism in Israel; and philosophical rationalism in Greece. Historians call this the Axial Age because of its central importance to humanity’s spiritual development. Now, Karen Armstrong traces the rise and development of this
transformative moment in history, examining the brilliant contributions to these traditions made by such figures as the Buddha, Socrates, Confucius and Ezekiel.
Armstrong makes clear that despite some differences of emphasis, there was remarkable consensus among these religions and philosophies: each insisted on the primacy of compassion over hatred and violence. She illuminates what this “family” resemblance reveals about the religious impulse and quest of humankind. And she goes beyond spiritual archaeology, delving into the ways in which these Axial Age beliefs can present an instructive and thought-provoking challenge to the ways we think about and practice religion today.
A revelation of humankind’s early shared imperatives, yearnings and inspired solutions – as salutary as it is fascinating.
“A splendid book. . . . Lucid, highly readable. . . . Relevan[t] to a world still embroiled in military conflict and sectarian hatreds.”
—The New York Times
“Masterful. . . . Stimulating. . . . A tour de force.”
—The Christian Science Monitor
“The Great Transformation is Armstrong at her best–translating and distilling complex history into lucid prose. . . . Her call to rededicate our religious selves to compassion, other-directed love and service is downright rousing.”
—The Washington Post
“Remarkable and persuasive.”
“Perhaps her most ambitious work to date. . . . Thoroughly researched and readable.”
—The San Francisco Chronicle