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Religious Evolution and the Axial Age


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Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgements List of Figures List of Tables Prologue 1. What Religion Is 2. The Evolutionary Forms of the Religious Life 3. The Religions of the Axial Age 4. Explaining Religion 5. Religion as an Evolutionary Adaptation 6. The Sociocultural Evolution of Religion, 1: The Overall Pattern 7. The Sociocultural Evolution of Religion, 2: The Axial Age 8. Religion Past, Present, and Future Appendix A. Codes for Stage of Religious Evolution in the Standard Cross-cultural Sample Appendix B. Ancient Cities and Estimated City Sizes Notes Bibliography Index

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Written by a senior scholar, this provides an analysis of long-term religious evolution with a focus on the emergence of the world religions during the Axial Age.

About the Author

Stephen K. Sanderson is Research Associate at the Institute for Research on World-Systems at the University of California, Riverside, USA. He is the author of numerous books, most recently Modern Societies: A Comparative Perspective (2015) and Human Nature and the Evolution of Society (2014).


This is a major contribution to the evolutionary study of religion. Sanderson masterfully engages both the rich historical scholarship on religion and the contemporary theoretical work on the evolution of religion, offering a novel and insightful analysis. The evolutionary study of religion is fortunate to have a scholar of such breadth, proficiency, and dedication wrestle with the most pressing questions in the field. * Richard Sosis, James Barnett Professor of Humanistic Anthropology, University of Connecticut, USA *
Sanderson makes an important contribution to the question of diversity, arguing that religions are essentially biosocial adaptations to changing environments. This bold new theory deserves serious attention from, and systematic testing by, a wide range of scholars and scientists. * Harvey Whitehouse, Director of the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, University of Oxford, UK *
Sanderson argues persuasively that such movements as the transcendental "world" religions of the Axial and subsequent ages reflect changing social conditions. These religions were responses, he holds, to increasing population pressures, political and ethnic alienation, and warfare, from which their adherents sought salvation. * Stewart Elliott Guthrie, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, Fordham University, USA *

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