The ‘Axial Age’ generally refers to a historical period within the first century BCE during which a cluster of changes in cultural traditions, most notably the emergence of current world religions and moralizing philosophies (Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, Daoism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam), are said to have occurred in some of the relatively complex social formations in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Near East, and South and East Asia. Unfortunately, many questions remain unanswered as different scholars utilize different material to approach the topic. Indeed, it is not quite clear what exactly the 'Axial Age' even is. Seshat: Global History Databank is currently involved in a project trying to untangle these issues, testing systematically the different theories that have been offered about how/why Axial societies developed when and where they did.
The Seshat team is putting together a workshop, Testing the Axial Age, to be held in Oxford January 26-27, 2017. We will bring together some of the world's leading experts on Axial Age societies, religious and cultural history, and the history of social equality. Together, we will discuss Seshat's work testing the various predictions of Axial Age scholarship against the empirical evidence and to review our collection of structured historical data from these Axial societies.
Tue13Jun2017Wed14Jun2017Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse
Why do institutions (laws, rules, sanctions, customs, and norms) in a given human society emerge, change, and disappear? Explaining institutional change has been a major theoretical and empirical challenge. A major obstacle facing explanations proposed by social scientists and historians is the peculiarities of the historical context. Historians tend to address this challenge by focusing on descriptions of what happened and emphasizing explanations that are contingent on the specific historical circumstances in which institutions evolve. Economists, other social scientists, and cultural evolutionists, on the other hand, tend to “generalize” and seek explanations that apply beyond the specific context of study. The tension between particular circumstances and general principles has not been resolved, with different scholars disagreeing as to the extent of permissible and empirically founded generalizations. Moreover, general principles in history are often as not as general as they may appear at first sight and are also bounded by the peculiarities of the data and the context.