The Axial Age and Cultural Crystallizations in Global History By Björn Wittrock

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 11:00
Oral Presentation
Bjorn WITTROCK, S, Sweden
The Axial Age involved a series of profound shifts in trade, rulership and cultic practices in the middle centuries of the first millennium BCE in several high cultures across the Old World. Jointly theses shifts, or perhaps rather breakthroughs, gave rise to new world religions and a new imperial polities. These changes were often premised on assumptions about a chasm between a mundane and a transcendental sphere and concomitant assumptions about the conditional nature of legitimate rule as expressed in ideas about a mandate of heaven or rule bestowed by divine grace.

These changes also gave rise to antinomies that have characterized human societies ever since such as that between the availability to rulers of religious beliefs and practices of world religions to draw upon for the purpose of legitimating an existing socio-political order and the inevitably contingent nature of that rule.

In the course of the two millennia CE the profound consequences of the Axial Age have become apparent on a global scale. In most cases it is a question of ensuing shifts that can be broadly encompassed as a sequence of so-called secondary breakthroughs.

Secondly, even if we were to tentatively accept a description of the pivotal role of the Axial Age, this would not preclude an analysis of later periods of momentous transformation and crystallization, analogous to and influenced by but not reducible to the Axial Age and its consequences. In a series of texts, I have argued that both the period of transregional reorientation in the 10th to 13th centuries and the formation of modernity in its different varieties constitute such periods.

I shall explore empirical examples from these two periods after the Axial Age proper of profound cultural crystallization in global history.