Economic Development Led to Major World Religions

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tags: religion, economics



A recent research study, published in the journal Current Biology, has posited that the development of major world religions in the so-called “Axial Age” of 500-350 BCE cannot be traced to the rise of complex political institutions or to growth in population. Instead, the rise of religions such as Judaism (and its eventual offshoots of Christianity and Islam), Buddhism, Daoism, Brahmanism, and Jainism resulted from increases in economic development and better standards of living, according to the authors of the study.

A research team from the École Normale Supérieure, led by research scientist Nicolas Baumard, delved into the study of the formation of world religions during the Axial Age in order to make a determination as to what led to the proliferation of such religions concurrently yet in such disparate geographical locations around the globe. The Axial Age was characterized by new beliefs supplanting the older ones commonly held by hunter-gatherer societies.

Nomadic cultures from before the advent of agricultural pursuits tended to have spiritual beliefs that focused more along tribal lines and were primarily concerned with warding off misfortune, enforcing taboos, and ritual offerings and sacrifices. In comparison, the researchers point out that once the economic status of civilizations improved – partly thanks to adopting agriculture and focusing less on itinerant lifestyles – abundance for these civilizations increased, leading individuals to begin to have the ability to focus on things besides subsistence. The rapid advancement in living standards which occurred in the Axial Age could have been the catalyst for spiritual development that delved beyond the nomadic campfire ring, the research suggests, although the most rapid and dramatic advances in living conditions were likely reserved for the richer and more powerful members of these societies.




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