Ritual, belief and habituation - Religion and religions from the axial age to the Anthropocene

It is a common complaint that sociology has little regard for history. One important exception to this standard criticism is the sociology of religion of Robert N. Bellah and his ‘revival’ of Karl Jasper’s notion of the axial age. In this article, Bellah’s evolutionary notions of religion are explored within a debate about historical disjunctures and continuities. A significant challenge to the idea of the continuity of axial-age religions comes from the notion of an Anthropocene. Our relationship to nature has fundamentally changed and the possibilities for ‘improving’ the human body create a significant ontological challenge to the continuity/preservation of embodied practice as the underpinning of axial-age religions. The Anthropocene age presents a turning away from the religious legacies of the past, because biotechnical developments change not only our relationship to nature but they presage a radical change to the human body. Can the axial-age religions as our contemporaries survive the construction of hybrid post-bodies? In conclusion, insofar as there has been a ‘protestantisation’ of religions with modernity involving an erosion of habitualised religion, an individualized and dis-embodied religiosity may be compatible with our anthropocenic future, but this possibility represents a discontinuity with the past and not a continuity.

Article in European Journal of Social Theory

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