The Great Transformation: The World in the Time of Buddha, Socrates, Confucius and Jeremiah

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Religion is widely credited in our world with causing conflict and suffering, not reducing it. We have grown terrifyingly accustomed to militant piety. Yet here she presents the roots of today's religions as something that is all about compassion, that is about commitment to an ethical lifestyle, that is about an openness to change and others' points of view. In our global village, we can no longer afford a parochial or exclusive vision. We must learn to live and behave as though people in countries remote from our own are as important as ourselves". Key to that, she advises, are self-criticism of our own religious attachments and prejudices and plain old hard work and hard thinking to move beyond the artificial boundaries of dogma and denomination.

If we need an example of just how rewarding and enlightening such a search could be, we need look no further than the remarkable and persuasive Karen Armstrong herself.

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Karen Armstrong on the prophets who emerged in a great age of spiritual insight

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The Great Transformation by Karen Armstrong: | Books

The Independent Books. Voucher Codes. Minds Articles. Subscription offers. Subscription sign in. Read latest edition. UK Edition. US Edition. Rather she focuses on something she seems to implicitly assume is a 'universal' underpinning of human morality. She's on a different wavelength.

By now this has become abundantly clear. Okay, I'll sit back and let her elaborate before I pass judgment. It translates into: 'ignore cultural diversity, reject the opportunity to expand your personal horizons through deep listening and understanding of your neighbor's point-of-view, and just blindly assume that everyone wants to be treated the way you want to be treated'.

Surely Armstrong implicitly assumes the 'Golden Rule' is a universal sign of humanity's newly emerging shallowly defined 'compassion' to which all these nascent religious movements must have aspired, and thus to which they all gravitated. To me this is not a satisfying explanation. I see no universality. I'll offer one benign example: In China you must burp to express your satisfaction for a meal. In western Europe the burp is a sign that you're uncultured. The closest Armstrong comes to addressing my 'big-picture' question is by regurgitating Jaspers' thesis that the Great Transformation was a result of an interregnum between eras of war and destruction and suppression of original thought by great empires.

This seems insufficient, and again this is not my original thought--it is shared by other critics.

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Having posited her theme for the 'Axial Age' as Jaspers called it , Armstrong proceeds to delve into an historical survey, in chronological blocks, of the secular and spiritual events in the four cultures. It turns out that the Axial thinkers by her definition arose sporadically, not simultaneously in most cases. In fact she concludes that Axial thinking never really took hold in Greece as it spawned the Western philosophies. No unifying motivation? Why publish it under such a lofty title: "The Great Transformation"?

Why parrot Jaspers' themes if you don't even support them? Here's why: your publisher wants to sell books. Armstrong is a 'can't see the forest for the trees' thinker. Her book reads like a series of book reports here is what I read and here's what I got out of it. There are many of these. She defines them once and then expects the reader to remember them all. As a research earth scientist I find myself wondering if human interactions with the changing global climate of the time may have contributed to this great global revolution.

Psychologists may wonder if this was a result of the natural evolution of human self-awareness as we came to recognize our mind as a useful tool. Armstrong peripherally mentions in barely a few lines such revolutions as the smelting of iron and the domestication of the horse as contributing factors to destabilization during these times. She was silent on my Silk Road thesis and the others.

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  5. In the end, this book was not what I was hoping for. View all 3 comments. Jul 14, Megan Anderson rated it it was amazing Shelves: history , nonfiction , religion. This textbook covers the beginnings and transformation of the major world religions through the Axel Age, from BCE to BCE, plus an epilogue that brings the history into the current time.