Theory of Religious Change

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Lloyd Geering has developed a model of three phases of religious change which he believes helps to explain the changes in religious thought and practice that can be identified in human cultures. His model categorises these changes into three distinct periods called the Ethnic, Transethnic and Global phases . The first two phases are also known as the Pre-Axial and Post-Axial periods based on the identification of the Axial Period by Karl Jaspers, which covers 800-200BCE. Geering has hypothesized that there is also a second Axial period, which he calls ‘modernity’. He places this as the period of “Enlightenment 1650-1850” but it could be seen as covering the changes in Western Europe through 1300- 1800CE, which included the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment periods. Geering’s theory is that this second Axial Period has led to the global phase or modernity or secularisation, in which we currently live. There are eight categories of phenomena that can be identified within the three phases which highlight changes in religious thought and practice leading to societies and cultures having radically different foci and understandings. The eight categories cover the fundamental aspects of human society and how they constitute themselves and the concepts cover the naming of the religion including ethnicity and cultural practice; choice (or not) of belonging to a religion; worldview engendered by the religious focus; the purposes of religious practice; elements of conservatism and change; pragmatic or theoretical; and focussed on either the community or the individual. In this essay the characteristics of the Pre-Axial or Ethnic period will be described in depth as aspects of this period have persisted throughout history and some of them can still be identified in some the Post-Axial religions. In fact, Hinduism and Judaism can be considered

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