Home  Albert  News  Purchase  Gallery  Contact  Writings  Links

2011 08 14



In Judaism, Christianity, Islam: historical development of the predominant myth progresses through yore-lore to codification, tyrannous institutionalization followed by fanaticism, then reform and relaxation, over the course of tens of centuries. Christianity's last gasp of fanaticism may have been Salem Massachusetts.

Thus at least three-hundred more years of Islamic fanaticism may be predicted.



 Cycles of Faith: The Development of the World's Religions by Robert Ellwood (2004)
             "looks at broad patterns in the development of five of the world's historic mass religions ~ Hinduism, Chinese religion, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam ~ and finds that they have gone through comparable stages, here named Apostolic, Wisdom/Imperial, Devotional, Reformation, and Folk Religion. Each has had a primal period of consolidation as a new world religion, a time of alignment with a major empire giving it a political base, the exfoliation of medieval-type devotion, a Reformation involving putative simplification and return to the sources, and a final stage when it survives more or less as folk religion in a changed world. Though there are great variations, each stage may very roughly last five centuries or so. Thus Christianity would be now entering its Folk Religion stage, while Islam, five hundred years younger, is amidst the turmoil of an era like that of the Protestant Reformation in Europe. Some commentators have felt this analogy helps one to understand what has happened with the two faiths in the twentieth century and after."


             Reviewing the book in The Light Bearer (published by the Canadian Theosophical Association, Summer 2007), Paul Wine wrote that "Ellwood notes that the great traditions emerged in response to the sea change of consciousness and culture that marked the Axial Age, a period beginning around the fifth century B.C.E. and characterized by the advent of urban culture and empire: heightened emphasis on individual writing; and, through its correlate, recordkeeping, the 'discovery' of history that shifted humanity's religious focus from an emphasis on cosmic realms and connections during prehistory to a much greater concern with temporal events. The first period Ellwood describes is characterized by the appearance of a charismatic founder (Hinduism lacks this aspect) and the development of sacred scripture and organizational struc­ture. The second phase witnesses the co-opting of religion by empire ( e.g., Christianity and Rome), and the expansion of religion's political and geographical base, and its doctrinal exaltation into the sphere of the timeless. This period is followed by one of 'statues, temples and pageantry' in which religious expression experiences a burgeoning of forms. The fourth, or reformative, stage finds religion asserting its waning power by attempting to 'rediscover what its essentials were and press them to the exclusion of all else.' During the final stage, Axial religions, as entities in time, die 'in historical time and under exposure to historical awareness,' and the cosmic impulse finds primary expression in the quasi-tribal realm of family and community where faith is informed by myth, mysticism, and personal experience. Ellwood writes that this last stage may very well last indefinitely, but he makes no conjectures about a possible sixth stage. Ellwood contends that Buddhism and the Chinese religions are just now finishing the cycle, Hinduism and Christianity are at the beginning of the final period, and Islam is in the reformative stage.
             "Writing that during its period of reform a religion experiences deep anxieties about its place in the world and is often inclined 'to let right prevail by might,' Ellwood asserts that Islam's 'bloody borders' may be more convincingly explained by its stage of development than by the charge that it is an inherently violent religion. It should be stressed that Ellwood does not intend his framework to apply to religions in general, but only to those that came of age under a particular set of historical circumstances (Zoroastrianism was on course to join their ranks until it was overcome by the Islamic conquest of Persia; also, Ellwood writes, that 'Judaism always seems to be the exception to every rule.'). He notes that the modern world is so radically different from the preceding age that any new world religion would likely be unrecognizable according to our present definitions."