Robert Bellah has a simple goal: to understand religion and explain where it came from and how it developed in biological and cultural evolution. Simple, but complex. In Religion in Human Evolution, Bellah argues that religion is a cultural system and shows how it has evolved around the world.
The Axial Age is the period from 800-200 BCE when certain inspiring people arose around the world – figures like Buddha, Socrates, Confucius, and other leaders who convinced people it made sense to make religion, not war. It was a period of great empires in Mesopotamia, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Greece. But to Bellah, the term and period primarily reflect a turning point in religion and, if asked, he would say we are in an axial age now.
Bellah is Elliott Professor of Sociology Emeritus at Cal, and coauthor of Habits of the Human Heart. In 2000, President Clinton awarded Bellah the National Humanities Medal and, in 2007, he received the American Academy of Religion Martin E. Marty Award for the Public Understanding of Religion. Religion in Human Evolution is the result of Bellah’s lifetime interest in the evolution of religion and 13 years of work.