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CALL. 15.12.2018: [SESSION 7] Axial religion and the breakdown in communication: from the practical




LUGAR/LOCATION/LUOGO: University of Tartu (Tartu, Estonia)


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The idea of the Axial Age, first introduced by Karl Jaspers following the Second World War, has been garnering much attention recently. The work of Eric Voegelin, of Benjamin Schwartz, and Shmuel N. Eisenstadt’s studies of the 1980s, as well as that of other scholars, have all been renewed foci of interest and different readings of the concept and its importance have contributed to a growing literature around the concept of Axial religion.

In the most basic of terms, the Axial Age refers to that period, between roughly 500 BCE and 600 CE when, in Eisenstadt’s terms there emerged and became institutionalized “a conception of a basic tension between the transcendental and mundane orders, a conception which differed greatly from that of a close parallelism between these two orders or their mutual embedment which was prevalent in so called pagan religions, in those very societies from which these post Axial civilizational emerged” (Eisenstadt 1982, 294). The emergence of these Axial civilizations followed a period of institutional breakdown characterized by a similar breakdown in cosmological symbolism. This period, in Eric Voegelin’s terms of “cosmological disintegration” during different “times of troubles,” resulted in a new appreciation of the relations between the individual and society and the cosmic order [Voegelin 1954, 74]. This change was accomplished through the fundamental restructuring of terms of relations between mundane and transmundane orders [Schwartz 1975]. The emergence of this conception across different civilizational endeavors constituted a major force in restructuring the terms of collective life, in the principles of political legitimation, as well as in the very conception of the self

Based on these premises, the session aims to analyze the concept of violence of god in the historicalreligious perspective related with axial phenomena of religious mutations. Close to the “sacrificial violence” understood in the ancient religions as a form of communication with the divine, not only to fulfill, but also to know God’s will, to influence or be reconciled with the divine, as the result of orthopraxis, “religious violence” detached from it to the extent that it presupposes a certain level of breakdown in communication. If the sacrificial violence is essentially based on the distinction between pure and impure, religious violence introduces another type of dichotomous relationship, based on the distinction between true and false. To wonder about the origins of religious violence must go back to the Old Testament. Investigating these origins, Jan Assmann (Monotheismus und die Sprache der Gewalt, Wien 2006) relies on the distinction between history and history of memory, which are meant, the first, as the way in which monotheism has slowly imposed in Palestine and, the second, as the way the biblical text reconstructs, recalls, recounts the path of monotheism. In such a perspective, violence, hatred and sin are invested, in the canonical texts, by a religious significance and not only affect the power or authority (i.e., Gewalt, that in German has both the meanings of “violence” and “authority, or power”), but the truth, canonized and thus translated into orthodoxy.

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