Karl Jaspers created the term “Axial Age” in 1949 after considering that the Bhagavad Gita, the Pali Canon, the Book of Isaiah, the Book of Jeremiah, the writings of Plato and Aristotle, the Daodejing, and the Analects of Confucius were just a few of the philosophical and theological texts penned in the middle centuries of the first millennium BCE. For Jaspers, this collection of philosophical and theological works was a sign of an era of social and intellectual maturity, a maturation that Jasper felt left simpler formulations of such thinking in its wake. The notion of the “Axial Age” has held through to the 21st century, the most recent manifestation of the theory being seen in Robert N. Bellah’s 2012 monograph Religion and Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age.
To discuss the “Axial Age”, its consequences, credibility, and critiques, Breann Fallon sat down with long-time team-member of the Religious Studies Project, Dr Jack Tsonis. Dr Jack Tsonis has recently taken up a position at Western Sydney University, teaching the Masters of Research Program. They discuss the origin and historiography of the term “Axial Age” before diving into an analysis of the term as used in Religious Studies. Tsonis gives a fiery critique of the racial, ethnic, and religious stereotypes upon which the term is founded, and the subsequent need for avoidance of the term “Axial Age” and all that it embodies. Later, they discuss the difficulties of the immediate post-PhD years, particularly the delicate research-teaching balance, resulting in some useful advice for anyone in their final PhD months or for those who have recently submitted.