Editors’ Picks, Summer 2018: Critiquing the Axial Age

In the first of our summer "Editors' Picks", Chris Cotter flags up an important interview, in which Jack Tsonis "demonstrates how the term 'Axial Age' shares much in common with the notion of 'World Religions' in that both - to quote the subtitle to Tomoko Masuzawa's seminal work - preserve 'European universalism [...] in the language of pluralism'."

By Christopher R. Cotter

Christopher R. Cotter is co-founder and co-editor-in-chief of the RSP, and CEO of The Religious Studies Project Association (SCIO). He joined The Open University, UK in January 2022 as Staff Tutor and Lecturer in Sociology and Religious Studies. He is author of The Critical Study of Non-religion: Discourse, Identification, and Locality (Bloomsbury, 2020) and co-editor of Social Identities between the Sacred and the Secular (Ashgate, 2013), After World Religions: Reconstructing Religious Studies (Routledge, 2016), and New Atheism: Critical Perspectives and Contemporary Debates (Springer, 2017). He is also co-editor of the open-access journal Secularism & Nonreligion.

Chris completed his doctorate in Religious Studies at Lancaster University in 2016. His thesis–Religion-Related Discourse: A Critical Approach to Non-Religion in Edinburgh’s Southside–focused upon the discourses on ‘religion’ in the Southside of Edinburgh, the concepts of ‘non-religion’ and ‘the secular’, and the ensuing critical and theoretical implications for Religious Studies. His previous degrees at the University of Edinburgh focused upon ‘New Atheism’ and alternative typologies of ‘non-religion’. His wider interests include New Religious Movements, qualitative methods, discourse analysis, spatial approaches, critical theory, and Religious Studies as a discipline. After these periods of study, he was Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh (2017-2020), Lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Chester (2020-2021), IASH-CTPI Duncan Forrester Research Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh (2020-2021), and Teaching Fellow in Anthropology and Sociology of Religions at the University of Edinburgh (2021). 

Chris is also Honorary Treasurer of the British Association for the Study of Religions and an advisory board member the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network. See his personal blog for a full CV.

Christopher R. Cotter

Christopher R. Cotter is co-founder and co-editor-in-chief of the RSP, and CEO of The Religious Studies Project Association (SCIO). He joined The Open University, UK in January 2022 as Staff Tutor and Lecturer in Sociology and Religious Studies. He is author of The Critical Study of Non-religion: Discourse, Identification, and Locality (Bloomsbury, 2020) and co-editor of Social Identities between the Sacred and the Secular (Ashgate, 2013), After World Religions: Reconstructing Religious Studies (Routledge, 2016), and New Atheism: Critical Perspectives and Contemporary Debates (Springer, 2017). He is also co-editor of the open-access journal Secularism & Nonreligion.

Chris completed his doctorate in Religious Studies at Lancaster University in 2016. His thesis–Religion-Related Discourse: A Critical Approach to Non-Religion in Edinburgh’s Southside–focused upon the discourses on ‘religion’ in the Southside of Edinburgh, the concepts of ‘non-religion’ and ‘the secular’, and the ensuing critical and theoretical implications for Religious Studies. His previous degrees at the University of Edinburgh focused upon ‘New Atheism’ and alternative typologies of ‘non-religion’. His wider interests include New Religious Movements, qualitative methods, discourse analysis, spatial approaches, critical theory, and Religious Studies as a discipline. After these periods of study, he was Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh (2017-2020), Lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Chester (2020-2021), IASH-CTPI Duncan Forrester Research Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh (2020-2021), and Teaching Fellow in Anthropology and Sociology of Religions at the University of Edinburgh (2021). 

Chris is also Honorary Treasurer of the British Association for the Study of Religions and an advisory board member the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network. See his personal blog for a full CV.

In response to:

The “Axial Age”: Problematising Religious History in a Post-Colonial Setting

In the latest #RSPpod from our friends in Australia, Dr Jack Tsonis gets fired up about the "Axial Age" as well as the difficulties the immediate post-PhD years. Karl Jaspers created the term “Axial Age” in 1949 after considering that the Bhagavad Gita, the Pali Canon, the Book of Isaiah,...

During our “summer break”, various members of the RSP editorial team will be sharing their thoughts on some podcasts from the RSP archive that they think you should listen to (again). Editors’ Picks, if you will. These aren’t necessarily ‘favourites’, but just some podcasts that came to mind that the author has found useful for whatever reason. We hope you enjoy these musings, and that you’ll maybe share some of your own in the comments, on social media, or by sending us an audio or video clip. And we’ll be back with new content on 17 September! Thanks for listening.

Kicking off the ‘series’ is co-editor-in-chief, Chris Cotter.

It only took me a few seconds to decide to flag up Breann Fallon‘s interview with Jack Tsonis on “The “Axial Age”: Problematising Religious History in a Post-Colonial Setting.” Not only did I enjoy the very ‘meta’ nature of this interview – with two long-standing Cusackian RSP team members producing content independent of David and myself – but I also delight to this day in remembering Jack’s fiery and animated presentation on the same topic at IAHR 2015 in Erfurt. I don’t think I have ever seen a scholar ‘go off on one’ quite like he did… and it was brilliant. Would that more scholars were so passionate about their area of study, and so willing to pierce through the established (boring) norms of conference presentations.

In this important interview, Tsonis demonstrates how the term ‘Axial Age’ shares much in common with the notion of ‘World Religions’ in that both – to quote the subtitle to Tomoko Masuzawa‘s seminal work – preserve ‘European universalism […] in the language of pluralism’. Tsonis forcefully argues that many left-wing scholars fail to see the racist ideology encoded in the term, and that critical scholars have a duty to not only cast the terms ‘Axial Age’ and ‘World Religions’ on the scrapheap of history, but starve them of oxygen. This is a difficult argument for some to hear, but one I heartily encourage listeners to engage with and put into practice.

You can listen to the podcast below, view and download from the original post, or find it on iTunes and other podcast providers.

 

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