The Cognitive Semiotics of Cultural Evolution
Edited By David Dunér and Göran Sonesson
Andreas Nordlander - Chapter Seven : Religion: The Semiotics of the Axial Age
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Religion: The Semiotics of the Axial Age
“Religion is more than anything a way of making sense of the world.”
What would a theory of religion look like if it took with utmost seriousness the deep evolutionary history of humanity, as well as the cognitive resources with which this history has equipped our species, but without thereby becoming reductionist? This chapter engages such a question in the attempt to understand some of the intriguing features specifically of the religious developments of the so called Axial Age – the formative period of many of the still living world religions, roughly occurring in the middle centuries of the first millennium BCE – and how these features are made possible by the unique semiotic skills of human beings.1
7.1. An Evolutionary Cognitive-Semiotic Approach to Religion
An unobjectionable definition of “religion” is notoriously difficult to produce, and is for most purposes unuseful. However, we do need a basic idea of what we are talking about when we are talking about religion. Simply to get started, then, I shall draw on Clifford Geertz’s notion of “the Problem of Meaning” (1973, chap. 4) and understand religion as the complex process and result of the unique meaning making skills of human beings – members of the species Homo sapiens – both collectively and individually, with respect to questions of ultimate meaning, such as the “why” of existence, the...
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