Toward a Big History Interpretation of Religion

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Ken Baskin


The word “religion” refers to a wide range of phenomena ranging from Tibetan Buddhism to the Prosperity Gospel. As a result, religion has accrued a “bewildering variety of definitions”. This essay, rather than asking the ontological question – “What kind of thing is religion?” – looks at religion epistemologically, asking what religion enables people to know. The resulting exploration suggests that religion is part of the process by which human groups come to know and adapt to the powerful, often-mysterious forces that produce awe and terror. By looking at how societies at different levels of social complexity have responded to the crises produced by these forces, the author suggests that the habits of mind that would become science and philosophy, as well as religion, evolved as the way those societies have adapted to existential crises, especially in times of rapid, widespread change. 

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Author Biography

Ken Baskin

Ken Baskin is an independent writer and lecturer who has spent the last two decades reexamining familiar phenomena in terms of the worldview expressed in Complexity Science. He is currently working on a book that reinterprets religion epistemologically, as one of the key ways human groups come to understand and adapt to the existential challenges they face. His books include Corporate DNA (Routledge, 2012), an examination of organizations conceived as organisms rather than mechanisms, and The Axial Ages of World History (2014), a comparison of the Axial Age and Modernity, co-authored with Moscow anthropologist, Dmitri Bondarenko. Ken earned his PhD in English Literature from the University of Maryland in 1977 and currently lives in Philadelphia, PA, with his wife Martha and their feline housemate, Boris Kilmouski.