A Systematic Assessment of “Axial Age” Proposals Using Global Comparative Historical Evidence

Daniel Austin Mullins, Daniel Hoyer, Christina Collins, Thomas Currie, Kevin Feeney, Pieter François, Patrick E. Savage, Harvey Whitehouse, Peter Turchin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Proponents of the Axial Age contend that parallel cultural developments between 800 and 200 BCE in what is today China, Greece, India, Iran, and Israel-Palestine constitute the global historical turning point toward modernity. The Axial Age concept is well-known and influential, but deficiencies in the historical evidence and sociological analysis available have thwarted efforts to evaluate the concept’s major global contentions. As a result, the Axial Age concept remains controversial. Seshat: Global History Databank provides new tools for examining this topic in social formations across Afro-Eurasia during the first two millennia BCE and first millennium CE, allowing scholars to empirically evaluate the varied and contrasting claims researchers have put forward. Results undercut the notion of a specific “age” of axiality limited to a specific geo-temporal localization. Critical traits offered as evidence of an axial transformation by proponents of the Axial Age concept appeared across Afro-Eurasia hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of years prior to the proposed Axial Age. Our analysis raises important questions for future evaluations of this period and points the way toward empirically-led, historical-sociological investigations of the ideological and institutional foundations of complex societies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)596-626
Number of pages31
JournalAmerican Sociological Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Jun 1


  • comparative/historical sociology
  • ethics
  • modernity
  • religion
  • social change

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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