universal religion
Around the sixth century bce, Ezekiel and the biblical prophets emerged
from among exiles in Babylon; Thales emerged in Ionia on the coast of
Asia Minor; Gautama Buddha and the Jain founder Mahavira appeared
in India; and Laozi and Confucius emerged in China.1 This simultaneity
and parallelism are striking and cannot be explained straightforwardly
based on socioeconomic history. As an example, Marxists typically see
philosophy and religion as parts of an ideological superstructure, itself
determined by the economic base, by which is meant the modes of
pro-
duction. However, attention to transformations of the economic base has
not proven sufficient to explain the overall dramatic transformations of
this period.
Consequently, a perspective that would explain the transformations of
this period as a revolution or evolution of spirit taking place at the level of
the ideological superstructure became dominant. This view is best repre-
sented by Henri Bergson’s The Two Sources of Morality and Religion (1932).
According to Bergson, human society started as a small closed society,
and morality developed out of it for its benefit. If so, what might have
transpired for it to become open? It is clear that in the time leading up to
the sixth century bce, human society was evolving at multiple locations
from clan society to world empire, where diverse peoples interact on the
basis of trade. But this by itself is not sufficient to bring about an open
society. For Bergson, “Never shall we pass from the closed society to the
open society, from state to humanity, by any mere broadening out. The
two things are not of the same essence.”2 Bergson tried to understand
Introduction
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