Theme 2: Asia & Americas

Chapter 7: The Axial Age in Asia

Shelley Rose


Historian Robert Marks argues historical “conjuncture” occurs when “several independent developments come together in ways that interact with one another.” (1) The Axial Age in world history, a term coined by German philosopher Karl Jaspers, is one example of Marks’ concept.  The Axial Age is typically described as the period between 800-200 B.C.E. during which key philosophers and thinkers, such as Confucius, appeared in various world societies without any explicit connection between each other. This chapter focuses historians’ use of the term Axial Age as part of the historiography of the ancient world and encourages students to think about world history narratives as interpretations of the past.


  1. Robert Marks, Origins of the Modern World (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015), 12.


After completing this chapter, you will be able to:

  • Identify and apply the key steps of historical thinking
  • Define periodization and historiography
  • Evaluate periodization in world history narratives.
  • Define the Axial Age in world history
  • Describe the origins and context of Hinduism and Confucianism.

Section 1: Context

View: Resources from Asia for Educators on the Axial Age and Confucianism:

Robert Oxnam, “China and the Axial Age“‘

Irene Bloom “The Axial Age in the Ancient World

Asia for Educators, “The Confucian Tradition”

Robert A.F. Thurman, “The Buddha and Colleagues

Axial Age Teachers: Zoroaster and Monotheism

The Human Journey: Axial Age Thought – Judaism

Background: Heilbronn Timeline of Art History, “Timeline of Chinese Dynasties,” Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Section 2: Axial Age Articles

Halton: Stuart Glennie Axial Age

Gregerson: Bellah on Axial Age

Boy and Torpey: Inventing the Axial Age

Baumard, et al: Axial Reward Systems


Section 3: Primary Documents

Avesta: the Zoroastrian Creed

Excerpts from the Dao de jing

Isaiah Ch 40

Excerpts from the Analects

Selections from the Bhagavad Gita


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