From Paganism to World Transcendence: Religious Attachment Theory and the Evolution of the World Religions
Stephen K. Sanderson
This chapter draws on one of the new cognitive and evolutionary psychological theories of religion, religious attachment theory, to explain the emergence of the Axial Age religions of the late first millennium bce. These religions—Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism—introduced new kinds of gods into world history—gods that were transcendent and capable of providing release from suffering. Religious attachment theory views religion as providing “substitute attachment figures” under circumstances in which people’s social attachments have been severely disrupted. The basic argument of the chapter is that the new Axial Age gods were responses to heightened levels of anxiety and ontological insecurity that accompanied massive increases in warfare and urbanization in the period between approximately 600 bce and 1 ce. The anthropomorphic pagan gods of the ancient empires had become inadequate in the face of the new religious needs that people began to experience, and thus they came to be replaced.