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UNIT 5: Early Belief Systems

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READINGS

Reading 1

Candice Goucher, Charles LeGuin, and Linda Walton, In the Balance: Themes in World History (Boston: Mc-Graw-Hill, 1998). Selections from chapter 4, "Ideas and Power: Goddesses, God-Kings, and Sages," 126–45

Abstract: This essay explores the relationship between changing forms of community and how people understood and interpreted their worlds. It seems clear that, from the earliest times, ideas have been used to explain and justify the unequal distribution of power among individuals and groups in society or to sanction and legitimize the power of rulers and states. It also seems likely, despite incomplete evidence, that the rise of dynastic states resulted in a shift away from matristic (woman-centered) societies towards societies based on the veneration of warriors. Finally, this essay traces the association of political authority with religious beliefs and practices, from Shang China to Egypt, and from Sumer and Akkad to Teotihuacan.

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Reading 2

Candice Goucher, Charles LeGuin, and Linda Walton, In the Balance: Themes in World History (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1998). Selections from chapter 4, "Ideas and Power: Goddesses, God-Kings, and Sages," 145–62.

Abstract: This essay explores religious ideas that developed not as a means to further the power of dynasties or states, but to contest the established order of things and to challenge the power of rulers and states. Using a diverse array of examples—from Judaism, Buddhism, and Jainism to Confucianism and Greek philosophy—it seeks to explain how these belief systems both emerged from older traditions and offered new ways of thinking about the meanings and functions of human existence.

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Reading 3

Candice Goucher, Charles LeGuin, and Linda Walton, In the Balance: Themes in World History (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1998). Selections from chapter 4, "Ideas and Power: Goddesses, God-Kings, and Sages," 162–74.

Abstract: This essay explores the rise of the imperial model from the fourth century BCE to the fourth century CE, and its importance for ordering human societies and belief systems in this period. Imperial societies from the Mauryan to the Han to the Roman relied for their legitimacy on ideologies of god-kings rather than on ideologies of humanism or rationalism. At the same time, each empire also grew out of earlier traditions and integrated aspects of earlier thought into their legitimizing ideologies.

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