From the Anthropocene epoch to a new Axial Age : using theory fictions to explore geo-spiritual futures

Szerszynski, Bronislaw (2017) From the Anthropocene epoch to a new Axial Age : using theory fictions to explore geo-spiritual futures. In: Religion in the Anthropocene :. Wipf & Stock, pp. 35-52. ISBN 9781498291810

[thumbnail of Szerszynski - From the Anthropocene epoch to a new Axial Age author final version]
PDF (Szerszynski - From the Anthropocene epoch to a new Axial Age author final version)
Szerszynski_From_the_Anthropocene_epoch_to_a_new_Axial_Age_author_final_version.pdf - Accepted Version

Download (181kB)


In this chapter, Szerszynski discusses how he used a series of linked ‘theory-fictions’ to explore possible futures for religion in a new geological epoch, using the notion of a possible ‘Second Axial Age’ based on a radically different metaphysics. Szerszynski first explores Karl Jaspers’ idea of the ‘Axial Age’. In a 1949 book, Jaspers proposed that around the middle of the first millennium BCE a revolutionary shift occurred in cultures across Eurasia, as spiritual teachers arose who promoted ideas of a cosmological gap between the mundane and transcendent realms, and a distinction between relative local cultures and universal truths. Szerszynski argues that any understanding of paths to the Anthropocene has to take account of the emergence of Axial cultures, but cautions that this has to be done with care. He then introduces the concept of theory fictions and summarizes his own use of the genre: in three pieces all set in a fictional future in which Earth religions and cultures undergo a Second Axial Age in response to the encounter with extraterrestrial cultures and a growing understanding of the interconnectedness of living and non-living systems. Szerszynski explains how he develops in some detail one particular example of this imagined cultural shift, an offshoot of Tibetan Buddhism: Mangalayana or ‘Mars-Vehicle’ Buddhism, involving a form of geological mysticism and a new understanding of cosmic human destiny. Critically exploring contemporary claims that a Second Axial Age is emerging in the twenty-first century, Szerszynski points out, that the Second Axial Age described in his own theory-fictions is not a renewal of First-Axial-Age themes of transcendence and universality, but a turning towards a radically new metaphysics. Szerszynski finally develops the idea of ‘sacred work’. In his fictions, the activity of Martian settlers in making the red planet habitable is not understood as a secular, technological act of humanization but as a spiritual vocation involving the balancing of landscape energies and forces in the tradition of Tibetan geomancy. He concludes by suggesting that such experimental fusions between literary genres can help us to understand what it might mean to escape the limitations of First-Axial-Age thinking, and imagine different futures for religion in the Anthropocene.

Item Type:
Contribution in Book/Report/Proceedings
Uncontrolled Keywords:
?? religion, ecology, anthropocene, theory-fictiondiscipline-based research ??
ID Code:
Deposited By:
Deposited On:
16 Mar 2017 05:41
Last Modified:
28 Apr 2024 23:15