In this unit, I want to look at the Hebrew religion, the Phoenicians, the Greek Heroic tradition, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. The point of this week's lecture is to understand how historians look at and use religion in our analysis of human societies.

First, it is important to recognize that to historians, the Truth of one religion relative to others is really unimportant. There certainly are historians who analyze societies through the lens of specific religions. The primary weakness of this approach, though, is that it makes it impossible to understand why cultures do what they do on their own terms. It can also promote a narrow judgement based on values that the target culture does not posses and is not aware of. Therefore, historians strive to leave out judgements of the Truth of a religion in attempting to fit this piece into the way we understand cultures. Instead, we recognize that the people we are studying believed the religion they had, and therefore, its strictures and commandments, morality and codes of behavior are important in understanding how they behaved, and how they organized their society.

To illustrate this, take an example from modern American society. When we vote, many of us vote on issues based on our morality. We choose our opinions about divorce, or abortion, based on religious or moral beliefs, and when we vote, our choices reflect those ideals. Therefore, we are attempting to organize our society according to our belief systems. Central to those beliefs, for many people, is religion. So religion has specific impact on the way we perceive the world, and the way we create social and cultural systems.

In the case of the ancient Hebrews, there are several key issues that informed the culture that they created. First, of course, is the post exilic definition of the faith as monotheistic. Hebrews therefore had one God, who was for them the creator of all, and the maker of laws. Since the story of the creation of the world was central to explaining the omniscience of Elohim, and the emergence of the Hebrews as the chosen people, this religion was by its very nature historical. In fact, the Tanakh (or Old Testament, as most contemporary Americans know it) is a book of history. It is concerned with lineage, family groups and their futures and pasts, and, more than anything else, with the movement of the Hebrew people through time. It chronicles their enslavement by the Egyptians, and their subsequent quest for freedom, which, under Moses, defined them as a people. At the very same point it discusses the story of the Hebrews in terms of their receiving a law from their God, and their consistent breaking of that law, and the consequences of their behavior. The story serves several purposes from a purely political point of view. First, it gives supreme power to the law of the Hebrew culture, since the consequences for disobedience are the suffering not of individuals, but of whole cities. It also cements the sense of belonging to the culture for all that speak the Hebrew language. Stories such as those of Moses, David, Solomon and the Temple solidify a common adventure in the minds of people that explains not only what their beliefs were, but also where they came from. Finally, the story creates a single God who can meet out consequences for actions and is all-seeing, thus making it possible for those who can claim to serve Him to claim legitimacy in pursuing social cohesion and justice, no matter how they go about it. The organization of the society, then, was based clearly on monotheism and on the story of how the Hebrews came to be the chosen people. That heritage gave weight to law and morality, and helped to solve the question we have been asking since civilization began - how do we all get along?

In the Greek world of roughly the same time period (that is, roughly 800 - 300 BCE) we can see the development of a heroic literary tradition in the works of Homer, and of other later (and literate) Greek dramatic writers. In this tradition, the deeds of hero warriors such as Achilles, Agamemnon, Odysseus, Menelaus, were extolled as the ultimate examples of achievement and virtue. To win at any cost, to seize the moment of glory, to take power and rule, and to make your mark in history were the values that these characters embodied. Of course, second only to that was the idea that making money while making your mark was a good thing, as well.

This heroic tradition put value on the achievements of individuals above all else in importance. Since these stories were told to children at all levels of society, and the heroes were portrayed as real figures whose acts changed the world, they became the role models for Greek society. The goal, then, was to make your mark. In places like Athens, this led aristocrats to regularly plot against each other to gain power. But it also led common farmers and artisans to compete with each other to be the best in their crafts. Of course, the ultimate example was the games at Olympia, every 4 years. By 514 BCE, these games were open to competitors from any level of Greek society (when begun in the 6th Century BCE, they had been only open to aristocrats). The winner of an event had what the heroes had had - tremendous fame throughout Greece for his achievement. The dream of heroism and individual achievement was thus available to everyone.

This kind of value on the potential of the individual can be seen in the way most Greek City States organized themselves (Sparta is an easy-to-cite exception, but also probably had much influence from Persia). Athens, for example, eventually organized a democracy, in which each citizen's drive for power and fame was modified by the rules of belonging to a self-governing group. Trade, the most peaceful means by which fame and wealth can be achieved, was one of the great preoccupations of the Greeks.

This interest in the individual also led to a diminishing interest in the acts of the gods. With the emphasis on individual achievement, Greeks did not really want to accept the idea that their lives were controlled by fate. Instead, physikoi like Thales of Miletus, Pythagoras of Samos, and Socrates himself set out to explain the natural world (including humans) in terms they could see, describe, and understand. Thales, for example, described how the creation occurred, but left the gods out, and instead described natural processes such as the Nile dropping silt as it slid off the African shelf and into the Mediterranean Sea, thus, as Thales was able to personally observe, building up land over time. This emphasis on the individual thus brought the Greeks to one of their greatest conclusions: nature obeys natural laws, and through reason, humans can understand and manipulate those laws. They thus tried to organize their societies rationally, and according to principles that they believed were in line with natural law.

The Hindu tradition has a very different point of view from these other two, and yet this tradition also formed the basis for organizing a complex and rich culture. Hindu religion is monistic, that is, different from the dualism of Christianity, the Hebrew religion, and Islam, Hindus believe that the gods and people are all a part of the same creation. The gods do not stand apart in a separate place outside of the creation, and they do not then judge the creation as do creator gods in other theologies. Rather, Hindu gods are immortal, powerful, and wise, but exist in the same plane as humans, animals, mountains, etc. A quote from the Upanishads makes this clearer:
" Believe me, my son, an invisible and subtle essence is the spirit of the entire universe. That is Reality. That is Atman. THOU ART THAT."
"Explain more to me, father," said Svetaketu.
"So be it my son.
"Place this salt in water and come to me tomorrow morning."
Svetaketu did as he was commanded, and in the morning, his father said to him: "Bring me the salt you put in the water last night."
Svetaketu looked into the water, but could not find it, for it had dissolved.
His father then said "Taste the water from this side. How is it?"
"It is salt."
"Taste it from the middle. How is it?"
"It is salt."
"Taste it from that side. How is it?"
"It is salt."
"Look for the salt again and come again to me."
The son did so, saying: "I cannot see the salt. I only see water."
His father then said: "In the same way, O my son, you cannot see the Spirit. But in truth he is here.
"An invisible and subtle essence is the Spirit of the whole universe. That is Reality. That is Truth. THOU ART THAT." [J. Mascaro, trans., The Upanishads (London: Penguin Books, 1965), 117-118 as quoted in McKay, Hill, & Buckler, A History of World Societies, fourth edition, (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1996) 74-75.]

This monistic view of the world, in which eventually, all returns to Atman (or Brahman), shaped the functions of Hindu society. There was no concept of a god who would punish people for wrong-doing. Instead, if a person were to transgress the rules governing nature - primarily the concept of Dharma, one would cause the whole of nature to change, thus disrupting the normal flow of life. This meant that one would accumulate bad karma, or negative spiritual energy, and would thus, upon death, not become an eternal part of Brahman, but would be sent back to the world as a lower-level being (either human or non-human) until such time as proper attention to Dharma brought one back into balance with nature. That is, people could not, in the Jewish or Christian sense, commit sin. However, even the smallest act that was not proper for one's station in life meant serious damage to society as a whole, and thus to one's chance of escaping the suffering of existence. So rather than commit incorrect acts, Indians strove for moral behavior.

It was this theoretical structure that underlay the caste system, and made it possible for a relatively small number of Brahmins and Kshatriya (the priestly and ruling castes) maintain control of society's resources and people. One hesitates to commit negative acts if one assumes that the heavens will quite naturally come crashing down on one's head, so to speak.

So again, in India, we have society organized with the assistance of religious beliefs that provide a worldview concerning proper behavior, how to encourage it, and how to punish improper behavior.

Confucianism in China had quite clearly the same set of goals - that is, to provide a system of moral absolutes that encouraged people to behave and set up a system by which the legitimacy of rulers could be tested.

Confucius, or Master Kong, lived in the 4th century BCE, during the period of Warring States, after the fall of the Zhou, and before the rise of the Qin to dominate all of China at the time. This was a period in which local Chinese kings and warlords were busy fighting with each other trying to show that each had the "Mandate of Heaven", and fighting with potential invaders, including the Jurchen in the North, the Mongols and Hsiung-Nu in the northwest, and Tibetans, among others from the southwest.

Confucius, who was an ambitious man, was one of many philosophers of the period to try to answer the question: "how can we all get along?" In fact, his was the least popular answer among would-be rulers of the period. They preferred Legalism, a philosophy that said that power belonged to the strong, and that a strong king had the right to make law because he had the power to enforce it. Legalism was draconian, and sought no legitimacy beyond raw power. It was for this reason, in fact, that legalism fell from favor after the Qin Dynasty failed.

Confucius was adamant that power was not the right concept for social cohesion. Instead, he looked back to the past, to rulers whom he saw as successful in periods that he believed had been peaceful and prosperous. These included the great early Zhou Rulers Yao, Shun, and the Duke of Zhou. These men were already legends with nearly divine status, and Confucius added to their fame when he said that they had been successful because they had ruled according to moral principal. If a ruler cares for the people, and leads by showing an example of moral uprightness and is human in governing, according to Confucius, this ruler will be successful, and China will prosper.

Confucius, then, was quite clear that the system of morality was, in fact, the organizing principle for all of society, from the level of family all the way up to the emperor.

In your discussions this week, explain how you think this fits into the hexadigm model. Which face of the hexadigm is the best place to put religion as we try to analyze change in human history.