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The Age of the Sages: The Axial Age in Asia and the Near East
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The Age of the Sages: The Axial Age in Asia and the Near East


Fortress Press 2013

Runs on Windows, Mac and mobile.


By setting traditions and thinkers such as Zoroaster, Buddha, Confucius, and others side by side, we are able to more clearly see the questions they struggled with, their similarities and differences, and how their ideas have influenced religious thought. In The Age of the Sages, Mark Muesse comparatively examines Asian religions in the Axial Age and their historical development, providing a balanced introductory text.

Muesse notes that “in the same way that studying another language enables one to recognize the taken-for-granted features of one’s native tongue, so too does the comparative study of religions bring to consciousness the dimensions of religious belief and practice that usually escape our notice.” His text explores the “evolution of Asian religions over a six-hundred-year span known as the Axial Age (800–200 BC) and against the background of their preaxial settings,” thus providing “the opportunity to study religions both comparatively and developmentally.” Scholarly yet accessible, the study maintains a balance between the depth of study that comes with examining a single tradition and the expanse of connection that comes from studying a range of traditions in a comparative fashion.

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Key Features

  • Provides an introductory study of Asian religions in the Axial Age
  • Tracks the historical development of each
  • Uses a comparative approach


  • Introduction: What Was the Axial Age?
  • Part I: West Asia
    • The Noble Ones
    • The Life of Zoroaster
    • Zoroaster’s Legacy
  • Part II: South Asia
    • South Asia before the Axial Age
    • The Start of the Indian Axial Age
    • Death and Rebirth
    • The Quest for Liberation
    • The Vedantic Solution
    • The One and the Many
    • The Life of Siddhattha Gotama
    • “I Am Awake”
    • Why We Suffer
    • The Noble Path
    • From Buddha to Buddhism
    • Jainism
  • Part III: East Asia
    • East Asia before the Axial Age
    • The World of Confucius
    • The Foundations of Confucianism
    • The Cultivation of Virtue
    • Early Confucianism and the Rise of Daoism
    • The Daodejing
    • Daoist Politics and Mysticism
  • Conclusion: Reflections on the Axial Age

Praise for the Print Edition

Mark Muesse has created a unique introduction to world religions that delves into the historical phenomenon of the Axial Age and shows in a fascinating comparative perspective how Axial sources still guide us in our effort to live as responsible individuals.

—Steven G. Smith, department of philosophy, Millsaps College

Product Details

  • Title: The Age of the Sages: The Axial Age in Asia and the Near East
  • Author: Mark W. Muesse
  • Publisher: Augsburg Fortress
  • Publication Date: 2013
  • Pages: 292

About Mark W. Muesse

Mark W. Muesse is the W.J. Millard Professor in Religious Studies at Rhodes College, Memphis, Tennessee. Muesse directs the Asian Studies program and is also a longtime Teaching Company lecturer. He has also written The Hindu Traditions.

Sample Pages from the Print Edition