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

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/ProceedingsChapter

Published
Publication date28/03/2017
Host publicationReligion in the Anthropocene
EditorsCelia Deane-Drummond, Sigurd Bergmann, Markus Vogt
PublisherWipf & Stock
Pages35-52
Number of pages18
ISBN (Print)9781498291810
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Abstract

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.