Sociology’s missed opportunity: John Stuart-Glennie’s lost theory of the moral revolution, also known as the axial age

Journal of Classical Sociology 17 (3):191-212 (2017)
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In 1873, 75 years before Karl Jaspers published his theory of the Axial Age in 1949, unknown to Jaspers and to contemporary scholars today, Scottish folklorist John Stuart Stuart-Glennie elaborated the first fully developed and nuanced theory of what he termed “the Moral Revolution” to characterize the historical shift emerging roughly around 600 BCE in a variety of civilizations, most notably ancient China, India, Judaism, and Greece, as part of a broader critical philosophy of history. He continued to write on the idea over decades in books and articles and also presented his ideas to the fledgling Sociological Society of London in 1905, which were published the following year in the volume Sociological Papers, Volume 2. This article discusses Stuart-Glennie’s ideas on the moral revolution in the context of his philosophy of history, including what he termed “panzooinism”; ideas with implications for contemporary debates in theory, comparative history, and sociology of religion. It shows why he should be acknowledged as the originator of the theory now known as the axial age, and also now be included as a significant sociologist in the movement toward the establishment of sociology.

Author's Profile

Eugene Halton
University of Notre Dame


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