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The Development and Codification of Religious and Cultural Traditions (600 BCE - 600 CE)

This page explores how as states and empires increased in size and contacts between regions multiplied, religious and cultural systems were transformed.

  • Religions and belief systems provided a bond among the people and an ethical code to live by.
  • These shared beliefs also influenced and reinforced political, economic, and occupational stratification.
  • Religious and political authority often merged as rulers (some of whom were considered divine) used religion, along with military and legal structures, to justify their rule and ensure its continuation.
  • Religions and belief systems could also generate conflict, partly because beliefs and practices varied greatly within and among societies.

external image Agregateur_Poietique.gifFor background on Islam and Christianity, go to the following Massachusetts World Hstory standards:

external image Agregateur_Poietique.gifGo the World History I.15 for an overview of religious practices in Africa before contact with Islam and Christianity

Multimedia.pngA video displaying the spread of religion though out the world from 3000 B.C.E - 2000 C.E. (see 22-59 seconds for specific parameters)
Multimedia.pngThree MonotheisticReligions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam from the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of California Berkeley uses a slideshow to identify commonalities as well as differences among these three religions.

For more, see The Birth of Islam from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

external image 200px-Paperback_book_black_gal.svg.pngFor literature connections, see Bridging Cultures Bookshelf: Muslim Journeys/Connected Histories

I. Codifications and further developments of existing religious traditions provided a bond among the people and an ethical code to live by.

How did religions help strengthen political, economic, and cultural ties within societies?
· Leaders who adopted religions were able to use certain codes of that religion to advance their personal agendas, such as justifying wars
· Religion had a role in determining status in a society. A Pagan in a Christian civilization would be of lower status.
· A person who adopted the civilizations main religion had economic benefits, such as not having religious taxes. People who didn’t convert to the civilizations religion were discriminated against in the form of taxes
· Establishing places of worship in undeveloped territory increases the chance for colonization
· A strong religion resulted in the construction of places of worship, which had architectural value, for example: the Hagia Sophia
· Adopting the same religion would unite cultures, for the Roman empire and European barbarians

How did religions promote a sense of unity?
When outside lands, or barbarians, were brought into a civilization the adoption of the main religion unified the people. Also, when leaders adopted a single religion a set of codes, which was based on religious principles, was enforced on the people. Religion’s overall effect on a civilization’s political, cultural and economic aspects strengthened the civilization’s sense of unity.

A. The association of monotheism with Judaism was further developed with the codification of the Hebrew Scriptures, which also reflected the influence of Mesopotamian cultural and legal traditions. The Assyrian, Babylonian, and Roman empires conquered various Jewish states at different points in time. These conquests contributed to the growth of Jewish diasporic communities around the Mediterranean and Middle East.

What are the characteristics and core teachings of Judaism?
· Secular religion that focused on worldly benefits, such as prosperity, material goods and successes.
· Through a covenant with God, followers of Judaism who abided by “the Law”, were promised deliverance
· There were two different types of Jews: the original Jews, who believed in the promise of deliverance from God known as a covenant, and Jesus’s followers, who believe that God’s grace is not guaranteed and is based on God’s will.

external image Agregateur_Poietique.gifFor more material on the ancient biblical history of Israel, see Massachusetts Grade 7.20

external image 200px-Hebrew_timeline2_rus.svg.pngA timeline depicting the diaspora of Jews in the Mediterranean and Middle East.

For more resources, see Jewish Virtual Library

B. The core beliefs outlined in the Sanskrit scriptures formed the basis of the Vedic religions — later known as Hinduism — which contributed to the development of the social and political roles of a caste system and in the importance of multiple manifestations of Brahma to promote teachings about reincarnation.
What are the characteristics and core teachings of Hinduism(s)?
· Believed in a caste system, which states that people’s place in society is predetermined and unmovable
· Brahmans, or priests of the highest caste, were considered to garner the most respect
· Enforced traditions, such as the sanctity of cows and the belief that a widow should be burned on her husbands funeral pyre (sati)
Overview of Sanskirt
external image Agregateur_Poietique.gifFor more on Hinduism, see Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for World History I.21

II. New belief systems and cultural traditions emerged and spread, often asserting universal truths.

A. The core beliefs about desire, suffering, and the search for enlightenment preached by the historic Buddha and recorded by his followers into sutras and other scriptures were, in part, a reaction to the Vedic beliefs and rituals dominant in South Asia. Buddhism changed over time as it spread throughout Asia — first through the support of the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, and then through the efforts of missionaries and merchants, and the establishment of educational institutions to promote its core teachings.

What are the characteristics and core teachings of Buddhism?
· Humans are inherently evil, through meditation, prayer, and unselfish behavior they can reach nirvana (true happiness)
o Nirvana: ultimate extinction of all sense of self in a mystical state
o If nirvana is not achieved, the soul is reborn (reincarnation)
o A persons reincarnation is based upon their past actions. For example a person who is evil would be born as a lesser being, a person who is good would be born with higher status in society
· Two offshoots of Buddhism:
o Theravada Buddhism: Buddhism influenced by Indian moral disciplines where the soul can advance to nirvana through tiny increments, which can transcend lifetimes
o Mahayana Buddhism: Buddhism influenced by Chinese principles, where the soul could reach nirvana in one single lifetime

How and where did Buddhism spread by 600 CE?

· Silk Road activity (ex. Traders and missionaries)

· Buddhist rulers, such as Asoka, through conquests of other civilizations, forcibly converted conquered peoples to Buddhism

· Buddhism trickled down from higher levels of societies, for example Empress Wu used Buddhist clergy to gain popularity, which caused her people to convert to Buddhism

· Buddhism spread to areas along the Silk Road, i.e. China, India, Tibet, Middle East, Turkey

· Buddhism also spread through naval trade routes in places such as Korea, Malaysia and Japan

Life of Buddah
Multimedia.png Buddha and Ashoka: Crash Course World History #6

B. Confucianism’s core beliefs and writings originated in the writings and lessons of Confucius and were elaborated by key disciples who sought to promote social harmony by outlining proper rituals and social relationships for all people in China, including the rulers.

What are the characteristics and core teachings of Confucianism?
· Man is born good.
· World is morally neutral – i.e. the world does not decide on the consequences of man’s actions.
· Human nature is inherently , therefore people should have political rights, such as the right to protest –however, Confucians still advocate a single ruler

A Brief Summary of Confucius and His Teachings
Multimedia.png2000 Years of Chinese History! The Mandate of Heaven and Confucius :Crash Course World History #7

Test_hq3x.pngConfucianism most influenced the development of East Asian civilization by:a. Showing people how to reshape traditional institutions.b. Defining the obligations associated with different social roles.c. Introducing the idea of individualismd. Establishing religious standards for the conduct of economic life.
Correct Response: B. Confucius stressed the importance of social harmony. Social order required each individual understand his or her relationship to others and fulfill the duties of his/her social station. (Taken from New York State Teacher Certification Examinations Social Studies Preparation Guide

C. In the major Daoist writings, the core belief of balance between humans and nature assumed that the Chinese political system would be altered indirectly. Daoism also influenced the development of Chinese culture.

What are the characteristics and core teachings of Daoism?
· Similar to Buddhism in the belief of detachment from the world in order to reach immortality
· Human ritual has the ability to change nature. If one can control it, there is power to be had in nature, however if one does not know enough, there can be detrimental effects
· Led to the beginning of scientific methods such as observation, experimentation, description and classification
· Daoist rulers should enforce morals and virtues upon his/her people

[Teach one illustrative example of the influence of Daoism on the development of Chinese culture, either from the list that follows or an example of your choice: Medical theories and practices, Poetry, Metallurgy, Architecture]

Daoism also influenced the development of Chinese culture. Daoism: A Short Introduction

D. Christianity, based on core beliefs about the teachings and divinity of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded by his disciples, drew on Judaism, and initially rejected Roman and Hellenistic influences. Despite initial Roman imperial hostility, Christianity spread through the efforts of missionaries and merchants through many parts of Afro-Eurasia, and eventually gained Roman imperial support by the time of Emperor Constantine.

What are the characteristics and core teachings of Christianity?
· Divine love
· Importance of faith
· Important figure = Jesus
· Christianity is monotheistic
· God is all-knowing
· All people are sinners, which separates us from God

How and where did Christianity spread by 600 CE?

· Rulers, such as Charlemagne, converted the conquered peoples

· Christianity trickled down from rulers to civilians

· Christianity was spread along the silk road through the use of monasteries; however, compared to Buddhism, it was less successful

· Roman Empire (especially the Holy Roman Empire), Ethiopia, Armenia, Kiev, the Franks

Brief History of the Catholic Church during the Roman Empire

Multimedia.pngChristianity from Judaism to Christianity: Crash Course World History #11

E. The core ideas in Greco-Roman philosophy and science emphasized logic, empirical observation, and the nature of political power and hierarchy.

What are the main characteristics of Greco-Roman philosophy and science?
· Used logic and objective questioning to solve problems, as opposed to the use of gods and religion
· The scientific method developed from Greco-Roman philosophy as a way to investigate the workings of nature
· Attempted to view the universe as parts of a whole; philosophers developed the concept of atoms as building blocks of matter

Greco-Roman Religion and Philosophy

Multimedia.pngThe Persians and the Greeks: Crash Course World History #5

III. Belief systems affected gender roles. Buddhism and Christianity encouraged monastic life and Confucianism emphasized filial piety.

How did religions affect gender roles in their respective societies?
· Women became the teachers of religion inside the home
· In Buddhist cultures, nunneries were used as places of education for women as well as nurseries
· In Islamic cultures, men practiced polygamy, and women’s rights were often limited.

Shaman drum from Mongolia
Shaman drum from Mongolia

IV. Other religious and cultural traditions continued parallel to the codified, written belief systems in core civilizations.

What other religious and cultural traditions were common by 600 CE?


· Christian societies were regulated by having houses of work, study, and prayer.


· Enforced traditions, such as the sanctity of cows and the belief that a widow should be burned on her husband’s funeral pyre (sati)


· Women’s rights included initiating divorce, owning property, and conducting their own business

· Fasting and meditation

· Once Muhammad died, a split occurred between the Islamic communities regarding the successor of his throne. The Sunni believed that any member of his tribe could take office, while the Shia believed it should by Ali or a decendant


· Fasting and meditation

· Respect towards all living creatures

A. Shamanism and animism continued to shape the lives of people within and outside of core civilizations because of their daily reliance on the natural world.

How did humans’ reliance on the natural world influence religion?
Communities questioned the cause of natural disasters and natural phenomenon. People looked towards religion to provide the answers to these questions. In Ancient Greece, mythology was developed as a means of explaining such things as the origin of the world and seasons. These people offered meals to these gods as worship and partook in religious ceremonies and rituals involving the twelve deities. In Christianity (and other religions), rulers bent the principles of their religion for their own agendas which can include justifying wars and conquering territories. In Judaism, religion was based off of worldly needs such as prosperity and successes.

Click here for a brief overview of Shamanism from a site on Alaska History and Cultural Studies.

B. Ancestor veneration persisted in many regions.
How did humans relate to their deceased ancestors?
-reincarnation/nirvana: ancestors were with either among them or were in the state of nirvana
-decorated tombs
-passed oral traditions from generation to generation

[Teach one illustrative example of regions where ancestor veneration persisted, either from the list below or an example of your choice: Africa, The Mediterranean region, East Asia, The Andean areas]

V. Artistic expressions, including literature and drama, architecture, and sculpture, show distinctive cultural developments.

How did art and culture develop to 600 CE?
-Religion (ex. Sculptures of gods…)
-based on worldly needs and events (ex. Paintings of travel along the Silk Road)

A. Literature and drama acquired distinctive forms that influenced artistic developments in neighboring regions and in later time periods.

What literary works influenced later eras?
· Marcus Aurelius – Meditations: Influenced Stoic philosophy
· Ban Gu – Book of Han: History of China during 206 BC to 25 AD
· Books of the New Testament

[Teach one illustrative example of literature and drama, either from the list that follows or an example of your choice: Greek plays, Indian epics]

B. Distinctive architectural styles developed in many regions in this period.

How did different societies’ architectural styles develop?
-environment factors
-natural resources available for building

[Teach one illustrative example of regions where distinctive architectural styles developed, either from the list that follows or an example of your choice: India, Greece, The Roman Empire, Mesoamerica]

C. The convergence of Greco-Roman culture and Buddhist beliefs affected the development of unique sculptural developments.

Other Resources: Overview of World Religions