axial age, comparative historical sociology, Max Weber, genealogy, liminality, religious experience, Mesopotamia
The aim of this article is to explore a long-term historical perspective on which contemporary globalisation can be meaningfully situated. A central problem with established approaches to globalisation is that they are even more presentist that the literature on modernisation was. Presentism not only means the ignoring of history, but also the unreflective application to history of concepts taken from the study of the modern world. In contrast, it is argued that globalisation is not a unique development, rather is concrete case of a historical type. Taking as its point of departure the spirit rather than the word of Max Weber, it extends the scope of sociological investigation into archaeological evidence. Having a genealogical design and introducing the concept ‘liminality’, the article approaches the modern process of globalisation through reconstructing the internal dynamics of another type of historical change called ‘social flourishing’. Taking up the Weberian approach continued by Eisenstadt in his writings on ‘axial age’, it moves away from situations of crisis as reference point, shifting attention to periods of revival by introducing the term epiphany. Through the distant and quite singular case of early Mesopotamia it shows how social flourishing can be transmogrified into globalising growth, gaining a new perspective concerning the kind of ‘animating spirit’ that might have driven the shift from Renaissance to Reformation, the rise of modern colonialism, or contemporary globalization. More generally, it will retrieve the long-term historical background of the axial age and demonstrate the usefulness and importance of archaeological evidence for sociology.