The search for the origin of religion is part of modernity. It arises with the gradual collapse of the biblical narrative. It has taken various forms from reductionist accounts (Freud, Durkheim) to mythological/antimodernist one (Guenon’s Primordial Tradition). One may wonder though if the theory of the Axial Age (originally formulated by Jaspers and then systematized by historians of religions) does not provide an alternative to the unsolvable question for the origin. Religion certainly does not emerge during this period but it took a new form that continues to inform human experience with the Sacred until the present day.
The Axial Age theory also offers a non-reductionistic but still scientifically grounded starting point to explore the relationship between the world religions today (at the theological, political or ethical levels). The works of Gauchet or Habermas illustrate the potential behind this theory for contemporary debates about religion, secularism and democracy for instance. Before we claim that we are entering into a second “Axial Age”, we need to understand the meaning of the first one.