THE THEME: “The Second Axial Age – The 21st-Century Evolution of Religion and Spirituality”

Scholars of religion point to “the Axial Age” (roughly the first millennium BCE) as the period of the dawn of the great classical religions that we know today. These days, it’s often suggested that we have entered a second great “turning on the religious axis,” a Second Axial Age. If the first brought the individual to the fore, the latter shifts our focus to the global dimension of ethical, religious, and spiritual awareness and action.

The great theologian Ewert Cousins (1927-2009) believed that the 21st century marked a new evolutionary turning that will reshape religion and spirituality in extraordinary ways.

If we shift our gaze from the first millennium BCE to the eve of the twenty-first century, we can discern another transformation of consciousness. It is so profound and far-reaching that I call it the Second Axial Period. Like the first it is happening simultaneously around the earth, and like the first it will shape the horizon of consciousness for future centuries. Not surprisingly, too, it will have great significance for world religions, which were constituted in the First Axial Period. However, the new form of consciousness is different from that of the First Axial Period. Then it was individual consciousness, now it is global consciousness. (Ewert Cousins, Christ of the 21st Century, pp. 7-8.)

We propose that the Charter Dialogues center on the evolution of religion and spirituality in the 21st century, and on the refinement of the draft Charter. What are the most dramatic changes that might be on the horizon? What is the promise of our evolutionary age? What are the dangers, the challenges, and the opportunities? What does it mean to be at the threshold of a “Second Axial Age?” What commitments to action can we offer?