Classical belief systems

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Belief systems in CONTEXT Historians view religion in the context

of time and place. For example: Buddhists in India in the 300s ce were

not the same as Buddhists in Southeast Asia in the 1800s c.e. though some of the core beliefs remained unchanged.

Historians view religions as an influence ON culture AND influenced BY culture. For example: Christianity changed Roman culture

and the Renaissance in Europe influenced Christianity.

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Belief systems as a study topic

Historians view religions as a part of human experience For example: Hinduism is not judged as

right or wrong in its beliefs or practices, but interpreted in how it influenced human history as it started in South Asia and spread elsewhere.

Confucianism is not judged as good or bad, but understood in the ways it influenced Chinese social classes, etc.

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Hinduism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Greek Rationalism, Daoism

& Christianity

Belief Systems of the Classical Period

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Foundations There is no recorded founder of

Hinduism – it is the oldest institutional religion of the early belief systems.

Judaism began in the Middle East around the 1200s bce when it had its own political empire.

First monotheistic religion

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Foundations Daoism emerged in East Asia in the

600s to 300s BCE from the teachings of Laozi and later Zhuangzi

Zoroastrianism arose in Persia in the 500s BCE from the teachings of Zarathustra

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Foundations Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha),

the founder of Buddhism, was originally a Hindu in the upperclass.

Buddhism emerged in South Asia out of Hinduism starting in the 500s bce.

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Foundations Jesus of Nazareth, the founder of

Christianity, was a lower-class Jew living in Roman controlled Middle East.

The Jesus movement became Christianity with non-Jewish converts.

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Existence after Death

Hinduism and Buddhism – Existence is cyclical until one breaks from the cycle and becomes eternally spirit.

Judaism (some forms), Zoroastrianism, & Christianity – Existence is linear; one lives and then becomes eternally spirit.

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Groups within Buddhism and Christianity supported missionaries – men and women who purposely took the message of a religion into different regions.

Religions also spread through conquest, along trade routes, and through migrations.

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Buddhism spread from South Asia into East and SE Asia.

Buddhism by the 500s ce was stronger in areas where it spread than where it originated.

How does this compare to Zoroastrianism? How does this compare with Hinduism?

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Judaism spread after the Romans exiled Jews to new territories in Europe

Christianity spread into the Roman Empire, into North and East Africa, and beyond.

Christianity by the 1200s was stronger in areas where it had spread than in where it originated.

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Spread & CHANGE

As religions spread and new interpretations arose – there were changes, splits into different sects (or groups), and new influences

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Texts The founders of Buddhism and

Christianity did not record their own statements or life story.

Which belief systems are connected to these texts?

Vedas and Upanishads


Gospels & Epistles



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Challenges to Society

Both Buddhism and Christianity, more than the other belief systems, challenged the social class system and women’s status.

Especially in the early centuries, these religions appealed to lower classes and women.

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Greek Rationalism…What’s up with that???

Greece-polytheism remained Intellectuals abandoned mythology Natural laws govern world Humans can understand those laws Power of Human Reason! KEY ELEMENT-the way questions are asked

(argument, logic, questioning of received wisdom)

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Greek Rationalism…What’s up with that???

Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle Constant questioning of assumptions Applied rationalism to understanding human

behavior..Herodotus-the first historian (why did the Persians and Greeks fight each other?)

Influenced later Western Civs-knowledge preserved by Byzantines and Islam