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The social role of religion and religious philosophies can hardly be underrated since it introduces the foundational values to the society and allows maintaining order while also being the source of continuous inspiration and spiritual growth. Therefore, religions and religious philosophies that emerged during the Axial Age (5-6 BC) served as essential factors contributing to the further development of the society. Among the crucial ones that defined the further evolution of the humankind, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Jainism, Confucianism, and Legalism need to be mentioned (Bowman 7-11). Despite the fact that the identified religions and religious philosophies appeared at different points in time, in different cultures, and based on different ethical and moral systems, each of the philosophies rendered a specific idea of social interactions and suggested similar rigid value systems, therefore, introducing order into the early societies.
The proponents of Zoroastrianism worshiped a single deity (Ahura Mazda) and was based on the teachings of Zoroaster, who was an Iranian prophet. When considering the unique properties of the identified religion, one must mention that it is monotheistic in contrast to the ones such as Buddhism. In fact, the focus on a single identity that is defined as the superior creature, as well as the mentioning of the prophet that made it possible for the religion to become well-known and widely accepted by a significant number of people makes Zoroastrianism similar to the current religions such as Christianity and Islam. Viewing Ahura Mazda as the be-all and end-all of the universe, in turn, also sets Zoroastrianism apart from the rest of the religious beliefs mentioned above since none of the said philosophies tends to focus on a single deity (Voorst 10). That being said, Zoroastrianism serves the purpose of saving people’s souls and introducing a very specific order into the social interactions. Particularly, the fact that Zoroastrianism views the promotion and enhancement of order as the foundational concept of societal interactions deserves to be mentioned.
Unlike the rest of the religions on this list, Buddhism is closer to philosophy as opposed to an actual religion. Therefore, it stands aside from the rest of the religious movements such as Jainism, Zoroastrianism, and Confucianism. In some respect, the lack of emphasis on the role of a particular deity in the context of the religion makes Buddhism close to Legalism. However, unlike the latter, which does not have the supreme person that its proponents follow, Buddhism introduces its proponents to the idea of Enlightenment and the opportunity to join the ranks of spiritual leaders. Furthermore, Buddhists make extensive use of statues, pictures, and other representations of their religious leader. Finally, reincarnation as a crucial concept in Buddhism is what makes it unique among other religious philosophies such as Zoroastrianism, Legalism, Confucianism, and Jainism (Zhao 97).
In its attempt to explore the relationships between people and the universe in which they exist, Jainism comes very close to Zoroastrianism, with a rather heavy emphasis on cosmology and the exploration of people’s place in the universe. However, unlike Zoroastrianism, which focuses on the said analysis of people’s place in the universe, Jainism promotes the concept of karma as the foundational principle of social interactions.
In fact, Jainism has a lot in common with Buddhism. For instance, both religious philosophies have rather charismatic leaders (the Buddha and Mahavira) as the role models that promote a set of specific values to the proponents of the religions. It should be noted, though, that, unlike Jainism, which is more lenient toward its opponents, Buddhism rails the very idea of ritualism, as well as asceticism, therefore, emphasizing the significance of focusing on the spiritual aspects of salvation. Jainism, therefore, can be classified as rather orthodox, which makes it close to Zoroastrianism (Athyal 133).
As a rule, Confucianism is often compared to Buddhism as the religious ideology that focuses on its philosophical aspects rather than religious ones. For instance, similar to Legalism, both religions aim at introducing a rigid structure into the society. Furthermore, both have rather charismatic leaders as the role models based on which the believers shape their behavior (i.e., Buddha and Confucius).
However, when considering the goals that each of the religions pursues, one must admit that there is a significant difference between the two. Buddhism views reaching the state of enlightenment as the ultimate goal whereas Confucianism merely promotes the introduction of orderliness into the society. In this respect, Confucianism is quite close to Legalism seeing that both focus on the significance of order as the basis for proper social interactions. Furthermore, much like Zoroastrianism, Confucianism is a monotheistic religion that does not imply worshipping several deities (Rambo and Farhadian 3).
One might argue that Legalism as philosophy stands aside from the rest of the ideas mentioned above. Indeed, Legalism does not imply the presence of any superior being, unlike Jainism does, for instance. Similarly, legalism does not require the presence of a spiritual teacher, which is an essential component of Buddhism and Confucianism teachings. Instead, it focuses on order as the glue that keeps the society together and allows maintaining order within it. At this point, one might argue that Legalism rubs shoulders with some of the postulates of Zoroastrianism.
Indeed, according to the latter, the order must be viewed as the crucial concept that defines people’s behavior, their roles in the society, their ethical choices, etc. However, unlike Zoroastrianism, which also implies considering the variety of opinions regarding a particular dilemma, Legalism demands that every choice must follow the letter of the law. Therefore, in some way, Legalism can be viewed as restricting people’s ability to think independently and develop personally, taking new viewpoints and ideas into account (Zhao 118).
Even though Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Jainism, Confucianism, and Legalism, when considering the religious philosophies closer, one will find that the said religious philosophies were founded on entirely different ideas and concepts, the steady system of values, a rigid concept of social interactions, and a very detailed description of the role and place of a human being in the grand scheme of events.
Therefore, it will be reasonable to state that Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Jainism, Confucianism, and Legalism share a range of similar ideas on a certain level. That being said, there are significant differences between the philosophies and religious listed above, the details regarding the role of people in the universe and the relationships between people and the central deity or deities being the key ones. Placed in the context of specific cultures and developing in unique environments, the identified philosophies and religions served not as a moral compass to their proponents but also as the foundation for the further growth and self-identification.
Athyal, Jesudas M., editor. Religion in Southeast Asia: An Encyclopedia of Faiths and Cultures: An Encyclopedia of Faiths and Cultures. ABC-CLIO, 2015.
Bowman, Jonathan. Cosmopolitan Justice: The Axial Age, Multiple Modernities, and the Postsecular Turn. Springer, 2015.
Rambo, Lewis Ray and Charles E. Farhadian, editors. The Oxford Handbook of Religious Conversion. OUP, 2014.
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Voorst, Robert E. Van. Anthology of World Scriptures. Cengage Learning, 2016.
Zhao, Dingxin. The Confucian-Legalist State: A New Theory of Chinese History. Oxford University Press, 2015.