The Review of Religions is proud to announce the formation of a new section focusing on our ancient past. This section will explore the legacy of our ancestors: from their livelihoods, monuments and objects, to their beliefs, languages and customs. Archaeology and studies relating to ancient religion continue to shape our understanding of how people and civilisations of the past have influenced our lives today.
Here, we introduce some of the content that this section will produce whilst emphasising the importance of these areas of study, particularly in this current age.
In the billions of years that this water-laden planet has spent inhabiting our universe, human beings have barely registered. To put our insignificance into perspective, imagine the history of planet Earth condensed into a 24-hour clock. The earliest forms of life arrive at 4 a.m. Fast forward to 10:56 p.m. when the dinosaurs set foot, around 230 million years ago. They stick around for a while, over 150 million years, before abruptly departing around 11:39 p.m., or 66 million years ago.
It is not until 11:59 p.m. and 59 seconds that modern human beings arrive, rapidly spreading and entirely dominating our planet at an unprecedented level. Despite our desperately late arrival, the impact of our species remains unparalleled to any other living organism over the past 4 billion years.
As a species, we have engulfed this world at an exhausting speed, rarely taking the opportunity to breathe, look back and assess what best to do next. At a time when we appear to be hurtling towards a perilous precipice, the importance of studying the patterns of the past whilst assessing our successes and failures has become fundamental.
The fields of archaeology, anthropology, ancient history, ancient religion, linguistics and the like comprise a direct attempt at understanding our often complicated, but equally fascinating, impact on the world. From the first ‘wise humans’ – commonly known as Homo sapiens – who roamed earth around 300,000 years ago, to the last dozen or so uncontacted tribes on earth today, our ability to create, communicate and coexist has distinguished us from any other life form on earth.
It is in this regard that The Review of Religions, through the guidance of His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba), worldwide head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, has created a dedicated section focusing on all elements of our ancient history. Through a diverse panel of expert writers spread over several countries worldwide, we aim to deliver and provide the readers of The Review of Religions with a broad consensus on everything related to our distant past and how we have shaped our planet.
In particular, two aspects will form the focus of this section: archaeology and ancient religion. Archaeology entails all aspects of human history. The term human incorporates other extinct species of the Homo genus such as Neanderthals and Denisovans, not to mention the peculiar Homo floresiensis species of Indonesia, aptly nicknamed ‘hobbit’, with an average height of 3ft 7in. Every artefact, structure, human body or inscription falls under the remit of archaeologists, and this section aims to explore such discoveries in their broadest sense. Updates from excavations, latest trends in research, new discoveries and the like will be brought directly to our readers through this section.
Perhaps more pertinently, the legacy of religion through our human history also falls neatly into this section. The sociologist Mircea Eliade famously coined the phrase Homo religiosus to describe the innate desire of human beings to turn towards religion. Whilst the term exists in a more philosophical sense, the impact and presence of religion throughout human history has been unwavering. This section will attempt to explore the legacy of religion and understand what role it held within civilisations of the past. When did religion first begin? Did monotheism come before polytheism? What evidence is there for the accounts of the Vedas, the Bible, the Qur’an and other such holy scriptures? What role do ancient languages play in our religious history? Our objective is to immerse ourselves in responding to such pressing questions and present the latest understanding of what they mean.
Whilst the above is somewhat research-centric, related content pulling from museums, exhibitions, conferences, lectures and other such public events will also be featured. The Review of Religions holds many such events of its own, most notably the series of exhibitions at the Jalsa Salana (annual convention of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community) in the UK, which has attracted great attention. Similarly, The Review of Religions has collaborated with world-leading institutions and universities in the past and will continue to do so, inviting academics from their respective fields to contribute to this discourse. All in all, we set out to explore the topics of archaeology and ancient religion for the benefit of The Review of Religions readership.
And so, as the 24-hour clock of Earth continues to tick on, our futures continue to appear uncertain and precarious. Humanity as a species may only have arrived at the last second, so to speak, but our collective successes, mistakes, challenges and decisions could help give clarity on which path to take next. Interestingly, every major religion continually asks us to look back and observe the mistakes of past civilisations and peoples. The need for such observation appears wholly overdue. Perhaps now is time for us to take a moment and reflect, at least before midnight approaches.
About the Author: Rizwan Safir, Editor of this new section, is a Senior Research Consultant specialising in archaeology and museums, with over 10 years experience in the Middle East. He has worked for the British Museum, Humboldt University Berlin, Copenhagen University and other such institutions on excavations and heritage conservation projects in the Middle East region; including Egypt, Sudan, Jordan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UAE and Qatar. Rizwan currently works for Barker Langham on the development of new museums and exhibitions in the Gulf region.