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A Secular Age by Charles Taylor
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A Secular Age (original 2007; edition 2007)

by Charles Taylor

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Member:kristenweg
Title:A Secular Age
Authors:Charles Taylor
Info:Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (2007), Hardcover, 896 pages
Collections:Your library
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Tags:philosophy, sociology, christian history, renaissance-reformation, modernism, intellectual history, early modern history

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A Secular Age by Charles Taylor (2007)

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Dear non existent god,

Please do not make any more Charles Taylors! The gist of the book is: 'Life is so much more worth while when you believe in fairy tales."

I had to read this for a class. Thank god( the non-existent one ) I never had to suffer through one of his lectures. After 2000 years, this is what Christianity has to offer?!?! No thanks. If I wasn''t already an atheist, I would be one after reading this book. ( )
1 vote ElectricKoolAid | Mar 22, 2014 |
A monstrous work of insight and speculation; a grand framing narrative for academics who've come back around to wanting framing narratives again, Taylor enfolds Foucault, Hegel, and a vast swathe of Latin European history within his easygoing language. I'd assign chapters of this to undergrads.
1 vote YunusWesley | Aug 15, 2010 |
Wavers between beautiful/deep and inscrutable/mumbo-jumbo. I don't know if I can press on. About a third deep. I like the outline of the thesis. I'm open to the idea that seculars have given shoddy, self-surving explanation for the decline in religiousness--- but I'd appreciate it if Taylor would keep the discussion down-to-the-ground / analytic, with none of that airy-fairy sociological musings. But maybe that's the best that can be done.

UPDATE: I badly want to finish this, but dammit parts of it are just to conceptual and fluffy, and I can't press on. I'm gonna return the library copy, and promise myself that I'll buy the paperback when it comes out.
2 vote leeinaustin | Mar 16, 2009 |
I am struggling with how best to articulate my complete disappointment and utter frustration with this text. It is quite obvious that there are some readers who are very much in favor of this text’s assertions, presuppositions, and somewhat bizarre method of rationale. Clearly, I am not one of them.

Perhaps then, an articulation of what this book does NOT do is necessary. In the author’s own words:

“What I am trying to describe here is not a theory. Rather my target is out contemporary lived understanding: that is, the way we naively take things to be. We might say: the construal we just live in, without ever being aware of it as a construal, or-for most of us-without ever even formulating it. This means that I am not taking on board the various philosophical theories which have been offered to explain and articulate the “mind” and its relation to the “body.” I am not attributing to our lived understanding some kind of Cartesian dualism, or its monist materialist rivals, identity theory, or whatever; or even a more sophisticated and adequate theory of embodied agency. I am trying to capture the level of understanding prior to philosophical puzzlement. And while this modern understanding of the mind certainly opens itself to Cartesian type theories in a why that the earlier “enchanted” understanding does not, it isn’t itself such a theory. Put another way, the modern idea of mind makes something like the “mind-body problem” conceivable, indeed, in a way inescapable, where on the earlier understanding it didn’t really make sense. But by itself it doesn’t offer an answer to that problem” (30).

Conversely, what the author is interested in is “the naive understanding, because my claim will be that a fundamental shift has occurred in naive understanding to move to the disenchantment” (30).

There are several immediately obvious problems in this passage, and these problems persist throughout the text. For the sake of time and space however, I will only briefly highlight a few of the most overt.

Perhaps most importantly, Taylor’s argument is premised on the notion that there is in fact discontinuity between “the religious” and “the secular”; that these things are separate and irreconcilable. Simultaneously, Taylor tries to make the case that secularism has grown out of the religious, or what is his “enchanted” and “naive” version of the past. In this way, he presupposes a history that is both linear and progressive.

Taylor also attempts to append to the notion of secularism an ethical notion of “exclusive” humanism, asserting that it is one of many “alternative[s] to religion.” He simultaneously undermines the viability of religion as an option in two ways. First, he asserts that three conditions for belief are necessary for the survival of the historically religious. Notwithstanding his questionable premise, Taylor states that those conditions no longer exist (vanished is one of the words he uses). He likewise asserts that naivete is no longer available to anyone, believer and unbeliever alike. Second, Taylor asserts that secularism (and again the absence of condition for belief) have put an end to “transcendence,” a word Taylor designates to mean the naive religion of the past, concerned as it was beyond “human flourishing.” Essentially (and ironically), Taylor is collapsing the religious into the secular, conveniently disposing of those conditions for belief that characterize his “enchanted” past. And all of this with shockingly little support....

If Taylor’s arguments lack support, it should not be surprising. Taylor wants to argue “a fundamental shift” in “naive understanding” but likewise desires an abandonment of contemporary theory. Unfortunately, Taylor frequently attempts to utilize the authority of several European early modern and modern theoriticians, including Kant, Rousseau, Wittgenstein, Foucault, etc. The end result of which is masticated political theory, circular logic, and a self-defeating rationale. How can one after all, understand the “naive,” if that is in fact what it is to be called, if it a) no longer exits and b) the theoretical basis that might allow for at least the conception of such a notion is rejected? Taylor is “ trying to capture the level of understanding prior to philosophical puzzlement,“ as paradoxically articulated in this very modern and rational way. The attempt to balance the reality of this paradox only serves to further confound his own argument.

Perhaps the most ironic aspect of this text is that Taylor admits that his attempt to “understand” this shift will be constrained to the “modern West.” Certainly, this is at least consistent with the theories upon which he unwillingly draws, but given the nature of his presuppositions, what does this say about those civilizations which may or may not conform to the “set of forms and changes” that characterize “Latin Christiendom” and which have, according to Taylor, produced the magnanimous “self-sufficient humanism”? What kind of moral (and political) absolutism does this imply?

I have no doubt that Taylor is a well-respected man in his profession, and that he has made important contributions to his professional community. This text however, is not one of them. It is more closely related to a bad memoir than a scholarly masterpiece. ( )
4 vote jaymediane | Sep 27, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0674026764, Hardcover)

What does it mean to say that we live in a secular age? Almost everyone would agree that we--in the West, at least--largely do. And clearly the place of religion in our societies has changed profoundly in the last few centuries. In what will be a defining book for our time, Charles Taylor takes up the question of what these changes mean--of what, precisely, happens when a society in which it is virtually impossible not to believe in God becomes one in which faith, even for the staunchest believer, is only one human possibility among others.

Taylor, long one of our most insightful thinkers on such questions, offers a historical perspective. He examines the development in "Western Christendom" of those aspects of modernity which we call secular. What he describes is in fact not a single, continuous transformation, but a series of new departures, in which earlier forms of religious life have been dissolved or destabilized and new ones have been created. As we see here, today's secular world is characterized not by an absence of religion--although in some societies religious belief and practice have markedly declined--but rather by the continuing multiplication of new options, religious, spiritual, and anti-religious, which individuals and groups seize on in order to make sense of their lives and give shape to their spiritual aspirations.

What this means for the world--including the new forms of collective religious life it encourages, with their tendency to a mass mobilization that breeds violence--is what Charles Taylor grapples with, in a book as timely as it is timeless.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:41:16 -0400)

"What does it mean to say that we live in a secular age? Almost everyone would agree that we - in the West, at least - largely do. And clearly the place of religion in our societies has changed profoundly in the last few centuries. Charles Taylor takes up the question of what these changes mean - of what, precisely, happens when a society in which it is virtually impossible not to believe in God becomes one in which faith, even for the staunchest believer, is only one human possibility among others." "Taylor offers a historical perspective. He examines the development in "Western Christendom" of those aspects of modernity which we call secular. What he describes is in fact not a single, continuous transformation, but a series of new departures, in which earlier forms of religious life have been dissolved or destabilized and new ones have been created." "What this means for the world - including the new forms of collective religious life it encourages, with their tendency to a mass mobilization that breeds violence - is what Charles Taylor grapples with, in a book as timely as it is timeless."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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