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A Secular Age by Charles Taylor
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A Secular Age (original 2007; edition 2018)

by Charles Taylor (Author)

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811716,487 (3.77)7
Member:blstevens
Title:A Secular Age
Authors:Charles Taylor (Author)
Info:Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press (2018), Edition: Reprint, 896 pages
Collections:Your library
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Tags:Philosophy, History, Political Theory, Social Critical Theory

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A Secular Age by Charles Taylor (2007)

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Like many sociology or philosophical examinations this is grotesquely and unnecessarily wordy as if to impress fellow academics while simultaneously being fairly shallow analysis. For example, instead of the author devoting five pages in his attempt to describe subjective religious experiences he could have just said, "numinous experiences," and been done with it. Instead he uses abstract terms like "senses of fullness," and included long unnecessary quotes from Gurus no one has ever heard of. Instead of simply saying "present cultural bias" which everyone understands, he goes on at length using the descriptor, "the unacknowledged shape of the background." The pretentiousness is staggering! Then he views depth psychology as exclusively Freudian, dismisses the post-Freudian understanding of the religious function and fails to even mention Jung who has contributed more understanding to human religiosity than probably anyone in any field. Then the author fails to give much appreciation to the environmental movement as a widespread moral religious expression of Earth Goddess worship because of its inherent materialist nature and lack of focus on the sky-deity which he assumes renders it secular. It seems his understanding of religiosity is generally constrained to the Judeo-Christian idea of a transcendent sky-God and thus lacks any comprehensive anthropological understanding of religion as well. This is a heady topic for sure, but it could have easily been done in 500 pages instead of 850 and it would have been far better if he understood social psychology better and the function of the religious psyche. His excessive writing does not clarify his points to readers but confounds and overwhelms them. ( )
  Chickenman | Sep 14, 2018 |
An immense, sweeping, magisterial exploration of Western civilization, primarily over the past 500 years, as a quest to answer the question: how come in 1500 everyone believed in God and took it for granted, but by 2000 unbelief was seen as a valid option?

Taylor identifies all sorts of inter-related trends which have led to the present secular age: disenchantment, the development of the "buffered self" (as opposed to one porous to other people and spiritual forces around oneself; the ability to see oneself as an individual, independent unit, as if from above), the loss of an understanding of one's place in the cosmos replaced by random existence in the void known as the universe, and the constant agitation toward Reform in "Latin Christendom" which has marked most of the last millennium. Taylor then traces these trends over a 500 year period: the Reformation and the critique of "good magic," the rise of neo-Stoicism and the ordering of the elite, leading to a more ordered view of things, getting to the idea of "providential Deism" by the 18th century, God as setting up a system and operating according to these fixed ideas of order, all preparing the ground for the tumults of the 19th and 20th centuries. In these ways a highly communal, enchanted culture has become highly individualistic and secularized.

Such is a gross oversimplification of Taylor's narrative and does not give justice to the account. He does well at showing how the Reformation argumentation against various tenets of Catholicism not only go back to the Reform movement concept but even to the critique of the "Axial" age against the "pre-Axial" age, the shift away from pagan idolatry toward monotheism, and how many aspects of primal, "pagan" spirituality were maintained for quite a long time...and all of this reform paved the way for the same argumentation to be used against Protestant Christianity and the idea of Christianity itself. Neither modernity nor secularity are portrayed as downward spirals into the abyss; for most of the narrative Taylor is content to tell the story without providing judgment, and when he does render his own judgments, they prove nuanced, attempting to find the good, absorb the legitimate critiques, but also show the failings of the present synthesis. He spoke of the resurgence of Christianity in the 18th and 19th centuries as the age of mobilization; he sees many of the same animating trends within it in the drive for reform in culture itself.

His chapters on the state of religion and secularity today are quite insightful, as are the discussions of the dilemmas faced by all the inheritors of the Western tradition. He does well to see three real disputants, traditional religious belief, secular humanism, and a Nietzschean "post-humanism", all at times allying against another, all uneasily seeking the way forward.

He does well at expressing the dangers of moralism as replacing the grace and power found in Christianity as well.

A work to be read, grappled with, and digested. Truly indeed a monumental and epochal work. ( )
  deusvitae | Feb 11, 2018 |
A painful exacting description of the gradual displacement of a religious world with the scientific viewpoint enjoyed today. This is not easy reading, or clear. View it as an extensive conversation with an acquaintance, who is not happy when meeting with the question "What exactly do you mean by that?" His responses are somewhat catty and lead to even more involved responses. While I came to understand what he was getting at, none-the-less there was more exasperation than exhilaration in the discovery. ( )
1 vote DinadansFriend | Nov 8, 2015 |
The Path to Exclusive Humanism
One can see the development of the western societies as a road to progressive secularization, a way that leads to a social organization in with religious beliefs are no more necessary to explain the human life. This narrative, Charles Taylor convincingly argues, is questionable and has alternatives. The development of science and the reinvention of the individual aren't incompatible with the desire of transcendency. Modern societies show the revival of religious beliefs - the author refers the examples of the United States and Latin American countries - and entertain ideas and institutions based in a conception of the human that is not exclusively naturalistic. This is a most read book by whom wants to understand postmodern human society. ( )
  MarcusBastos | Jul 29, 2015 |
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." He's an obvious disciple of the late Heidegger...that senile old Nazis who pined away for the return of a Fuhrer with all his nonsensical waiting for being and higher values and all the other mumbo jumbo.

He fails to notice that secularization accelerated when open disbelief no longer carried the death penalty...gee imagine that. Unbelief was much more ubiquitous than Mr. Taylor realizes when disbelief in God was supposedly unimaginable as some recent books on the history of atheism have pointed out.

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.

One positive aspect is the fact that this book was written at all which to me is a celebration of the fact that the monotheistic religious filth is on the wane. Thank you Mr. Taylor for this performative proof. Muslim terrorism can be viewed in this light as the dying gasp of a dying religion. ( )
2 vote ElectricKoolAid | Mar 22, 2014 |
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:32 -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)

(summary from another edition)

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