A Secular Age

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Harvard University Press, Sep 20, 2007 - Philosophy - 874 pages
3 Reviews

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.

 

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A secular age

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This magnum opus of a major philosopher won the 2007 Templeton Prize, a highly prestigious award for works that significantly contribute to the understanding of science and faith. Taylor (philosophy ... Read full review

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This is a mature work of breathtaking scope and depth. Taylor pulls together a broad range of topics and disciplines in trying to give an attentive account of how the late modern West has become "secular", and what that might mean. In so doing, he makes a strong case for an analysis of this topic that is necessarily nuanced and modest, even for all its painstaking detail and sheer volume. Indeed, he cogently demonstrates that the shortcomings of most other contemporary attempts at modernity/secularity analysis have to do precisely with a lack of such nuance and caution. Unexamined assumptions and unacknowledged adherence to intellectual biases have been the unfortunate characteristics of much contemporary scholarship on these topics and have contributed to a narrow and skewed understanding of social and cultural forces vital to our own self-understanding. Taylor does a masterful job in beginning the work of rethinking these matters. Anyone interested in serious engagement with modernity and/or religious studies must become familiar with this tremendous work.
My only criticism is of the book's many grammatical errors and awkward phrases. I should think that a Harvard publication would have been thoroughly scrutinized by a good editor prior to publication.
 

Contents

IV
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V
90
VI
146
VII
159
VIII
212
IX
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X
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XI
270
XVIII
473
XIX
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XXI
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XXIV
676
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711

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XIV
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XXVI
728
XXVII
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XXVIII
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XXIX
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About the author (2007)

Charles Taylor is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at McGill University.

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