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A Secular Age [Hardcover]

By Charles Taylor (Author)
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Item description for A Secular Age by Charles Taylor...

Presents an analysis of secularism in the modern age.

Publishers Description

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.

From Publishers Weekly
In his characteristically erudite yet engaging fashion, Taylor, winner of the 2007 Templeton Prize, takes up where he left off in his magnificentSources of the Self (1989) as he brilliantly traces the emergence of secularity and the processes of secularization in the modern age. Challenging the idea that the secular takes hold in a world where religion is experienced as a loss or where religions are subtracted from the culture, Taylor discovers the secular emerging in the midst of the religious. The Protestant Reformation, with its emphasis on breaking down the invidious political structures of the Catholic Church, provides the starting point down the road to the secular age. Taylor sweeps grandly and magisterially through the 18th and 19th centuries as he recreates the history of secularism and its parallel challenges to religion. He concludes that a focus on the religious has never been lost in Western culture, but that it is one among many stories striving for acceptance. Taylor's examination of the rise of unbelief in the 19th century is alone worth the price of the book and offers an essential reminder that the Victorian age, more than the Enlightenment, dominates our present view of the meanings of secularity. Taylor's inspired combination of philosophy and history sparkles in this must-read virtuoso performance.(Sept.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

Awards and Recognitions
A Secular Age by Charles Taylor has received the following awards and recognitions -

  • Christianity Today Book Award - 2008 Winner - History/Biography category

Citations And Professional Reviews
A Secular Age by Charles Taylor has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
  • Christian Century - 05/03/2011 page 40
  • Publishers Weekly - 06/11/2007 page 54
  • Kirkus Reviews - 06/15/2007 page 597
  • Library Journal - 08/01/2007 page 94
  • Kirkus Best Books - 10/01/2007 page 1
  • Publishers Weekly Best Books - 11/05/2007 page 34
  • Christian Century - 12/11/2008 page 22
  • New York Times Book Review - 12/16/2007 page 15
  • New York Times Book Review - 12/23/2007 page 14
  • Choice - 02/01/2008 page 1177
  • NY Times Notable Bks of Year - 12/07/2008 page 11
  • Christian Century - 12/16/2008 page 32

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
Pages   874
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.32" Width: 6.64" Height: 2.08"
Weight:   2.85 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Sep 1, 2007
Publisher   Belknap Press
ISBN  0674026764  
ISBN13  9780674026766  

Availability  2 units.
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More About Charles Taylor

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Charles Taylor is Board of Trustees Professor of Law and Philosophy at Northwestern University, Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Philosophy at McGill University, and former Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory at Oxford University. He is the author of many books and articles, including Varieties of Religion Today: William James Revisited; Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity; The Ethics of Authenticity; Hegel; and the essay The Politics of Recognition, which appeared in Multiculturalism (edited by Amy Gutmann).


Charles Taylor was born in 1931.

Charles Taylor has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Institute for Human Sciences Vienna Lecture
  2. Public Planet Books

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Philosophy > General
2Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Philosophy > History & Surveys
3Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Philosophy > Religious
4Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > Philosophy

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Reviews - What do customers think about A Secular Age?

Can't review because not yet received  Apr 27, 2008
I'd love to review this item, but I've not yet received it, though this site promised it by now. What's the holdup?

A great title for a poor book  Feb 9, 2008
This is a wonderful 200 page book. The problem is that it takes Taylor many more hundreds of pages of repetition to finish it. I normally read a couple of books each week, but i had to put this down many times over several months to get to the end. There are some brilliant observations in this haystack, like needles, but you are so exhausted in reading the same observations so many times that it becomes a tiresome book.
I can see why there was no editor for this book since a real editor would have spent years getting him to realize that a compendium of lectures (which is what this book is according to Taylor) does not lend itself to a good book.
If you want to spend a lot of time getting to how we live in a "Secular Age" which of course we do not if looking at the world as a whole, you may find a few nuggets in here, but you won't find a vein of gold that makes the effort worthwhile. Sadly this book could have been great. Sadly, it is an example of what a poor writer can do with an interesting topic.
I pity any of his students who had to suffer through these lectures without the benefit of lots of caffeine. I am sure Taylor is a very smart and engaging man, as long as you don't have to spend more time with him than the usual checkout line takes at the grocery store.
In depth reflection  Feb 8, 2008
A work for those interested in pondering precedents that seem to now demand a second look, a more psychological reflection. There is however a slight lack of objectivity and a very slight nostagia comes through.
Magisterial, if flawed  Jan 6, 2008
As someone who spends much of my time as an undergraduate teacher of theology and church-based adult educator, I regularly run up against what Taylor calls the "subtraction theory" of why secularism has largely replaced Christian faith in the Western world as the default starting point for educated people. Taylor's painstaking, detailed journey through the past five hundred years shows the constructed nature of this implicit "common sense" and then thoroughly demolishes it. Anyone who has sought to engage "atheists" or "agnostics" on why they presume (rather than express a reasoned basis for their view) that religion is for "fools" or children owes a deep debt of gratitude to Taylor's work.

Other reviewers have noted several of the stylistic flaws, such as the tendency toward repetition, the assumption that readers speak French, and so forth. I'd simply like to add a brief note of two substantive limitations.

First, Taylor's definition of "religion" is narrow, and thus misses the "religious" aspects of other forms of social/cultural bonding that function as "religions" in our world, from the relatively trivial (such as sports partisanship) to the more serious (such as patriotism and scientism). His argument is thus directed between "belief" and "unbelief," rather than between various forms of belief systems. As he notes (but does not discuss in detail), scientism functions religiously for many, including such popular authors as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, famous for their supposed "debunking" of "religion." This diminishes the power of his argument to refute some of the more powerful forms of "belief" in our world today.

Second, he gives short shrift to two forms of inner-Christian distortion that have enormous power to generate "unbelief": fundamentalism and reactionary Catholicism. I see every day young adults who describe themselves as "atheists" when what they are rejecting is the experience of one of these distortions. I realize that Taylor has striven wherever possible to establish a non-polemical stance and perhaps wanted to avoid "attacking" these positions. However, the result again is a loss of potential power in the face of very prevalent and vocal positions in our culture.

Having said this, I am very glad for having invested the time and effort in engaging Taylor's long argument. Whether or not one agrees with him on every point is not nearly as important as the exercise in clarification of thought which the effort generates.
Extraordinarily demanding, but rewarding  Dec 25, 2007
Charles Taylor has written one of the most rewarding and demanding books I have ever read. He describes the changing conditions of belief in Latin Christendom over the last 500 years. He explains in rich detail the move from an enchanted, hierarchical world in which time was not linear and unbelief was not an option, to our present modern era, in which time is linear, the natural is separate from the supernatural, society is organized in a largely horizontal manner, and the choices of belief/unbelief are many.

While we frequently think of this as linear progress, Taylor reminds us that something has been lost in this move. Reading Taylor's description of the many stages of the changing conditions of belief (his term for the way we frame the world - our unstated assumptions about reality) makes one rethink their own decisions about belief. It is one of those rare books that one does not have to agree with to appreciate.

I have several problems with the book. The author makes extraordinary demands of the reader: not only is the book quite long, but Taylor assumes you know Latin and French (not all quotes are translated), and are familiar with dozens (if not hundreds) of authors (he frequently cites a name rather than describing a set of beliefs). His sentence structure frequently defies the rules of grammar. So set aside a large chunk of time if you want to read this book.

My other quibble with the book is that Taylor does not extend his discussion into current scientific thinking about the embodied mind. While a full discussion of this area is well beyond what he attempts in this book, his treatment of science is very superficial and more than a little dated. He attempts to address the challenge of science to transcendent belief without really understanding the issue.

That said, this book should be read by anyone seriously interested in religious belief in the modern era. I would love to see a panel discussion with Charles Taylor, Pascal Boyer and Karen Armstrong.

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