Charles Taylor is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Philosophy at McGill University and author of influential books including Sources of the Self, The Ethics of Authenticity, and A Secular Age. He has received many honors, including the Templeton Prize, the Berggruen Prize, and membership in the Order of Canada.
[A Secular Age] may become an enduring contribution to
understanding religious belief, the evolution of the secular order,
and the defining characteristics of modern secularism and
contemporary spirituality. Like Charles Taylor's earlier books, it
is a product of prodigious erudition. Its 874 dense pages brim with
original observation, cogent argument constructed from sources in a
wide array of disciplines, and generous ecumenical gestures, even
towards humanists. His story is complex, somewhat repetitious and
yet unflaggingly interesting: it is loaded with so much novel
detail and insight that the reader will be grateful for each scrap
of familiar ground.--Tamas Pataki "Australian Review of Books "
The focus here is neither on the role of religion in public institutions nor on the extent of religious beief, but rather on its conditions... It is the slow emergence of secularity in this sense that Taylor sets out to explain, at formidable length, and in remarkable historical and philosophical detail. Binding all that detail together is an argument that Taylor manages to sustain over nearly eight hundred pages. Simply put, A Secular Age is a magisterial refutation of what Taylor calls the 'subtraction story' of secularisation.--Jonathan Derbyshire "Philosopher's Magazine "
Charles Taylor's remarkable book A Secular Age achieves something quite different from what other writers on secularization have accomplished. Most have focused on decline as the essence of secularism--either the removal of religion from sphere after sphere of public life, or the decrease of religious belief and practice. But Taylor focuses on what kind of religion makes sense in a secular age... Taylor is asking not only how secularism became a significant option in a civilization that not so long ago was explicitly Christian, but what that change means for the spiritual quest, both of those who are still religious and those who consider themselves secular. I doubt many people have even perceived that aspect of secularism, and Taylor's book should be as much of a revelation to them as it was to me.--Robert N. Bellah "Commonweal "
Charles Taylor's A Secular Age offers a uniquely rich historical and philosophical overview of how we came to take a disenchanted world for granted--quietly inviting us to reflect that if disenchantment and the absence of the divine were learned habits of mind, they might not necessarily be the self-evidently rational truths so many think they are.--Rowan Williams "Times Literary Supplement "
In his characteristically erudite yet engaging fashion, Taylor takes up where he left off in his magnificent Sources of the Self (1989) as he brilliantly traces the emergence of secularity and the processes of secularization in the modern 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.--Publishers Weekly (starred review)
A Secular Age offers an invaluable map of how the modern religious-secular divide came into being.--Andrew Koppelman "Dissent "
If you are, as I am, often puzzled by the landscape of contemporary religious belief and unbelief, you will regard Charles Taylor's huge and hugely rewarding intellectual history of the secularization of European and North American culture as a marvelous gift. A Secular Age is a first-class map of the spiritual terrain of Western modernity as well as the road that got us here.--Robert Westbrook "Christian Century "
Sophisticated, erudite...with excursions into history, philosophy and literature, A Secular Age is a weighty and challenging tome. It is also a brilliant account of the 'sensed context' in which secularization developed. And a moving meditation, by a believer, on the 'ineradicable bent' of human beings to respond to something beyond life, to keep open 'the transcendent window.'--Glenn C. Altschuler "Baltimore Sun "
In A Secular Age, philosopher Charles Taylor takes on the broad phenomenon of secularization in its full complexity... [A] voluminous, impressively researched and often fascinating social and intellectual history...Taylor's account encompasses art, literature, science, fashion, private life--all those human activities that have been sometimes more, sometimes less affected by religion over the last five centuries.--Jack Miles "Los Angeles Times "
In an idiosyncratic blend of the philosophical, the historical, and the speculative, Taylor describes the shift from a world brim-full with spirits and magic to a world where divinity is absent. His account resists the idea that the rise of secularism is a process of subtraction, of loss, and of disenchantment. Rather, Taylor describes secularity's birth as the migration of ideas, subtle changes in those ideas, and the opening of new possibilities. If Taylor's communitarian scholarship celebrated historical and social rootedness, A Secular Age is an encomium to the sheer happenstance of how those circumstances arose.--Azziz Huq "American Prospect "
A culminating dispatch from the philosophical frontlines. It is at once encyclopedic and incisive, a sweeping overview that is no less analytically rigorous for its breadth. Its subject is a philosophical history of the past, present and future of Western Christendom. As such, it begins with a deceptively simple question: How did it become possible for anyone to not believe in God? ...A Secular Age recounts the history of an idea, in other words, but in it the past is not an inert, settled fact, but a reservoir to be drawn upon to shatter the sameness and the apparent inevitability of the present. As a history it clarifies crucial intellectual and theological divisions that continue to structure debates about divinity, but with the aim of reforming the way we think about them, 'to show the play of destabilization and recomposition.' Though this isn't a book you take to the beach, it remains eminently readable. As philosophers go, Taylor is a kind of behaviorist, more concerned with elaborating the implications of a way of thinking than with showing its contradictions. Unlike most philosophers, though, Taylor seems at pains to remain accessible to a general audience to capture complex philosophical debate in ordinary language. An important part of Taylor's argument is that religion and the belief in God, most particularly the experience of transcendence, are not at all outmoded... Though it avoids predictions or prescriptions, A Secular Age leaves us with the sense that the future will be a far poorer, less human place, if we do not discover some expression for that transcendent otherness.--Steven Hayward "Cleveland Plain Dealer "
A Secular Age is a towering achievement... It shows the ways we have traveled from the automatic certainties of 1500 to the fragile alignments of today. It transforms the secularization debate.--David Martin "The Tablet "
A Secular Age is a work of stupendous breadth and erudition.--John Patrick Diggins "New York Times Book Review "
Very occasionally there appears a book destined to endure. A Secular Age is such a book... A Secular Age is an important and deeply interesting work. Its central thesis is that secularization must be understood not simply as the decline of certain beliefs and institutions, but as a total change in our experience of the world... There are subtle, original discussions of the modern self, of changing conceptions of time, of the religious landscape of art, and much else besides. Taylor has a great gift of empathy, an ability to inhabit and bring to life the mental world of both believers and unbelievers. A true Hegelian, he sees the goal of philosophy as understanding, not judgment.--Edward Skidelsky "Daily Telegraph "
It is refreshing to read an inquiry into the condition of religion that is exploratory in its approach. Charles Taylor, a Roman Catholic as well as one of the world's leading political theorists, does not aim to attack or defend any system of belief in his new book, A Secular Age. Rather, he wants to elucidate the very idea of a secular world. For Taylor, the difference between the pre-modern Western world and the modern West is not simply that beliefs held then are no longer accepted today; it is that the entire framework of thought has changed.--John Gray "Harper's "
Taylor makes a strong case for the presence in ordinary moral life of something like Plato's idea of the Good, however little acknowledged... A Secular Age carries the story further, into the question of the role of religion in constituting a person's identity. Taylor wants to lay out what it takes to go on believing in God, in the absence of any equivalent to the intellectual, cultural and imaginative surroundings in which pre-modern religion was quietly embedded. This is what he calls our 'social imaginary': how we collectively sense what is normal and appropriate in our dealings with one another and with the world around us. This is something deeper and more diffused than philosophical theories or thought-out positions.--Fergus Kerr "The Tablet "
Taylor is arguably the most interesting and important philosopher writing in English today... What makes Taylor so important? Over more than 40 years, four large books, four or five slimmer essays and several volumes of articles, he has worked out a distinctive network of arguments and an exceptionally rich analysis of the modern self and its values--an analysis that reveals us to be altogether deeper and more interesting, but also less self-aware, than we tend to suppose... A Secular Age sets out to offer a richer characterization of secularization and the nature of contemporary belief, both religious and skeptical... Taylor writes brilliantly about the new social forms--the nation state, the market economy, the charitable enterprise--and the ideals of altruism and public service that have emerged with them... A Secular Age is effectively a polemic against dogmatic atheism... It is full of insights, and many of its component parts--notably Taylor's discussion of the 'pressures' that make a settled view on the big ontological questions hard to sustain--are as good as anything by this magnificent philosopher.--Ben Rogers "Prospect "
A Secular Age represents a singular achievement... Taylor is somehow uniquely able to combine chutzpah and good manners, making bold and imaginative claims, yet always attending respectfully to the whole range of disciplines that touch on the philosophical trajectory being drawn, whether that be history, sociology, theology, art theory, cultural studies, anthropology or social theory... A Secular Age succeeds in the same way as his previous work: in illuminating through complicating. At the same time, this book seems to step up the ambition somewhat: by attempting to provide a final definitive account of all the narratives and complications that make up our contemporary age, as they implode on themselves and interact with one another... Hegel knew, of course, that 'the owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk'; or, in other words, that philosophy can only fathom the truth about an age in hindsight, when the day has passed. But then again, that didn't stop Hegel having a go; and we should be glad that it hasn't stopped Charles Taylor, either.--Christopher J. Insole "Times Literary Supplement "
A rich, complex book, but what I most appreciate is [Taylor's] vision of a 'secular' future that is both open and also contains at least pockets of spiritual rigor, and that is propelled by religious motivation, a strong and enduring piece of our nature.--David Brooks "New York Times "