A Secular Age

January 7th, 2011

Disenchantment and the mind-dependence of the moral

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At the core of contemporary secularism is the denial of the existence of deities and the supernatural. There is only the natural, as described by our best sciences. This ‘disenchantment’ of the world seems to leave no place for value, and this exclusion of value from the world is, Akeel Bilgrami argues in his essay “What is Enchantment?” one of the central and damning failures of contemporary secularism.

How does secularism crowd values out of our picture of the world?  If we accept a secularist metaphysics, then a necessary condition for the existence of values is that they can be accommodated by our best sciences. But our best sciences do not seem to have any room for values. Values make demands on human beings as actors—for instance, we ought to pursue the good, we ought to avoid the bad, and so on—but science describes no such free-standing “oughts.”

December 20th, 2010

Immortal mortal

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The first of the four posts in this series argued that if we seek a philosophy that encourages us to love this world, we must look for one that is both transcendent and immanent. Noting that such a philosophy would be contradictory, and thus forbidden by the way of reasoning for which the principle of non-contradiction is the firmest of all, the second post sought to humble this principle. The goal was not to reject it, for without it nonsense quickly follows; the goal was instead to demote it, by showing how inadequate it was to the task of contemplating this world of becoming. The third post next articulated a superior principle, the principle of chiasmus, which includes the principle of non-contradiction, and its characteristic activity, analysis, but harmonizes it with synthesis in a crosswise logic that reveals the concealed and eternal structure of our temporal world. This structure, the Heraclitean logos, turns out to be the encouraging philosophy we set out to find.

December 13th, 2010

Crosswise logic

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My previous post sought to humble the principle of non-contradiction, and thus the logic of consistency it defines, finding it inadequate for thinking the temporal world in which we live and breathe and have our being. Parmenides first articulated this principle, calling “equally deaf and blind” those who would not think consistently according to it, those “hordes without judgment, for whom both to be and not to be are judged the same and not the same, and the path of all is crosswise (palintropos).” Without compromise, he recognized the conflict between his principle and our world of change and diversity. Consistently, he rejected time and the logic needed to understand it. His target here was Heraclitus, who claimed that “a thing agrees in disagreement with itself; it is a crosswise harmony (palintropos harmoniē), like that of the bow and the lyre.” This post aims to explain his earlier, contradictory, but nonetheless more accurate logic.

December 6th, 2010

Truth in conflict

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My previous post argued that anyone who wishes both to think well and to feel well about the world should seek a way of thinking as immanent as it is transcendent, a crosswise way of thinking that is more capacious than the logic of consistency defined by the principle of non-contradiction. Fortunately there has long been such a way, the way of Heraclitus: “A thing agrees in disagreement with itself; it is a crosswise (palintropos) attunement (harmoniē), like that of the bow and the lyre.” In Becoming God I have argued that Heraclitean logic is not only more ancient, but also more accurate than the logic of consistency that Parmenides and the Platonic tradition deployed against it. This tradition has been dominant from the moment of its founding, thanks in part to the rhetorical genius of its founder, making non-contradiction the supreme principle of reason in the eyes of nearly every philosopher since. This post aims first to humble it before the next seeks to revive its Heraclitean rival.

November 29th, 2010

Love and reason

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Anyone who has entered the labyrinth of A Secular Age should welcome this volume as a guide. Its contributors unwind many threads—some leading deeper inside, others promising a way out—but this series of posts can follow only one. Taking up Taylor’s distinction between traditions of transcendence and those of immanence, while remaining sensitive to its subtleties, William Connolly divides these traditions still further, observing that they are constituted not only by the beliefs they affirm about the world but also by the emotions they cultivate toward the world thus affirmed. Not content to delineate merely abstract possibilities, though, he adds that “each tradition is equipped to honor Jesus by offering a distinctive interpretation of his calling and mode of inspiration.” Accepting his invitation, this post (and those to follow) will attempt to offer such an interpretation—from the perspective of the Heraclitean tradition.

September 9th, 2010

The sun shone fiercely through the window at Starbucks (Part I)

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Let us recognize, from the outset, the delicious perversity of inviting comments upon comments about the comments about Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, itself a commentary, magisterial in scope, about the inability of Anglo-Europeans to end a certain cycle of commentary about themselves, their religion, and their humanity. Nevertheless, of the many thoughtful responses and salvos found in Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age, I was most struck by Wendy Brown’s pointed and potentially devastating piece on the shortcomings of Taylor’s “odd historical materialism.”

Taylor’s sense of the material world is not unrelated to his not always implicit commitment to (or perhaps nostalgia for) the ideals of a self that flourishes, unfolds, and, at the end of the day, can be sufficiently liberated from history so as to be able to take the measure of itself—in concert, of course, with others, as they liberate themselves sufficiently from those very same forces.

September 6th, 2010

Understanding disenchantment

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Jane Bennett’s sympathetic yet critical commentary on my essay “What is Enchantment?” (published in the volume Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age) describes the notion of disenchantment that I present as primarily addressing the theological displacements that emerged with the rise of the new science. Her own work, she says, offers a quite different focus, one of a mood or affect that “circulates between human bodies and the animal, vegetable, and mineral forces they encounter.”

I don’t doubt that this interesting focus is quite different from mine, though I think it would be wrong to represent my view as being focused on the theological. In my analysis, the theological had only a central genealogical role to play in the process of “disenchantment.”

August 18th, 2010

On the call from outside

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In Akeel Bilgrami’s contribution to Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age, “enchantment” refers to the historical belief that God or his divine expression is accessible to the everyday world of “matter and nature and human community and perception.” Correspondingly, “disenchantment” refers to that shift in perspective (encouraged by early modern science and its mechanistic model of nature) by which God was exiled from nature.  Bilgrami’s ultimate aim is to “reenchant” the secular age by affirming the “callings” of a world laden with “value elements.” I will say more below about this interesting notion of a call from outside and its role in ethics; let me point out now that the processes of “enchantment” and “disenchantment” are for Bilgrami, as for Charles Taylor, essentially shifts in theological orientation, different views of the relationship between God and nature.

July 8th, 2010

Commentaries on our age

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Each contributor [to Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age] delivers a reading of Taylor’s work, helping to evaluate its significance, critical flaws, and lingering questions. They are companion pieces, then, and work best with a knowledge of the book. Their strength as a whole lies in the seriousness with which they address Taylor’s grand narrative and the sprightliness with which they point puzzled readers to related topics and avenues. Does Taylor’s book deserve such scrupulous attention? I am inclined to weight this question from the opposite side. Some of the essays in Varieties are so thought-provoking that I feel grateful to Taylor for having occasioned them, even if his own book is rather more exasperating than, as some of his readers would have it, major or magisterial.

June 7th, 2010

Ubuntu, reconciliation, and the buffered self

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Like many contributors to Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age, I share the sense that Taylor’s account of Latin Christianity demands greater attention to its global entanglements. Specifically, I am concerned with tracking the processes whereby reconciliation was bound up with the concepts, practices, and vocabulary of ubuntu during South Africa’s transition to non-racial democracy, and how, in turn, ubuntu has come to inflect the social imaginary of Taylor’s Latin Christianity.

May 20th, 2010

Circling the line

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I was asked after the 2008 Presidential election to make some loose predictions about the future of conservative political religions in the United States. As any handicapper would, I’ve kept tabs as the Town Halls grew first loud and then armed, as cries of outrage were heard in legislatures, as conspiracies once the province of Lyndon LaRouche were given a national airing, and as tea parties were held. I’m not surprised, of course, having written two books about the recrudescence of religious antiliberalism. But I found it very interesting that Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Agea wonderfully rich collection of reflections on Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age—should appear in the thick of revived public panics regarding the perceived value of secularism. As bumper sticker-length slogans are hurled like grenades from various corners—celebrating the “divinely-inspired” vision of the Founders or defending their cautions against religious presence in public life—it seems obvious that secularisms are precisely what we should be scrutinizing. Right?

May 12th, 2010

Politics of misrecognition

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What would secularity look like if we approached it through the perhaps vague rubric of “indigenous ‘religions’”? . . . Will we ever know? Most considerations of secularity, secularism, and secularization take the Abrahamic religions and, in the South Asian context, Buddhism and Hinduism as their objects, and much discussion in the wake of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age has continued this trend. Whether implicitly or explicitly, secularity is usually understood as a “civilizational” condition, and Taylor seems to confirm this by relying on Karl Jaspers’s notion of an “axial age” to mark a major civilizational transformation in thought that took place in China, India, and the Mediterranean world in the last centuries BCE. Hence, one variety of secularism, or one consequence of the varieties of secularism, might be that the practices and “myths” of indigenous religions will constantly defy availability to knowledge. Taking cues from some of the essays collected in Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age, I want to use this category of indigenous religions to think through the absences in and limitations of Taylor’s book—specifically, its misrecognition of indigenous religions.

May 7th, 2010

Casting away our crutches

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The various essays on A Secular Age gathered in Michael Warner, Jonathan VanAntwerpen and Craig Calhoun’s Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age raise a host of important and interesting questions with respect to Taylor’s account of secularism: Do we really need recourse to a notion of transcendence that takes us beyond the immanence of natural and human life in order to re-enchant our world? What kind of history—or, perhaps better put, story or narrative—of secularism is Taylor offering us? Can one properly define Western secularism in isolation from explicit consideration of the West’s encounters and intertwining with non-Western cultures?

What I think is most intriguing, however, about this book is how it unfolds as a dialogue between various visions of secularism informed by different background beliefs, thus illustrating the very kind of interaction between different options of belief and non-belief that characterizes secularism itself according to Taylor.

May 3rd, 2010

What Taylor misses

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The heft of a book would seem proportional to its exhaustiveness. It is no surprise that Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age is criticized for failing to be exhaustive, for missing important components of the story it purports to tell. Taylor responds: the book should have been longer. But this criticism and response both depend on a certain ambition—a certain desire for completeness, a certain will to truth—that author and critics themselves find problematic.

There are “others” whose voices must be heard, so the criticism goes. Taylor constructs “Latin Christendom” and the “North Atlantic” as entities that are internally homogenous with unproblematic boundaries. But what about Jews? What about Muslims? What about colonial encounters? What about the complex religious terrain of America? Don’t these differences call into question the exhaustiveness of Taylor’s historical narrative, and of the terms out of which it is constructed? How would Taylor deal with the non-believers, neither secular nor church-goers, of, say, rural eighteenth century America (as Jon Butler queries)?

But this line of questioning is symptomatic of a certain ambivalence, a tension between purported intellectual commitments and the performance of scholarship. The line of questioning is animated by a desire for completeness, by the fantasy that, once all of the data is accounted for, we can rest assured that we will get the world right.

April 30th, 2010

Higher times in the Bible Belt

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Rich in interdisciplinary breadth, Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age offers an opportunity to reflect on the reception of Charles Taylor’s magnum opus. Edited by an English professor and two social scientists, it includes contributions from a political philosopher, a sociologist, a theologian, and a literary critic. Given the many reviews of A Secular Age in these disciplines, this mix of contributors is not surprising.

Somewhat more surprising is the inclusion of two historians, members of a discipline that has largely ignored Taylor’s book. Three years after its publication, A Secular Age has yet to be reviewed in the Journal of American History and the American Historical Review.

What explains this lack of interest?  Writing in Church History, Martin Marty notes that while “the ordinary historian has very much to learn from Taylor’s use of history,” it cannot be appropriated “without undertaking a significant act of translating and organizing the material.”

September 23rd, 2009

Multi-religious denominationalism and American identity

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secular_age1Charles Taylor has argued that those of us living in North America and Europe are witnessing a shift in our social imaginary from a “Durkheimian” self-understanding, according to which political identity is tied to religious belonging, towards a “post-Durkheimian” view, in which the two are no longer seen as intrinsically linked. In the emerging dispensation, Taylor predicts, “it will be less and less common for people to be drawn into or kept within a faith by some strong political or group identity, or by the sense that they are sustaining a socially essential ethic.” Whatever its merits as an analysis of contemporary European self-understanding—and these are surely significant—Taylor’s reading strikes me as underdetermined by the American evidence…

March 12th, 2009

The fanatical counterpublic

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<br />How are we to understand Taylor’s own position between disengagement and “fanaticism”? Of course, he doesn’t want to side with those who provide closure to the immanent frame by rejecting religion on account of its fanatical excesses. In fact, his emphasis on the need for transformation—the last chapter of A Secular Age is called “Conversions” for a reason—might suggest a certain proximity to fanaticism. The fanatic, always an iconoclast that scorns the representation and asserts the need for authenticity, appears to play an important implicit role in Taylor’s story.

February 12th, 2009

Hybrid consciousness or purified religion

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<br />Charles Taylor’s framework for understanding the advent of a “secular age” in the North Atlantic world offers a useful first draft for understanding the place of religion in Asian modernity.  As I have shown in my previous two posts, modern Asian countries have secular states, but, despite efforts of some states to destroy all religion, they still have religious societies. In this post, I will discuss how new cultural conditions of belief give religion a different valence than it had in pre-modern times. Taylor’s framework, however, is only a first draft. […]

February 9th, 2009

Embedded religion in Asia

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<br />The secularity of modern Asian states has by no means led to widespread social secularity, Taylor’s second secularity, a decline of religious belief and practice among ordinary people. The degree of religious practice varies from country to country, but almost everywhere temples, mosques, churches, and shrines are ubiquitous and full of people, especially during festival seasons. Even in China, where the government actively propagates an atheist ideology and has severely restricted open religious activities, it has been estimated that as much as ninety-five percent of the population engages from time to time in some form of religious practice.  Moreover, throughout Asia there have been impressive revivals and reformations of Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian religious beliefs and practices—Asia is religiously dynamic.

February 5th, 2009

Discerning the religious spirit of secular states in Asia

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<br />In his monumental book, A Secular Age, Charles Taylor distinguishes three meanings of secularism, as it refers to the “North Atlantic societies” of Western Europe and North America. Can this analytic framework be applied outside of the North Atlantic world, particularly to Asian societies?  Taylor himself would not claim to have created a framework for a universal theory of comparative religion. But this framework, grounded in a particular cultural and historical experience, may nonetheless be useful for cross cultural comparisons.

December 23rd, 2008

Akbar Ganji in conversation with Charles Taylor

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<br />Charles Taylor: If the human relation to religion and to God is not as shallow as the mainstream theory thinks, then what would happen in many cases is religion would be recomposed in new forms that meet the new situation. And that is in fact what I would argue has happened in the West. So this is a much more adequate theory to understand this historical and sociological reality, but what it required is a deep understanding of the place of religion in human life. So I would claim that there’s a single discourse and it’s made up of elements that look as though they are drawn from three disciplines, but in fact they cohere together as a single discourse. The three discourses would be philosophy, history and sociology. You can’t do sociology without history, history without sociology, and you can’t do either without a proper philosophical understanding of human motivation. So the whole thing hangs together from those three sources. […]

December 22nd, 2008

Heraclitean spirituality: divine conflict

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<br />From the vertiginous summit of his virtue, and against all evidence to the contrary, Heraclitus informs us that “it is wise, listening not to me but to the logos, to agree that all things are one.” Thus, with far greater subtlety than his ancient Stoic heirs, and long before his greatest modern disciple, Nietzsche, Heraclitus enjoins an affirmation of the whole world. But many aspects of this world are hard to affirm—conflict, suffering, death—and he does not ignore them, nor does he dismiss them with the sort of pat theodicy that has given other immanent spiritualities a deserved reputation for insensitivity. Instead, he makes them integral to his paradoxical worldview. […]

December 21st, 2008

Heraclitean spirituality: ephemeral selves

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<br />“That it cannot break time and time’s greed—that is the will’s loneliest misery.” Thus spoke Zarathustra. To try to escape this misery, according to him and his ventriloquist, Nietzsche, the will can travel one of two roads: it can fashion an eternity, with the promise of a redemption there, outside of time; or it can reconcile itself to this greed, somehow working through it, seeking a redemption here, in the midst of time. The first road is that of transcendence; the second, of immanence. When we decide for ourselves which road to travel—not only in grand moments of crisis and conversion, but also in humble moments every day of our lives—we implicitly answer the paramount question of our losing battle with time: how shall we overcome this, the will’s loneliest misery? […]

December 20th, 2008

Naive and reflective faiths

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<br />It was difficult all along to conceive of religion (its ritual practices, mystical unions, or attractions and immersions of any other kind) without at the same time postulating or affirming a distancing—reflective or speculative, in case hypothetico-skeptical—stance vis-à-vis the world and life-world in all its worldly aspects. Religion, throughout the text of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, meant “engagement” and “disengagement” in theoretical, practical, and, more broadly, existential matters at once. To the very heart of religious belief there belongs not only an affirmation, but also a suspension of belief in the cosmic, social, or subjective matrices and fabrics of which we are made up. Our being-in-the world, qua believers, is, after all, if not exactly other-worldly, not-quite-of-or-out-of-this-world. […]

December 19th, 2008

The “option” of unbelief

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<br />Charles Taylor suggests in A Secular Age that the “default option” in modernity is “unbelief” or “exclusivist humanism,” both of which make up the major positions or viewpoints that the secular “immanent frame”—both in its open and closed or “spun” variety—solicits and fosters. But this seemingly unproblematic observation merits further scrutiny. […]

October 31st, 2008

Immanent spirituality

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<p></p>A worthy touchstone to arbitrate between worldviews immanent and transcendent is the désir d’éternité, the “desire to gather together the scattered moments of meaning into some kind of whole.” According to Charles Taylor, who adduces this touchstone, only transcendence has a satisfactory response to its longing: personal immortality. What response, if any, remains for immanence? Must it invent comic masks to hide the frown of an indifferent world? Must it surrender everything to the river of a senseless time? Must it be mute before the anguish of the bereaved? […]

September 22nd, 2008

The ruse of “secular humanism”

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Discussions of the secular can often be peculiarly remote.  Whenever secularism is imagined as unbelief, or political neutrality, or an empty social space to be filled up with religious pluralism, it can be difficult to remember how it can also serve as a framework of corporeal experience and struggle.  We are used to associating corporeal discipline and affect with religion, but not with the secular.  So it might be excusable to begin with some personal reflection, not for the sake of autobiography but in order to tether analysis in some awareness of how the problem comes to have stakes. […]

September 2nd, 2008

Buffered and porous selves

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A Secular AgeAlmost everyone can agree that one of the big differences between us and our ancestors of five hundred years ago is that they lived in an “enchanted” world, and we do not; at the very least, we live in a much less “enchanted” world. We might think of this as our having “lost” a number of beliefs and the practices which they made possible. But more, the enchanted world was one in which these forces could cross a porous boundary and shape our lives, psychic and physical. One of the big differences between us and them is that we live with a much firmer sense of the boundary between self and other. We are “buffered” selves. We have changed. […]

August 13th, 2008

Psychoanalysis as spirituality

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What are our moral and spiritual sources? In his magnificent and magnanimous recent book, A Secular Age, Charles Taylor investigates a wide range of modern worldviews that are “sources of fullness,” worldviews that enrich our lives with meaning, arrange our activities to serve higher goals, and thus motivate us at times to act beyond our narrow interests. They are, to borrow from the title of his earlier work, sources of the self. More precisely, they are sources of our highest self. As such, psychoanalysis should be among them. […]

April 30th, 2008

Varieties of anti-religious imagination

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The publication of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age has fostered an exceptionally vibrant intellectual debate on secularism and on the conditions of belief under modernity, as the readers of this blog very well know. For the social sciences at least, this fundamental rethinking on secularism inspired by Taylor’s work could not be any timelier: the stand-off between classical secularization theorists and the proponents of the religious economies model, which has continued for about two decades is only recently giving way to new paths of investigation. Precisely because this debate offers such a crucial opportunity, I want to point out what I see as two important points of neglect in this burgeoning discussion.

April 17th, 2008

Belief, spirituality and time

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Charles Taylor, in his magisterial book on the Secular, periodically engages a constituency he calls immanent materialists. I would like to pursue that discussion, focusing on a subgroup within it, to see how its devotees and those Taylor identifies with most might interact in noble ways. […]

March 8th, 2008

Varieties of secularism in a secular age

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On April 4-5, the SSRC will co-sponsor a conference at Yale University on Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age. The conference aims to enrich the debate fostered by the publication of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, and will bring together prominent philosophers, political theorists, historians, social scientists, theologians and literary scholars who will from a variety of perspectives reflect on the question: what does it mean to live in a secular age? […]

January 30th, 2008

The burden of the great divide

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secular_age.jpgWith the prevalence of voices casting doubts and aspersions on the so-called secularization thesis, we might imagine that the familiar story of the progress of Western modernity qua secularity is on its last legs, and that the notion of secularity itself is near bankruptcy. Upon closer inspection, however—and Charles Taylor’s latest tome provides an excellent occasion for such inspection—it appears that what is in jeopardy is the valence of “the secular,” and not the story of the long march of Western modernity itself. […]

January 28th, 2008

Going beyond

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One of the main arguments of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age is that people, at least modern secular Westerners, have come routinely to think that the world as it is must be all there is. The contrast between immanence and transcendence is thus one of Taylor’s main organizing themes. Immanence locates both our sense of reality and our sense of the good within the world around us; transcendence gives us a sense of something beyond. Taylor develops this in conjunction with a notion of “fullness” to try to evoke what it means to live in more constant engagement with that which is beyond the immediately given, the spiritual which might infuse nature, for example, or the Divine which might lift morality above a notion of ethics as mere fairness. […]

January 19th, 2008

A case of heteronomous thinking

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As a story, A Secular Age rivals Hans Blumenberg’s The Legitimacy of the Modern Age (which curiously it ignores) and does indeed belong to the largely neglected genre of speculative history. No doubt, it is a work of a lifetime’s worth of erudition – about this there can be no argument – but the easiest thing one can do is to praise it. The best and most profound of what it has to offer is precisely that the domains of thought and history it privileges be interrogated in order to stand as departure points for further thinking. This interrogation and evaluation cannot stay simply at the level of the story, but must extend to what authorizes the story, Charles Taylor’s (conscious or unconscious, explicit or implicit) politics. […]

January 14th, 2008

Framing the middle

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secular_age.jpgFrom the opening pages, my historical antennae quickly began to quiver. Taylor’s book works in a space far removed from what I understand (speaking perhaps parochially) as proper historical argument. I say this with due caution: Taylor has always believed in the importance of a historical setting for his arguments. And from the outset of A Secular Age, he specifically addresses the issue of history. “Who needs all this detail, this history?” he asks, to insist that indeed “our past is sedimented in our present.”

January 12th, 2008

Constitutional patriotism

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Robert Bellah’s latest post poses clearly the issues that we’ve been agonizing over in Canada, and in a different way now in Quebec. Lots of people want to shy away from a political identity which is primarily defined in ethnic terms. On the contrary when asked what are the crucial uniting ideas of our society, they come up with some variant of universal “values,” defined in terms of modern charters of rights (all heavily influenced by the Universal Declaration), principles of equality and non-discrimination, and democracy. Canadian “multiculturalism” fits into this category, as does “interculturalisme” in Quebec. […]

January 11th, 2008

What holds us together

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secular_age.jpgIn his response to my concern about whether “post-Durkheimian” is a viable category, Charles Taylor goes part way in answering my query, but, in my view, not far enough. When he writes “I don’t think it’s possible to have a successful, modern democratic society without some strong sense of what unites us as citizens,” he is conceding my basic Durkheimian point, that a society without common values is not a viable society. It is his next move that gives me pause. […]

January 10th, 2008

Sex and the subject of religion

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secular_age.jpgThe current campaign within the Archdiocese of New York to canonize the radical activist Dorothy Day (1897-1980) offers a good example of what Elizabeth Povinelli, writing here on December 13 (“Can Sex be a Minor Form of Spitting?”), calls the “mutual conditions and secret agreements” that tie the sexual revolution and Catholic teaching together behind the scenes—and of the “transformation in the field of sin” sealed in their alliance. It isn’t simply that the candor with which Cardinal O’Connor and now Cardinal Egan have described Day’s sexual agency, single motherhood, and presumed abortion signals the Church’s accommodation to new, post-1960s norms of frankness.

January 9th, 2008

Practicing sex, practicing democracy

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secular_age.jpgWhy is it that sex is such a central part of American political life anyway? Why, when The New York Times reported on the influence of “values” voters on the 2004 Presidential election, did the Times name only two “values,” both of them reflecting a conservative sexual ethic: opposition to abortion and opposition to “recognition of lesbian and gay couples”?

January 8th, 2008

Marriage plots

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sex-in-a-secular-age.jpgDespite the putative separation of church and state, one of the major places in the U.S. where religion and the state remained entwined is around sexuality, specifically at the point of marriage, where religious officials are actually empowered to act on behalf of the state. And whenever politicians talk about marriage laws, they nearly always do so with reference to religious commitments—and the political affiliation or philosophy of the policymaker doesn’t much matter in terms of this outcome.

December 21st, 2007

What inspires us & what holds us together

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secular_age.jpgHaving escaped for a few seconds from the Commission, I had a chance to read many of the very interesting posts to the blog. With many I agree, others not. But there are two points where I obviously failed to communicate what I wanted to say (possibly because that is incoherent, though I hope not). […]

December 20th, 2007

Varieties of Religion Today

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varieties.jpgIn my first post, I discussed Charles Taylor’s book, A Catholic Modernity. I would now like to discuss a second book, which consists of lectures Taylor gave at the Vienna Institute for Human Sciences (Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen) in 2000; these grew out of his Gifford Lectures in Edinburgh in 1999. Surely the most renowned lecture series on the topic of religion, for more than one hundred years, leading thinkers have used this opportunity to share their ideas in the philosophy of religion. […]

December 19th, 2007

Sex & aggression

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secular_age.jpgI want to raise some questions about Taylor’s account of “our moral landscape” after the mainstreaming of the sexual revolution in the 1960s. Our moral landscape has indeed changed—that is undeniable—and yet, in Taylor’s hands, the cartography of that moral landscape appears all too familiar, and this is so because he does not take—indeed historically has not taken—the challenge of post-Nietzscheanism seriously.

December 15th, 2007

The Godless Delusion

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secular_age.jpg“For Taylor,” writes John Patrick Diggins in The New York Times Book Review, “belief is not what science finds but what religion hopes for. Yet, in the larger perspective of intellectual history, the validity of belief may turn less on the clash of science and religion than on a concept of a deity in all its paradoxes….But Taylor seems uninterested in explaining the ways of God, and he argues that religion needs no justification on the basis of its good works while secularization, which some thinkers argue is necessary for tolerance, endangers the religious values that may save us from the temptations of our selfish desires.”

December 14th, 2007

A Catholic Modernity?

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catholic-modernity.jpgSome readers of Sources of the Self, particularly its last few chapters, might have wondered how exactly Taylor’s indirect plea for theism, which he makes there, might be related to his personal religious conviction. But the book itself and Taylor’s publications in general make it rather difficult to answer this emerging question. As George Marsden remarks, “Only the most acute readers might surmise that the author is Catholic, if they did not know that already.”

December 13th, 2007

Can sex be a minor form of spitting?

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secular_age.jpgSo what’s the problem? What’s the ethical crisis? For Taylor it is this: sexuality cannot carry the burden of the enormous demands placed on it by those who would see its flourishing or repression as the foundation of all ethical, social, spiritual, and subjective goods.

December 12th, 2007

The missing all

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secular_age.jpgAlthough technology may not possess a logic of its own, one would be hard pressed to deny its formative role in whatever we are talking about, right now, on this blog. To what degree are the blurry contours and devastating effects of secularism bound up with technology? What role has technology played in fueling the nova effect of secularism and how has it both motivated contemporary practices of naming secularism, of typologizing its seemingly endless permutations, and simultaneously rendered it impossible for such practices to deliver on their promises?

December 5th, 2007

Spinoza’s immanence

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secular_age.jpgMy hunch is that immanence does not necessarily lead to the “exclusive humanism” of which Taylor is so critical. My hunch is also that by questioning this connection we may (1) see some of Taylor’s own blind spots and (2) create a new frame of experience irreducible to dichotomies of belief and unbelief, naïveté and reflexivity, interior and exterior. […]

November 30th, 2007

The truth?

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secular_age.jpgAs many here have noted, A Secular Age is a remarkable achievement. And it marks the culmination of a life’s work. As far as I’m aware, Charles Taylor’s argument first took shape in an essay he wrote forty years ago as a member of the Catholic New Left for the volume From Culture to Revolution (1968). At the time he was committed to an anti-marxist “radical socialism” […]