Calls for the embrace (or for that matter rejection) of secularism are premised on a putative opposition between secular and religious worldviews wherein each is defined as a necessary and stable essence that is superior to the other. It is argued that there is an essential kernel to secularism that must be preserved and defended from religious extremism and backwardness. For some this is secularism’s scientific rationality, for others it is secularism’s incipient objectivity, and for yet others it is secularism’s strict separation between state and religion. The idea that the “good” elements in secularism can be distinguished from its “bad” sides, the latter discarded and the former refined, only serves to further reinforce the blackmail that one is either for or against secularism.
Posts Tagged ‘seculars’
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.
A survey of leading contemporary international relations (IR) journals published between 1980 and 1996 revealed that 6 out of 1,600 articles featured religion as an important influence. But things have changed this past decade. It is now impossible to maintain the notion that religion is irrelevant to international politics, for at least three reasons. [...]
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? [...]
With 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. [...]
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. [...]
Early in Charles Taylor’s study, he remarks that the secular condition, in which belief is an option and religion a distinct domain, is not the case everywhere: in Muslim societies generally, and for people in religious moments in the West: pilgrims at Czestochowa or Guadalupe, for example. We could add: and for people growing up in believing Baptist communities in Nebraska or Mennonite ones in Manitoba or Hindu ones in Gujarat or Bali. [...]
Normally, when one sits down to read a book hailed by a figure such as Robert Bellah as “one of the most important books to be written in [his] lifetime,” one expects a methodical survey of an intellectual terrain. One of the most striking things about Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age is thus its colloquial, almost chatty character. Instead of being forced to sit through a dry lecture, it’s as if one had the good fortune to share drinks at a bar with an exceptionally erudite friend who took the opportunity to tell you what he’s been thinking about lately. We should be so lucky as to have such drinking buddies. [...]
One great problem is that the term “secular” is a western term, and corresponds to a very old distinction within Christendom. Then it goes through a series of changes in order to surface in such neologisms as “secularization,” and “secularism.” But even so, some of the original meanings carry over. These terms are then applied unreflectingly to what are seen as analogous processes and ideas elsewhere, and the result can be great confusion. [...]