March 14, 2008

2.3 and 2.4

We gave up on the book group today as only two of us had actually read the relevant parts.

2.3 What Is a "Social Imaginary"?

Taylor introduces properly his idea of the "social imaginary" that he has referred to previously. It's the way "ordinary people 'imagine' their social surroundings, and this is often not expressed in theoretical terms" and is "that common understanding which makes possible common practices". 

He clarifies the idea with some examples; highlighting the sense of moral order and sense of realisability that must be present. He then looks at how theories can "infiltrate" the social imaginary and (interestingly) visa versa.

I found this section very interesting. For those who have read Taylor's other books (so Mark): presumably he is oversimplifying his ideas here; there must be a many social imaginaries - think trivially of the way conservatives and liberals view the world - held by different members of society (although there may be significant commonality)?

The idea of "social imaginary" immediately suggested to me a notion of "religious imaginary": with theology(?) playing the complementary role of 'theory'. Do you think this works? Does anyone know if any thinkers have taken this approach?  I recall Luke Timothy Johnson looking back at the history of the (Catholic) Church and interactions of elites/common people but that's not quite the same.

2.4 The Economy as Objectified Reality.

By this section the coffee had worn off so what follows shouldn't be trusted. Oh and there were continual references to Grotian-Lokean theories etc. which didn't help.

It seemed in this section he should have traced how "the economy" followed the process in 2.3: from theory to popular background. Instead we are treated to a discussion of "invisible hand" factors, Lokean theory and unnecessary comparisons to Kant. The entire section could have been trimmed down to "the economy being seen more and more as the dominant end of society". I'm not convinced any of this was or is part of the social imaginaries then or now. 

February 08, 2008


5 out of 5 stars

I just finished reading this book and as it's relevant to some of our discussions I'll write a review here.

In What Would Jesus Deconstruct? John Caputo [1] writes a postmodern version of Sheldon's In His Steps (the origin of the What Would Jesus Do? (wwjd) movement).


In His Steps is introduced (apparently a far more socially radical book that we might assume) with its Jesus figure in the form of a Tramp who turns up uninvited at a church service. We look at what a (spiritual) journey might look like in the context of postmodernity. We are at least a little lost, we do not know the destination. An introduction to Derrida follows which stresses his relavency for Christianity (Justice, The Gift, Forgiveness, Hospitality and Love are the key topics examined). In the fourth chapter Caputo turns his attention to Jesus; a Jesus whose "divinity lies in the emptying of [his] divinity" and who dies "a prophetic death, rather than [in] a sacrificial exchange". Caputo then asks the question wwjd: What Would Jesus Deconstruct? The example of Bob Riley in Alabama [2], who argued for significant tax breaks for the poor (and hikes for the rich) in Biblical terms. Just War theory is criticised and the issues of homosexuality and abortion, so significant for the religious right in America, are examined. The final chapter looks at two examples of "deconstructive churches": St. Malachy's Church in Philadelphia and Ikon in Belfast, to see how many of the ideas in the book work in practice.


A provocative look at contemporary religion and a clear introduction to Derrida (with respect to religion). Either would justify reading this book. But these are combined with a powerful/less challenge to imitate Jesus, to deconstruct Christianity, that makes it unmissable. 



February 02, 2008

Charles Taylor (in Prospect Magazine)

There’s a profile of Charles Taylor in Prospect magazine this month (which the (evil) Costcutter refused to give me the advertised £2 discount on) but you can read it here There’s also an interview on their website.

The Introduction

1 What does it mean to say we live in a secular age?


  1. Public spaces (allegedly) emptied of God
  2. Falling off of religious belief and practice
  3. In terms of conditions of belief: move from a society where belief in God is unchallenged to one where it is one option among many


  • People tend to focus on belief itself (rather than conditions).
  • Taylor wants to focus on "what it's like to live as believer or an unbeliever" rather than belief and unbelief as rival theories.
  • "the terrifingly other"/melancholy/middle condition
  • "For believers [..] place of fullness requires reference to God, that is to something beyond human life and/or nature".
  • "I am never, or only rarely, rearly sure, free of all doubt..."
  • "We cannot help [...] looking sideways, living our faith also in a condition of doubt and uncertainty."

  • The presumption of unbelief has become dominant in certain milieux.
  • All beliefs are held within context/background which usual remains tacit (Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Polanyi).
  • "It is this shift in background [...] that I am calling the coming of a secular age."

3 What is religion?

  • Will think in terms of the transcendent/immanent distinction (which Taylor concedes doesn't work in general, but thinks will do for our purposes).
  • Do people recognise something beyond their lives?
  • "Does the best life involve [...] serving a good [...] independent of human flourishing?"
  • Coming of modern secularity coterminous with self-sufficient humanism becoming a widely available option.
  • Exclusive humanism arose via providential deism.


  • The new context puts an end to naive acknowledgement of the transcendent
  • Will argue against "subtraction stories"

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The collaborative weblog for Mark Bratton’s Reading Group. Currently we are reading A Secular Age by Charles Taylor which we hope to finish sometime before the end of the decade.


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  • Thank you very much James for this helpful summary. Regarding the 'middle condition' Taylor (if I re… by on this entry

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