All entries for Saturday 02 February 2008

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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