February 02, 2008

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"

- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. Thank you very much James for this helpful summary.

    Regarding the ‘middle condition’ Taylor (if I recall correctly) distinguishes those who seek, or believe they can achieve, completeness’ or ‘fulfilment’ through some form of self-realization’, that is, realizing capacities which are innate to human beings, but which are nevertheless designated ‘spiritual’; and those whio believe they can achieve completeness or fulfilment only through encounter with a transcendent reality.

    One of the difficulties with much modern ‘bespoke’ spirituality is that it doesn’t leave room for the possibility of encounter with a reality greater than oneself – a reality over which we have no control – an encounter for which we need to prepare through some form of spiritual discipline. The word ‘religion’ implies some form of discipline, being derived as it is from the Latin word ‘religare’ meaning ‘to bind’

    02 Feb 2008, 13:01

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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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