Charles Taylor, a secular age [Book Review]

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 13 (3):353-355 (2010)
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Abstract
Charles Taylor has written three big books on the self-understandings of modern age andmodern individuals. Hegel (1975) focused on one towering figure, and held that Hegel ’ saspirations to overcome modern dualisms are still ours, but Hegelian philosophicalspeculation is not the way to do it. Sources of the Self (1989) ran the intellectual historyfrom peak to peak, stressing the continuous presence of modern tensions and cross- pressures between Enlightenment and Romanticism. A Secular Age (2007) aims to cover the valleys as well, trying to explain how certain “ secular ” understandings have come toexistence and have managed to spread themselves from the elites into the prevailing taken-for-granted background imaginaries.Taylor begins by distinguishing three senses of secularity. The first can be called “ political ” , focusing on the separation of state and church, while the second one is “ sociological ” , focusing on the statistics of religious belief and practice. The third one can perhaps be called “ existential ” and it seems to be harder to define. It concerns what Taylor calls broad background conditions of belief and spiritual searching: something like thegeneral assumptions implicit in one ’ s lived experience, social and cosmic imaginary, whichmake a difference to what form (if any) one ’ s religious aspirations take. Taylor focuses onthis third sense and asks what has changed in that respect between 1500 when lack of belief in God was unimaginable, and 2000, when belief is one option among many.
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