Charles Taylor - A Secular Age

Author: Taylor, Charles
Title: A Secular Age
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Year: 2007

Author = Charles Taylor,
Title = A Secular Age,
Publisher = Harvard University Press,
Year = 2007,
url = <>

pages 1-3:

What does it mean to say that we live in a secular age?
.... it's not so clear in what this secularity consists. There are two big (families of) candidates for its characterization.
The first concentrates on the common institutions and practices -- most obviously, but not only, the state. ... whereas the political organization of all pre-modern societies was in some way connected to, based on, guaranteed by some faith in, or adherence to God, or some notion of ultimate reality, the modern Western state is free from this connection. ... ... In this second meaning, secularity consists in the falling off of religious belief and practice, in people turning away from God, and no longer going to Church. In this sense, the countries of western Europe have mainly become secular -- even those who retain the vestigial public reference to God in public space.
Now I believe that an examination of this age as secular is worth taking up in a third sense, closely related to the second, and not without connection to the first. This would focus on the conditons of belief. The shift to secularity in this sense consists, among other things, of a move from a society where belief in God is unchallenged and indeed, unproblematic, to one in which it is understood to be one option among others, and frequently not the easiest to embrace....
Secularity in this sense is a matter of the whole context of understanding in which our moral, spiritual or religious experience and search takes place. ...
An age or society would then be secular or not, in virtue of the conditions of experience of and search for the spiritual.

pages 13-14:

The shift in background, or better the disruption of the earlier background, come best to light when we focus on certain distinctions we make today: for instance, that between the immanent and the transcendent, the natural and the supernatural. Everyone understands these, both those who affirm and thos who deny the second term in each pair. This hiving off of an independent free-standing level, that of "nature", which may or may not be in interaction with something further or beyond, is a crucial bit of modern theorizing, which in turn corresponds to a constitutive dimension of modern experience....
It is this shift in background, in the whole context in which we experience and search for fullness, that I am calling the coming of a secular age, in my third sense. How die we move from a condition where, in Christendom, people lived naively within a theistic construal, to one in which we all shunt between two stances, in which everyone's construal shows up as such, and in which moreover, unbelief has become for many the major default option?

page 15:

... all three modes of secularity make reference to "religion": as that which is retreating in public space (1), or a type of belief and practice which is or is not in regression (2), and as a certain kind of belief or commitment whose conditions in this age are being examined (3).
... we are trying to understand a set of forms and changes which have arisen in one particular civilization, that of the modern West -- or in an earlier incarnation, Latin Christendom -- ... we don't need to forge a definition (of "religion") which covers everything "religious" in all human societies in all ages. ... In other words, a reading of "religion" in terms of the distinction transcendent/immanent is going to serve our purposes here. ... The great invention of the West was that of an immanent order in Nature, whose working could be systematically understood and explained on its own terms, leaving open the question whether this whole order had a deeper significance, and whether, if it did, we should infer a transcendent Creator beyond it.

page 18:

... the point of bringing out this distinction between human flourishing and goals which go beyond it is this. I would like to claim that the coming of modern secularity in my sense has been coterminous with the rise of a society in which for the first time in history a purely self-sufficient humanism came to be a widely available option. I mean by this a humanism accepting no final goals beyond human flourishing, nor any allegiance to anything else beyond this flourishing. Of no previous society is this true.

page 19:

I also don't want to claim that modern secularity is somehow coterminous with exclusive humanisms. For one thing, the way I'm defining it, secularity is a condition in which our experience of and search for fullness occurs; and this is something all share, believers and unbelievers alike. But also, it not my intention to claim that exclusive humanisms offer the only alternative to religion.... there are attempts to reconstruct a non-exclusive humanism on a non-religious basis, which one sees in various forms of deep ecology.

page 30:

What I am trying to describe here ... is our contemporary lived understanding; that is, the way we naively take things to be. We might say: the construal we just live in, without every being aware of it as a construal, or -- for most of us -- without ever even formulating it. ... I am not taking on board the various philosophical theories which have been offered to explain and articulate the "mind" and its relation to the "body". ... I am trying to capture the level of understanding prior to philosophical puzzlement.
... I am interested in naive understanding, because my claim will be that a fundamental shift has occurred in naive understnading in the move to disenchantment. This is unlike what I said above on the issue of the existence of God and other spiritual creatures. There we have move from a naive acceptance of their reality, to a sense that either to affirm or deny them is to enter a disputed terrain; there are no more naive theists, just as there are no naive atheists. But underlying this change is the one I am now talking about in our sense of our world, from one in which these spirits were just unproblematically there, impinging on us, to one in which they are no longer so, and indeed, in which many of the ways they were there have become inconceivable. There not no impinging is what we experience naively.