Monday, July 27, 2009

A Secular Age 1

From the Theory Camp discussion of Charles Taylor's A Secular Age.

Each year I run a two-week Theory Camp in which I sit down with a handful of students to work through a hard social theory book. Charles Taylor, a philosopher at McGill, has expanded his 1999 Gifford Lectures to a suitable fat book. We began our discussion today. I will blog as we work though it.

The usual way we talk about secularization is either about how religious institutions have been removed from the state and the public sphere, or about how religious belief has declined and unbelief expanded. Taylor says these are both true. He wants to consider a different sense of secularization that is broader and deeper.

People from all eras and civilizations report experiences of the "fullness" of existence - a connection between their lives and a deeper, richer existence. Fullness gives us a sense that our lives are meaningful, and meaningfully connected to a larger existence. The great religions of the world have articulated how this fullness is connected with a transcendent being, or at least a transcendent plane of existence.

Taylor says that the modern age has developed a third kind of secularization: whole communities now exist that believe fullness is possible without God or reference to a transcendent plane. To be sure, these communities are minorities even in their home societies in the North Atlantic world, and are tiny minorities on the planet as a whole. Nonetheless, Taylor is making sense of a social world that is common to most academic and many other highly educated people.

My interest as a sociologist in Taylor's notion of secularized communities is in finding their distinctive class location.


TallCoolOne said...

That is an interesting question, Gruntled. I haven't read Taylor -- not sure I've even heard of him -- but this post makes an intriguing opening.

I shall be interested to see whether elements of media analysis surface in your discussion.

Gruntled said...

I think you would find Taylor very interesting. I used his Sources of the Self in my class about Calvinism and Modern Culture a few years ago. Earlier this summer I blogged on his Modern Social Imaginaries, which is an expansion of one chapter of A Secular Age.