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A Secular Age

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  1,236 ratings  ·  201 reviews
Almost everyone would agree that the place of religion in our societies has changed profoundly over the years. This book takes up the question of what these changes mean—of what, precisely, happens when a society in which it is virtually impossible not to believe in God becomes one in which faith is only one human possibility among others.
Hardcover, 874 pages
Published 2007 by Belknap
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Szplug
Jan 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a monster of a book, and I am taking my sweet time with it, setting it aside at intervals to digest what I've encountered and partake of other books in order that there not be a vast gulf in which Taylor and I are lost in a slow dance. As for what is inside the tome: it's an intellectual tour de force, thoughtful, insightful, generous, an utter masterpiece; but it must be said that Taylor loves his digressions and perambulations and topical palimpsests. Each individual page reads as half ...more
L Timmel
Nov 04, 2014 rated it it was ok
If I'd had any idea that this book devolves, in its second half, into a tendentious, straw-man-targeting apologetic for the necessity of Christianity for modern civilization, I wouldn't have cut it so much slack for its lazy distortions of Foucault, Nietzsche, and other thinkers (not to mention its gender essentialism) in its engaging first half. The narrative assumes that (western European and USian) individuals are either humanists (i.e., "unbelievers," a designation used mostly in the second ...more
Jeremy
In my Fall 2013 semester at Baylor, I formed and organized a reading group to keep each other accountable and plow our way through. Taylor's organization is often hard to follow, partly because of his repetition. Taylor is Catholic, so his anti-Reformation attitude is expected. Taylor is also unashamedly modern (meaning that he is willing to jettison traditional/biblical doctrines in favor of a more palatable modern sensibility), so despite many insights of the book deserving five stars, he bala ...more
Elizabeth
Feb 25, 2009 rated it liked it
A Secular Age. By Charles Taylor. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007. 874 pages, Parts IV and V, pp. 423-772. $39.95.

Where does religion stand in a world of science and materialism? In the final two sections of Charles Taylor’s book, A Secular Age, he tackles this question. Does religion have a chance against the modern day sciences and temptations, and if so, what does religion have to do to survive? Taylor’s intention for the book is to follow up his 1989, Sources of the Self
...more
robin friedman
Oct 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Charles Taylor's Secular Age

The Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor has written extensively on the interplay between the religious and secular attitudes towards life. His recent book, "A Secular Age" explores this relationship in great and thoughtful detail from both a historical and a deeply personal perspective. The book is based in part on the Gifford Lectures that Taylor delivered in Edinburgh in 1997. (William James, a philosopher Taylor admires, also delivered a set of Gifford Lectures whi
...more
David
Wow. Absolutely fantastic. This is certainly one of the best, most challenging, books that I have ever read. I am still turning over in my mind many of the points Taylor makes. Reading this book reminds me why I read difficult books - I am sure I did not get all of it, but being stretched in reading it was a joy in itself.

Taylor basic goal is to answer why it was next to impossible not to believe in God in 1500 whereas today it is very difficult to believe in God. What caused this change in our
...more
Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
Sep 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Unlike most people, I enjoy it when Jehovah Witnesses come to my door. The first thing I do is take them out of their "closed world system" (a term used by this author) and try to figure out why they believe the book they have in their hand is the "inerrant word of God". I want to know how they justify their original premises before I give their selective scripture reading any merit. Similarly, Freudian Psychology (Psychoanalysis) can never be argued against effectively if you grant their major ...more
David M
Jun 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
This purports to be an account of what it means to believe in god today versus, say, the year 1500. It's a hodgepodge of philosophy & history, almost 800 pages, at times sloppy and meandering. Certain chapters almost seem like book reports on whatever the author happened to be reading.

Charles Taylor is himself a brilliant philosopher and practicing Catholic. Before reading this book I knew him through his remarkable essays on Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Gadamer (in the Cambridge companions to
...more
Aeisele
Apr 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
I read most of this book (I skipped some chapters...I'll probably read it again more thoroughly this summer), and I have to say, it's fascinating, and one of the best accounts of secularization out there.
Taylor's basic question is: why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in 1500, but it is quite easy now to not believe in God? Going against the typical secularization narrative, i.e. that modern science made it impossible because we have been "disenchanted" and have finally "matur
...more
Garrett Mikulka
Feb 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
Overall, I really enjoyed this study. The same dead horse occasionally shows up for a fresh beating throughout, hence the length, but the new insights were worth it for me. Though Taylor offers many explanations for social and cultural phenomena that may or may not hold water (I’m convinced of most of them myself, but one doesn’t have to reach far for counter arguments most of the time), I think the greatest success of this book is demonstrating that modernity is not just the world sans supersti ...more
Suzanne Arcand
Sep 05, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy
There is a great thin book hidden somewhere in this overweight book. I don't blame Charles Taylor, I blame his editor. Someone should have told him that he didn't really have to repeat himself so often. That if the book had been more concise his readers would have remembered what he wrote at the beginning and he would not have to repeat himself.

A good editor might have told him to use simpler words and add a lexicon in the back. Might have translated the notes that are in German and French.

An e
...more
Barry Belmont
Nov 10, 2014 rated it did not like it
A hugely disappointing mess. Unfocused history, propped up strawmen, and rambled arguments. If the topic itself weren't so lush with fascinating vistas this would have been amongst the worst books I can remember reading. The author consistently misconstrues those philosophers with which he disagrees (could he get Nietzsche, Camus, Sartre, Foucault, etc. more wrong?), injects his religious beliefs into all the wrong portions of the text (while honest, generally unnecessary), and does not satisfac ...more
Ken
May 28, 2015 rated it did not like it
Well probably the most rambling incoherent book I ever read. Had to read it for my class. What an enormous tome with no consistent flow. Just when you think he is actually making a point he reverses course and repeats. This book had so much babbling fluff in it. The book was like a giant thesaurus an exercise of how many times I can repeat myself using as many variations of the Queens English as possible. I did however learn a lot of new uses of the english language. I personally could have writ ...more
Adhy
This book was WAY TOO LONG. Insightful and very knowledgeable. But encrustation upon encrustation. So many long-winded summaries of previous arguments that just build up atop each other and prevent striking insights from hitting their mark and sticking.
Tim Casteel
Jan 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Fascinating. Dense. Brilliant. Massive. Unbelievably influential. Insightful. And did I mention it’s super-dense?

A Secular Age is the ultimate "How We Got to Now" book (which is my favorite genre). How did we go from the 1500’s, when it was almost impossible to NOT believe in God, to now when belief in God is completely against the grain?

I’d recommend reading A Secular Age paired with a couple other books that apply and explain it:

I’d recommend this reading order:
1) How NOT to be Secular
2) A Sec
...more
David
Mar 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
Reading this book was almost as much a pilgrimage for me as walking the Camino de Santiago. Maybe it was more. Started on my sabbatical I read about half last summer. I had to begin again to better understand the details of Taylor's argument. I was glad to do so and could see myself rereading it because there is so much here.

The basic question is: what has changed in the Western world in the past 500 years to take us from Medieval times to our Secular Age. Taylor eschews the reductionist "subtra
...more
Tom Shannon
Aug 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It took me some time to finish this long and dense book. Although it can be repetitive at times, it is the largest overview of religious belief and how it has morphed throughout the ages until today. His understanding of modern atheism, nihilism and enthusiastic religiosity is put into context of centuries of belief and philosophical writings.

Although it focuses largely on Western beliefs it is still an impressive undertaking on which helped me build a better understanding of the historical cond
...more
Rosie Gearhart
Oct 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I probably only understood 1/4 of this book, but that 1/4 changed my life. How did we (in western culture) go from being a society where 500 years ago it was nearly impossible NOT to believe in God to now being one where many people find belief in anything supernatural absurd? There are so many big ideas in this book that I found myself contemplating again and again as they related to my everyday circumstances and other books I’m reading. I will truly never think the same way. It is like Taylor ...more
An Idler
Jan 12, 2021 rated it really liked it
Taylor is significantly more insightful when analyzing the experience of living in modernity than he is when formulating his "third way" between the old orthodoxy and the new exclusive humanism. An important book to read for his ideas around the immanent frame, buffered self, cross-pressures, etc. But his emotional and strident anti-dogmatism (e.g. Hell, or the doctrines of grace) leaves him with nothing to offer except a Christianity denuded of anything specifically Christian. ...more
Luke Juday
Sep 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Groundbreaking, life changing, a tour de force.

And also: inscrutable, meandering, exhausting.

Reading this book was the project of a whole summer and changed my thinking in important ways. I wish it had been a less difficult project than it was.
Ethan
Feb 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An immense, sweeping, magisterial exploration of Western civilization, primarily over the past 500 years, as a quest to answer the question: how come in 1500 everyone believed in God and took it for granted, but by 2000 unbelief was seen as a valid option?

Taylor identifies all sorts of inter-related trends which have led to the present secular age: disenchantment, the development of the "buffered self" (as opposed to one porous to other people and spiritual forces around oneself; the ability to
...more
Pater Edmund
May 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
It takes a long time, and a certain amount of patience, but it is possible to finish Charles Taylor's long, heavy book A Secular Age. And it's really worth it. Taylor's is in many ways the most insightful account of the genesis of modernity that I have ever read. For it is more than an examination of the "conditions of belief" in our age; it's an examination of the way moderns see and imagine themselves and society and the universe, and how this way of seeing and imagining came about. A lot of g ...more
Tim
Mar 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Charles Taylor (CT) won me over right away with his erudition. He pulls from everywhere, which can be overwhelming. Scholars like CT are impressive and my hat's off on that score. CT is also, I think, a generous and honest scholar. All things considered, I feel that he's a master, and I'm naught but a student. I hope to read more of his work and plan to benefit from it if I do.

This book is trying to tell the story of how we got to where we are: a secular age. But such a story, as CT himself con
...more
Barry
Jun 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This large and important book attempts to answer this question: Why is that in Europe 500 years ago it was nearly impossible not to believe in God, but today unbelief is felt to be a reasonable option, and living as if there is no God has become the default mode of thinking for most westerners? This question is usually answered using a typical “subtraction story” such as that the discovery of science and Darwinism provided a better explanation for the creation of the universe and for observable ...more
Matthew Richey
Massive and a challenging read but rewarding. Any book of this magnitude which is attempting something so daunting as tracing the history of secularization from 1600 to 2000 is going to be guilty of some oversimplification, but the narrative that Taylor provides is compelling and thought-provoking. This is a book that I wish I had the time and ability to truly review, but I don't know that I have the skill to disseminate this down without another read (which will not happen anytime soon). I will ...more
Nicholas McDonald
Dec 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Does one recommend reading Charles Taylor's 900-page tome of a book on secular culture? No, one does not. It's really only geared toward hyper, hyper Christianity/culture/philosophy nerds like me and five other people. I really wouldn't recommend it.

But here's what I would recommend: first, read James K.A. Smith's treatment of it as a roadmap. If you want to go further, don't start at the beginning, where you'll run headlong into a tortuous, long-winded, somewhat lazy and unnecessarily verbose
...more
John
Jan 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Incredible! Only four stars, and not five, because it is a bit long and at times he repeats himself and perhaps it could just be tightened up and organized better. My professor had us read "Age of Mobility" and "Age of Authenticity", and this along with the "Preface" is a good place to start. ...more
Samuel Brown
Dec 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Smartest, wisest book I've read in over a decade, although it sprawls painfully for several hundred pages in the middle. For those who struggle with making progress, I recommend reading the first 50 pages and then skipping to Chapter 15 and reading through to the end. While I had to force myself to make progress in the middle sections, at Chapter 15 the book became an absolute pleasure to read again. I'll consider the book at great length in various projects, and I've been mulling over Taylor's ...more
Christina “6 word reviewer” Lake
Essential insights attenuated by sprawling analysis.
Michael Ratnapalan
May 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Exhausting and labyrinthine work by a philosopher who is deeply invested in religion and the modern condition.
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Charles Taylor
Charles Taylor, Journalist, Film critic

Charles Margrave Taylor CC GOQ FBA FRSC is a Canadian philosopher, and professor emeritus at McGill University. He is best known for his contributions to political
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