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A Secular Age

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  1,016 ratings  ·  154 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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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 again as m ...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
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
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
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 "matured" b
Dec 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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 ch
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. ...more
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 reductio
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
Aug 23, 2016 added it
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.
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
Rosie Gearhart
Oct 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
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
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 his
Guilherme Cordeiro
Apr 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Não tem como fazer análise cultural hoje sem Charles Taylor.
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 goodrea ...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 companion
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
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.
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.
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
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
May 12, 2017 rated it liked it
There are aspects to this book I enjoyed very much, and aspects that I was equally irritated by. First, in its magnitude A Secular Age is very impressive and Taylor shows convincingly how broad his scholarship on the matters of western history, philosophy and literature is. There are at least dozen references on books I now would like to pick up individually too. Taylor introduces many interesting ideas of his own, while also tying together individual strings of discussion going on in the study ...more
Jun 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Reading this book (even as a 53-hour audiobook) is a marathon, not a sprint. His comprehensive coverage sparks many further thoughts that could each head off down rabbit trails. Taylor doesn't know how to use a single-syllable word if he can find a multi-syllable word, and many of his words are from the dusty pages at the back of a dictionary. So, it's not an easy read.
The first half of the book is very insightful and helpful. It describes the symptoms and much of the journey. I was able t
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
Joshua Buhs
Mar 21, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Wow! About five or six books here. I'm not sure I accept all the history here, just because it covers so much ground.

also, lots of reification--constantly bumping into movements and ages and events, and getting bruised.

Very Weberian--indeed, could be seen as a correction to Weber, taking his general theses and modes of argument (ideal types) and supplementing them with recent historical work, as well as expanding on dis-enchantment: so that it is not all negative, loss, t
Sarahc Caflisch
Oct 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A great anti-Reformation screed.

Sorry Marilynne Robinson...Calvin was only human after all.
Roger Buck
Jun 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
I think I've said this best at my blog. Following comments ripped therefrom (

In some 800 stunningly intelligent, highly-textured pages, Taylor charts the trajectory from Medieval Christendom to the Secularised West we know today.


I call this book a descriptive masterpiece. And such it is – near genius in my view. For its powers of **description**, I will be mining this book for y
Paul Gleason
Oct 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Taylor's book is simply brilliant; it's perhaps the most important philosophical text of the last twenty years.

The subjective, storytelling approach owes a lot to existentialism and Romanticism. In addition, his notion of transformative experiences and experiences of fullness (or at our longing for it) allow him to get beyond philosophies that favor either immanence or transcendence. Also, his courageous inclusion of art as a transformative action or object is necessary in an eye of postmodern
Luke Evans
Aug 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Wow. What a book. A few takeaways after plowing through this beast (I have to admit that I skimmed approximately 100 pages here and there...just too dense and beside the point). These notes are for me as much as anyone, as I want to remember this book given all the work it took to read.

- I think the most important takeaway for me is the importance of Taylor's emphasis on what it FEELS like to inhabit an immanent frame (or be in a secular age). As a preacher/teacher, this is essential
Dave Pier
Dec 04, 2013 rated it liked it
It was frustratingly hard to keep track of this exceedingly long book's structure above the level of the individual paragraph. It just sort of meanders on, one literary allusion after the other, seeming more like a series of loosely assembled lectures than a monograph. Many passages struck me as interesting, well-put, and even profound, but that did not make the whole book any easier to get through.

to try to summarize: The main point is that the "secular age" in the West is one in wh
Neil White
Nov 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a massive work in every sense. Like Taylor's the Sources of Self, A Secular Age combines an incredible grasp of a wide range of philosophical movements and how they relate to the search for identity and A Secular Age in many ways builds upon the observations of the Sources of Self. The work moves from the time of the Reformation to the current time and traces how we moved from a time where in the West it was inconceivable for someone not to be a Christian to our secular age where in some ...more
Dale Muckerman
May 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best philosophy books I have ever read. There are insightful ideas on a myriad of topics, but most of all the focus is on understanding the development of ideas. Simple theories of the development of ideas pretend that once upon a time people were superstitious and then developed reason and science and this laid all superstition (like religious ideas) to rest. Taylor shows it isn't so simple after all. Some of the insights that Taylor throws out are that war, sports, and rock ...more
William Adams
Apr 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Charles Taylor, eminent, prize-winning philosopher, asks this question: “…Why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in 1500 in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy, but even inescapable?” (p. 25).

In European-American society, we sharply distinguish between church and state now, and in everyday life, between religious affairs and non-religious activity. But more profoundly, to assure a good harvest we no longer slaughter a lamb before planting. Instea
Robin Friedman
Oct 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Charles Taylor's Secular Age

Charles Taylor is a Canadian philosopher who 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 Gif
Nate Walker
Nov 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Remarkable account of how our culture adopted a the spirit of secularism. Taylor shows that the story is complex and every step involved in the secularization of our society was actually driven by religious innovations:

- the "buffered self" and the disenchanted universe - came from a vision of the Sovereign control of God through providence, which said that we are not subject to unpredictable good and evil forces active in the physical world, but we live under the ordered governance
Adam Snider
Sep 04, 2011 rated it liked it
This is probably the most nuanced and impressive book I've read about the state of religion in the West, and also one of the most frustrating. Taylor traces the ways in which unbelief arose out of changes in the structure of Christianity during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and shows how the usual explanations - from both a religious and an irreligious viewpoint - for the appearance and rise of unbelief are false and simplistic. Himself a Catholic, he brings sympathy and interest, ra ...more
Dec 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Would have given 5 stars had Taylor's editor been a bit more demanding. There were spans where Taylor kept rehashing things he'd already covered quite adequately.

I'm particularly drawn to his concept of a "social imaginary," the worldview which seems predominant at any given point in history. He shows that it is as much emotional as rational. Certainly worth the read for those who wonder what it was like to be a "believer" in times past versus what it is like in the present.
Mad Russian the Traveller
At the beginning of this book, I am already enjoying the interesting points raised by the author. This book looks to be valuable and interesting even if one does not agree with some of what is asserted. And there are things to disagree with, I’ll have a better review when I have had time to assimilate the information in this book.
One thing right away, the author, like most Roman Catholics blames the apostasy of the secular age upon the Protestant Reformation to begin with; and personally, I que
Peter Barney
Feb 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Epic. A fantastic summary of the age we now find ourselves in and the story of how we got here. No doubt the content is to be contested and debated but I suspect the books great strength is as a jumping off point to further exploration of what Taylor raises across 874 pages. I know I will find myself coming back to this text as a launching point for further philosophical and theological reflections.
Andrew Boyle
Apr 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: culture, history, theology
I don't agree with many of his conclusions but still clearly a paradigm defining book.
Robert Christian
Dec 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An excellent, very dense, complex, original, vital work.
Oct 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book is premised on a seemingly straightforward question: how did the western world change in the last 500 years from one in which belief in god was the clear starting place for everyone to one in which blief in God of some form is just one of many possible starting points and in which starting positions of atheism, secular humanism, or other shades of non-belief are major options. This latter situation is what Taylor cals a "secular" age.

What follows from this question is an interesting a
Jonathan Badgley
Dec 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy, theology
An immensely important work. I cannot over-stress how important it is for everyone to read this book. My plan is to reread it every two years until I can reference it on the fly. Speaking of references, Taylor references more material than one would be required to read or have heard about in three undergrad degrees. Immensely important work.
Mar 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
A very comprehensive book on the topic of secularization, and the history of how the West came to land in a secular age. Taylor doesn't buy all of secularization theory, but he certainly argues that the conditions for belief have changed, and that belief is no longer the default position it used to be.

The vocabulary here alone is helpful: that we live after a "super nova" of religious options, a "cross-pressured age" where belief and disbelief exist in a tug of war. The secular option, however,
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Charles Taylor
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name. This profile may contain books from multiple authors of this name.

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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 philosophy, the philosophy of social science, history of philosophy and intellectual history. This work has earned him the prestigious Kyoto Prize, the Templeton Prize, the Berggruen Prize for Philosophy, and the John W. Kluge Prize, in addition to widespread esteem among philosophers. (Source: Wikipedia)
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“There is a widespread sense of loss here, if not always of God, then at least of meaning.” 11 likes
“The rise of the buffered identity has been accompanied by an interiorization; that is, not only the Inner/Outer distinction, that between Mind and World as separate loci, which is central to the buffer itself; and not only the development of this Inner/Outer distinction in a whole range of epistemological theories of a mediational type from Descartes to Rorty;' but also the growth of a rich vocabulary of interiority, an inner realm of thought and feeling to be explored. This frontier of self-exploration has grown, through various spiritual disciplines of self-examination, through Montaigne, the development of the modern novel, the rise of Romanticism, the ethic of authenticity, to the point where we now conceive of ourselves as
having inner depths.”
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