A SECULAR AGE and over one million other books are available for Amazon Kindle. Learn more
Buy New
$45.00
Qty:1
  • List Price: $50.00
  • Save: $5.00 (10%)
In Stock.
Ships from and sold by Amazon.com.
Gift-wrap available.
A Secular Age has been added to your Cart
Trade in your item
Get a $15.60
Gift Card.
Have one to sell? Sell on Amazon
Flip to back Flip to front
Listen Playing... Paused   You're listening to a sample of the Audible audio edition.
Learn more
See this image

A Secular Age Hardcover – October 20, 2007


See all 4 formats and editions Hide other formats and editions
Amazon Price New from Used from
Kindle
"Please retry"
Hardcover
"Please retry"
$45.00
$39.95 $31.03
$45.00 FREE Shipping. In Stock. Ships from and sold by Amazon.com. Gift-wrap available.


Frequently Bought Together

A Secular Age + How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor
Price for both: $56.64

Buy the selected items together

NO_CONTENT_IN_FEATURE

Best Books of the Month
Best Books of the Month
Want to know our Editors' picks for the best books of the month? Browse Best Books of the Month, featuring our favorite new books in more than a dozen categories.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 896 pages
  • Publisher: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press; 1st edition (October 20, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674026764
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674026766
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.6 x 2.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #32,456 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In his characteristically erudite yet engaging fashion, Taylor, winner of the 2007 Templeton Prize, takes up where he left off in his magnificent Sources of the Self (1989) as he brilliantly traces the emergence of secularity and the processes of secularization in the modern age. Challenging the idea that the secular takes hold in a world where religion is experienced as a loss or where religions are subtracted from the culture, Taylor discovers the secular emerging in the midst of the religious. The Protestant Reformation, with its emphasis on breaking down the invidious political structures of the Catholic Church, provides the starting point down the road to the secular age. Taylor sweeps grandly and magisterially through the 18th and 19th centuries as he recreates the history of secularism and its parallel challenges to religion. He concludes that a focus on the religious has never been lost in Western culture, but that it is one among many stories striving for acceptance. Taylor's examination of the rise of unbelief in the 19th century is alone worth the price of the book and offers an essential reminder that the Victorian age, more than the Enlightenment, dominates our present view of the meanings of secularity. Taylor's inspired combination of philosophy and history sparkles in this must-read virtuoso performance. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

Taylor's book is a major and highly original contribution to the debates on secularization that have been ongoing for the past century. There is no book remotely like it. (Alasdair MacIntyre)

This is Charles Taylor's breakthrough book, a book of really major importance, because he succeeds in recasting the whole debate about secularism. This is one of the most important books written in my lifetime. I am tempted to say the most important book, but that may just express the spell the book has cast over me at the moment. (Robert N. Bellah)

If the author had accomplished nothing more than a survey of the voluminous body of 'secularization theory,' he would have done something valuable. But, although Taylor clearly articulates his disdain for the view that modernity ineluctably led to the death of God, he goes far beyond a literature review… In addition to its conceptual value, this study is notable for its lucidity. Taylor has translated complex philosophical theories into language that any educated reader will be able to follow, yet he has not sacrificed an iota of sophistication or nuance. A magisterial book. (Kirkus Reviews (starred review) 2007-06-15)

In his characteristically erudite yet engaging fashion, Taylor takes up where he left off in his magnificent Sources of the Self (1989) as he brilliantly traces the emergence of secularity and the processes of secularization in the modern age… Taylor sweeps grandly and magisterially through the 18th and 19th centuries as he recreates the history of secularism and its parallel challenges to religion. He concludes that a focus on the religious has never been lost in Western culture, but that it is one among many stories striving for acceptance. Taylor's examination of the rise of unbelief in the 19th century is alone worth the price of the book and offers an essential reminder that the Victorian age, more than the Enlightenment, dominates our present view of the meanings of secularity. Taylor's inspired combination of philosophy and history sparkles in this must-read virtuoso performance. (Publishers Weekly (starred review) 2007-06-11)

One finds big nuggets of insight, useful to almost anybody with an interest in the progress of human society… A vast ideological anatomy of possible ways of thinking about the gradual onset of secularism as experienced in fields ranging from art to poetry to psychoanalysis… Taylor also lays bare the inconsistencies of some secular critiques of religion. (The Economist 2007-09-08)

Sophisticated, erudite…with excursions into history, philosophy and literature, A Secular Age is a weighty and challenging tome. It is also a brilliant account of the 'sensed context' in which secularization developed. And a moving meditation, by a believer, on the 'ineradicable bent' of human beings to respond to something beyond life, to keep open 'the transcendent window.' (Glenn C. Altschuler Baltimore Sun 2007-09-09)

A salutary and sophisticated defense of how life was lived before the daring views of a tiny secular elite inspired mass indifference, and how it might be lived in the future. (Michael Burleigh New York Sun 2007-09-12)

[A] big, powerful book… [Taylor's] book is massive in its historical and philosophical scope. Penetrating and dense, it would take months to fully digest. Loosely structured, it's crammed with original insights. Taylor, 75, can pack more into one of his complex paragraphs than most prevaricating, deconstructing academic philosophers can say in a chapter, or even a book… The book explores the immense ramifications of how the West shifted in a few centuries from being a society in which 'it was virtually impossible not to believe in God' to one in which belief is optional, often frowned upon. (Douglas Todd Vancouver Sun 2007-09-17)

In A Secular Age, philosopher Charles Taylor takes on the broad phenomenon of secularization in its full complexity… [A] voluminous, impressively researched and often fascinating social and intellectual history…Taylor's account encompasses art, literature, science, fashion, private life—all those human activities that have been sometimes more, sometimes less affected by religion over the last five centuries. (Jack Miles Los Angeles Times 2007-09-16)

The real genius of this erudite and profound book resides in its grandeur of theme and richness of detail. For all its imposing intellectual density, it is a delight to read; at times, it was literally impossible to put down. Yet it is also a work that ought to be read by degrees—one chapter at a time, with ample pause for reflection. (Lorenzo DiTommaso Montreal Gazette 2007-09-22)

In an idiosyncratic blend of the philosophical, the historical, and the speculative, Taylor describes the shift from a world brim-full with spirits and magic to a world where divinity is absent. His account resists the idea that the rise of secularism is a process of subtraction, of loss, and of disenchantment. Rather, Taylor describes secularity's birth as the migration of ideas, subtle changes in those ideas, and the opening of new possibilities. If Taylor's communitarian scholarship celebrated historical and social rootedness, A Secular Age is an encomium to the sheer happenstance of how those circumstances arose. (Azziz Huq American Prospect 2007-10-02)

Taylor's masterful integration of history, sociology, philosophy, and theology demands much of the reader. In return you will be convinced that Charles Taylor is one of the smartest and deepest social thinkers of our time. (Tyler Cowen Slate 2007-10-31)

A culminating dispatch from the philosophical frontlines. It is at once encyclopedic and incisive, a sweeping overview that is no less analytically rigorous for its breadth. Its subject is a philosophical history of the past, present and future of Western Christendom. As such, it begins with a deceptively simple question: How did it become possible for anyone to not believe in God? …A Secular Age recounts the history of an idea, in other words, but in it the past is not an inert, settled fact, but a reservoir to be drawn upon to shatter the sameness and the apparent inevitability of the present. As a history it clarifies crucial intellectual and theological divisions that continue to structure debates about divinity, but with the aim of reforming the way we think about them, 'to show the play of destabilization and recomposition.' Though this isn't a book you take to the beach, it remains eminently readable. As philosophers go, Taylor is a kind of behaviorist, more concerned with elaborating the implications of a way of thinking than with showing its contradictions. Unlike most philosophers, though, Taylor seems at pains to remain accessible to a general audience to capture complex philosophical debate in ordinary language. An important part of Taylor's argument is that religion and the belief in God, most particularly the experience of transcendence, are not at all outmoded… Though it avoids predictions or prescriptions, A Secular Age leaves us with the sense that the future will be a far poorer, less human place, if we do not discover some expression for that transcendent otherness. (Steven Hayward Cleveland Plain Dealer 2007-11-18)

A Secular Age is a towering achievement… It shows the ways we have traveled from the automatic certainties of 1500 to the fragile alignments of today. It transforms the secularization debate. (David Martin The Tablet 2007-12-01)

A Secular Age is a work of stupendous breadth and erudition. (John Patrick Diggins New York Times Book Review 2007-12-16)

[A] thumping great volume. (Stuart Jeffries The Guardian 2007-12-08)

Very occasionally there appears a book destined to endure. A Secular Age is such a book… A Secular Age is an important and deeply interesting work. Its central thesis is that secularization must be understood not simply as the decline of certain beliefs and institutions, but as a total change in our experience of the world… There are subtle, original discussions of the modern self, of changing conceptions of time, of the religious landscape of art, and much else besides. Taylor has a great gift of empathy, an ability to inhabit and bring to life the mental world of both believers and unbelievers. A true Hegelian, he sees the goal of philosophy as understanding, not judgment. (Edward Skidelsky Daily Telegraph 2007-12-08)

Though this essential Canadian intellectual may overstate the triumph of secularity, his huge and elegant work takes on the transformation of the world from 1500, when it was almost impossible not to believe in a Creator, to 2000, when religion was simply one choice on a menu of belief systems. He finds the answer in 'exclusive humanism,' which sees 'no final goals beyond human flourishing, nor any allegiance to anything else beyond this flourishing.' (Donald Harman Akenson Globe & Mail 2007-12-01)

Taylor's gargantuan philosophical history of modernity, which complicates the flattering and simplified story we like to tell ourselves about secularization, is a major intellectual event. (Jonathan Derbyshire Prospect 2008-01-01)

It is refreshing to read an inquiry into the condition of religion that is exploratory in its approach. Charles Taylor, a Roman Catholic as well as one of the world's leading political theorists, does not aim to attack or defend any system of belief in his new book, A Secular Age. Rather, he wants to elucidate the very idea of a secular world. For Taylor, the difference between the pre-modern Western world and the modern West is not simply that beliefs held then are no longer accepted today; it is that the entire framework of thought has changed. (John Gray Harper's 2008-01-01)

Taylor makes a strong case for the presence in ordinary moral life of something like Plato's idea of the Good, however little acknowledged… A Secular Age carries the story further, into the question of the role of religion in constituting a person's identity. Taylor wants to lay out what it takes to go on believing in God, in the absence of any equivalent to the intellectual, cultural and imaginative surroundings in which pre-modern religion was quietly embedded. This is what he calls our 'social imaginary': how we collectively sense what is normal and appropriate in our dealings with one another and with the world around us. This is something deeper and more diffused than philosophical theories or thought-out positions. (Fergus Kerr The Tablet 2007-09-22)

Taylor reminds us that we remain spiritual creatures in our most essential natures, and that what we take for granted—our age's lack of religious faith—is, in fact, an anomaly of history. Our forefathers did not live this way and our grandchildren might not either. Considering the doubts about extreme secularism, it is possible we are entering a new Age of Spirit. If so, Taylor's latest magnum opus serves as a comprehensive guide to the reemergence of religious sensibility. (Robert Sibley Ottawa Citizen 2008-01-20)

Taylor is arguably the most interesting and important philosopher writing in English today… What makes Taylor so important? Over more than 40 years, four large books, four or five slimmer essays and several volumes of articles, he has worked out a distinctive network of arguments and an exceptionally rich analysis of the modern self and its values—an analysis that reveals us to be altogether deeper and more interesting, but also less self-aware, than we tend to suppose… A Secular Age sets out to offer a richer characterization of secularization and the nature of contemporary belief, both religious and skeptical… Taylor writes brilliantly about the new social forms—the nation state, the market economy, the charitable enterprise—and the ideals of altruism and public service that have emerged with them… A Secular Age is effectively a polemic against dogmatic atheism… It is full of insights, and many of its component parts—notably Taylor's discussion of the 'pressures' that make a settled view on the big ontological questions hard to sustain—are as good as anything by this magnificent philosopher. (Ben Rogers Prospect 2008-02-01)

A Secular Age represents a singular achievement… Taylor is somehow uniquely able to combine chutzpah and good manners, making bold and imaginative claims, yet always attending respectfully to the whole range of disciplines that touch on the philosophical trajectory being drawn, whether that be history, sociology, theology, art theory, cultural studies, anthropology or social theory… A Secular Age succeeds in the same way as his previous work: in illuminating through complicating. At the same time, this book seems to step up the ambition somewhat: by attempting to provide a final definitive account of all the narratives and complications that make up our contemporary age, as they implode on themselves and interact with one another… Hegel knew, of course, that 'the owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk'; or, in other words, that philosophy can only fathom the truth about an age in hindsight, when the day has passed. But then again, that didn't stop Hegel having a go; and we should be glad that it hasn't stopped Charles Taylor, either. (Christopher J. Insole Times Literary Supplement 2008-02-01)

It is, simply, the most comprehensive account of the process and meaning of secularization… Taylor's depiction of the past two centuries is rich with insights and subtle analyses… Familiarity with Taylor's book is now the entry ticket for any serious discussion of secularization. (Peter Steinfels Commonweal 2008-05-09)

[A Secular Age] may become an enduring contribution to understanding religious belief, the evolution of the secular order, and the defining characteristics of modern secularism and contemporary spirituality. Like Charles Taylor's earlier books, it is a product of prodigious erudition. Its 874 dense pages brim with original observation, cogent argument constructed from sources in a wide array of disciplines, and generous ecumenical gestures, even towards humanists. His story is complex, somewhat repetitious and yet unflaggingly interesting: it is loaded with so much novel detail and insight that the reader will be grateful for each scrap of familiar ground. (Tamas Pataki Australian Review of Books 2008-04-01)

The focus here is neither on the role of religion in public institutions nor on the extent of religious beief, but rather on its conditions… It is the slow emergence of secularity in this sense that Taylor sets out to explain, at formidable length, and in remarkable historical and philosophical detail. Binding all that detail together is an argument that Taylor manages to sustain over nearly eight hundred pages. Simply put, A Secular Age is a magisterial refutation of what Taylor calls the 'subtraction story' of secularisation. (Jonathan Derbyshire Philosopher's Magazine 2008-01-01)

In a determinedly brilliant new book, Charles Taylor challenges the 'subtraction theory' of secularization which defines it as a process whereby religion simply falls away, to be replaced by science and rationality. Instead, he sees secularism as a development within Western Christianity, stemming from the increasingly anthropocentric versions of religion that arose from the Reformation. For Taylor, the modern age is not an age without religion; instead, secularization heralds '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.' The result is a radical pluralism which, as well as offering unprecedented freedom, creates new challenges and instabilities. (London Review of Books 2008-08-14)

Charles Taylor's remarkable book A Secular Age achieves something quite different from what other writers on secularization have accomplished. Most have focused on decline as the essence of secularism—either the removal of religion from sphere after sphere of public life, or the decrease of religious belief and practice. But Taylor focuses on what kind of religion makes sense in a secular age… Taylor is asking not only how secularism became a significant option in a civilization that not so long ago was explicitly Christian, but what that change means for the spiritual quest, both of those who are still religious and those who consider themselves secular. I doubt many people have even perceived that aspect of secularism, and Taylor's book should be as much of a revelation to them as it was to me. (Robert N. Bellah Commonweal 2008-09-12)

Charles Taylor's A Secular Age offers a uniquely rich historical and philosophical overview of how we came to take a disenchanted world for granted—quietly inviting us to reflect that if disenchantment and the absence of the divine were learned habits of mind, they might not necessarily be the self-evidently rational truths so many think they are. (Rowan Williams Times Literary Supplement 2008-11-26)

A Secular Age offers an invaluable map of how the modern religious–secular divide came into being. (Andrew Koppelman Dissent 2008-12-01)

If you are, as I am, often puzzled by the landscape of contemporary religious belief and unbelief, you will regard Charles Taylor's huge and hugely rewarding intellectual history of the secularization of European and North American culture as a marvelous gift. A Secular Age is a first-class map of the spiritual terrain of Western modernity as well as the road that got us here. (Robert Westbrook Christian Century 2008-12-16)

A rich, complex book, but what I most appreciate is [Taylor's] vision of a 'secular' future that is both open and also contains at least pockets of spiritual rigor, and that is propelled by religious motivation, a strong and enduring piece of our nature.
(David Brooks New York Times 2013-07-08)

Grapples with the Christian-secular relationship, and with admirable nuance (unlike most theology). (Theo Hobson The Tablet 2013-12-07)

More About the Authors

Discover books, learn about writers, read author blogs, and more.

Customer Reviews

From a historical perspective, Taylor tries to reject what he calls the "subtraction story".
Robin Friedman
Kindle's X-ray feature is apparently not available for this title, so the page numbers in the index are useless anyway.
Kay Richardson
This is by far the best book I've read on the subject, and I've read more than my fair share.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

219 of 227 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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 Gifford Lectures which became "The Varieties of Religious Experience".) But the book was expanded greatly from Taylor's Gifford lectures, and he aptly advises the reader "not to think of it as a continuous story-and-argument, but rather as a series of interlocking essays, which shed light on each other,, and offer a context of relevance for each other." (Preface) Taylor's book received the 2007 Templeton Prize. The Templeton Prize is awarded "for progress toward research or discovery about spiritual realities." It carries with it the largest cash award of any major prize or honor.

A good deal of Taylor's book is devoted to understanding the nature of secularism and the different contexts in which the word "secularism" is used. For the larger part of the book, Taylor describes a "secular age" as an age in which unbelief in God or in Transcendent reality has become a live option to many people. He describes our age as such a "secular age" especially among academics and other intellectuals. He wants to give an account of how secularism developed, of its strengths and weaknesses, and of its current significance.

Taylor's book is written on a personal, historical, and contemporary level. Taylor is a believing contemporary Catholic, and much of his treatment of religious belief reflects his own Catholic/Christian commitments.
Read more ›
7 Comments Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
205 of 214 people found the following review helpful By Robert E. Livingston on October 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover
If you have no previous experience of Charles Taylor, this is not the place to start: 872 pages are a heavy commitment, and Taylor is far from being a great writer. If you want your thinking challenged, try his short essay A Catholic Modernity?: Charles Taylor's Marianist Award Lecture, with responses by William M. Shea, Rosemary Luling Haughton, George Marsden, and Jean Bethke Elshtain, where he previews the argument that secularism actually makes for a fuller realization of Christ's teachings than Christianity allowed. Or, from a different perspective, try William Connolly's Why I Am Not a Secularist, which argues that secular principles are better realized by relaxing secularism.

That said, A Secular Age is vintage Taylor, tracing the roots of secularism deep into the furthest reaches of theology and tracing a series of complicated genealogies of modern thought. It's tough going, and Taylor does have a tendency to loop and qualify in the course of elaborating his claims. But if you have the patience for this kind of Hegel-inspired intellectual-philosophical history, you can count on having your thinking nuanced and complicated as well as encountering all sorts of nearly forgotten thinkers from across the Western tradition. It extends and completes some of the arguments advanced in his earlier Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity
1 Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
70 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Kay Richardson on March 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Kindle edition is useless for serious readers. The "Kindle editors" who prepared this edition clearly have no knowledge of why scholarly apparatus (notes, bibliograpny, index) is important. These research tools were given little or no consideration. The index is in impossibly small type that cannot be enlarged. Kindle's X-ray feature is apparently not available for this title, so the page numbers in the index are useless anyway. This also means that quoting from this Kindle edition is impossible. Looking up page references to this work from other authors is also impossible. The notes are gathered at the end, and the text callouts do not take you there. You must pick your way through via "locations" -- and this book is 896 pages long! (It makes me wonder if the Kindle digitizers have ever even read a "real" book.)

At a price of $36.80 for this Kindle edition, I expected the digital formatting to be properly done. Shame on both Amazon and The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press for selling this shoddy and useless edition for such an outrageous price.

Charles Taylor is a brilliant thinker. His work deserves far better editions than this Kindle one.
6 Comments Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
86 of 95 people found the following review helpful By Wes Howard-Brook on January 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover
As someone who spends much of my time as an undergraduate teacher of theology and church-based adult educator, I regularly run up against what Taylor calls the "subtraction theory" of why secularism has largely replaced Christian faith in the Western world as the default starting point for educated people. Taylor's painstaking, detailed journey through the past five hundred years shows the constructed nature of this implicit "common sense" and then thoroughly demolishes it. Anyone who has sought to engage "atheists" or "agnostics" on why they presume (rather than express a reasoned basis for their view) that religion is for "fools" or children owes a deep debt of gratitude to Taylor's work.

Other reviewers have noted several of the stylistic flaws, such as the tendency toward repetition, the assumption that readers speak French, and so forth. I'd simply like to add a brief note of two substantive limitations.

First, Taylor's definition of "religion" is narrow, and thus misses the "religious" aspects of other forms of social/cultural bonding that function as "religions" in our world, from the relatively trivial (such as sports partisanship) to the more serious (such as patriotism and scientism). His argument is thus directed between "belief" and "unbelief," rather than between various forms of belief systems. As he notes (but does not discuss in detail), scientism functions religiously for many, including such popular authors as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, famous for their supposed "debunking" of "religion." This diminishes the power of his argument to refute some of the more powerful forms of "belief" in our world today.
Read more ›
3 Comments Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again

Most Recent Customer Reviews


What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item?