A Secular Age Part IV.a – Charles Taylor vs. Steve Bruce

April 21, 2011

In Part IV of A Secular Age Taylor goes about describing different narratives of secularization.  I think it might be helpful for us to split these narratives into two different discussions.  In this first discussion I’d like to set Taylor up against an opponent/interlocutor – the Scottish sociologist of secularization, Steve Bruce.

Bruce, rightly famous for such books as God is Dead: Secularization in the West and Religion in the Modern World, would, I believe, be happily labeled as a proponent of the idea that the modern western world is becoming increasing a-religious.  His basic argument is that the modern world, composed as it is of religious & cultural diversity, privatization, egalitarianism, relativism and rationalism, is uniquely suited to funneling people out of religion and religious commitments.  Indeed, it’s not atheism that he predicts for the future, but a mounting indifference to religion within the secularized West.

Two quotes might serve us well as examples.  Bruce concludes his God is Dead by saying: “We may want to explain the secularity of some elite groups (such as professional scientists) by the impact of science and rationalism, but to understand the mass of the population it is not self-conscious irreligion that is important.  It is indifference.  [And] the primary cause of indifference is the lack of religious socialization” (240).  Here we see his charge of mounting indifference explained by the thought that people must be socialized into the particular beliefs of particular religions in order for those beliefs to be maintained.  The argument then runs that, because of diversity, relativism and egalitarianism, it’s very difficult for religious socialization to happen.

Noting the difficulty of such socialization in a diffuse, pluralized environment leads to our next Bruce quote.  He says: “What is at issue is the future of [diffuse] Read the rest of this entry »

Charles Taylor’s “A Secular Age”: Context & Question

March 1, 2011

Wow, this book is 800 pages... really?!I write this morning proposing a project – over the next few weeks I’d like to present, synthesize and analyze some portions of Charles Taylor’s massive and massively important tome A Secular Age.  Aside from being Roman Catholic (and Canadian!), Taylor is, in my opinion, a brilliant philosopher.  He is currently Professor Emeritus at McGill University in Montreal.  Those interested parties among us can find a link to Taylor’s contributions to a website which sprung from A Secular Age here.  A good and recent interview with him can be found here, and (of course…) there’s always Wikipedia.

But let’s take on the tough question right away: if there’s all this material out there already, why add more to it on this blog?  It’s pretty straightforward actually.  I want to write about Taylor’s thought here because I see this community as, in some respects, a community of ministers.  As a ministerial community, a community of servant-believers, I am convinced that understanding the context of our belief and service will help us to do it better.  One significant Jesuit presupposition runs something like this: in thinking we believe and serve more effectively.

So… if you buy that and are sticking with me (!) I’m going to try to do this in six parts, six interlocking blog posts, each of which will correspond to a different aspect of Taylor’s work.  The first part of this effort, then, is to set the scene, to give a précis of Taylor’s project.   So to it, then!

Read the rest of this entry »