A Secular Age, Summary of the Introduction

Secular Age

KEY TERMS IN INTRODUCTION: 1) Secularism 1, 2, and 3; 2) the conditions of belief; 3) a place of fullness; 4) positive slope; 5) negative slope; 6) stabilized middle condition;  7) engaged and disengaged standpoint; 8) naive and reflective ages; 9) transcendence and immanence, 10) self-sufficing humanism;  11) secularization theory; 12) subtraction stories.

[Section 1] In the introduction to A Secular Age, Taylor begins by defining secularism. He notes three legitimate ways to define it. Secularism 1: the loss of God-talk in public space. Secularism 2: the disappearance of belief in God. Secularism 3: the conditions that make faith or unbelief possible. A Secular Age will study secularism 3.

[Section 2] Essentially that means this book will offer an insider look at the lived conditions that made it possible for people to conceive of a world in which God and religion were no longer necessary parts, and were at best only one option among many. This book will look at how people came to a point of being able to find ‘fullness’ without reference to the divine, but purely by immanent resources within a person, society, or nature.

Another feature of this lived condition is that, now, faith and unbelief happen in a spectrum of engagement and disengagement where there are moral/logical/experiential temptations to ‘apostatize’ from religion or secularism in order to convert to the other.

[Section 3] Taylor defines religion broadly as: belief in the transcendent and the conviction that it is necessary for human flourishing. Meanwhile, secularism believes in a “self-sufficing humanism” in which flourishing can be accomplished immanently and without regard to the transcendent.

[Section 4] Offers a brief summation of the intro and a look to what is coming in Chapter 1 (which is an account of how the West became secular). This account will play rival to secularization theory that says ‘as the world becomes more modern it necessarily becomes less religious.’ It will argue that the process was more complicated than this. Taylor adds two caveats: first, his study is focused only on the West, and second he rejects a ‘subtraction story’ approach to understanding secularism.


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