A Secular Age

  • by Charles Taylor
  • Narrated by Dennis Holland
  • 43 hrs and 14 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

What does it mean to say that we live in a secular age? Almost everyone would agree that we - in the West, at least - largely do. And clearly the place of religion in our societies has changed profoundly in the last few centuries. In what will be a defining book for our time, Charles Taylor 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, even for the staunchest believer, is only one human possibility among others.
Taylor, long one of our most insightful thinkers on such questions, offers a historical perspective. He examines the development in "Western Christendom" of those aspects of modernity which we call secular. What he describes is in fact not a single, continuous transformation, but a series of new departures, in which earlier forms of religious life have been dissolved or destabilized and new ones have been created.
As we see here, today's secular world is characterized not by an absence of religion - although in some societies religious belief and practice have markedly declined - but rather by the continuing multiplication of new options, religious, spiritual, and anti-religious, which individuals and groups seize on in order to make sense of their lives and give shape to their spiritual aspirations.
What this means for the world - including the new forms of collective religious life it encourages, with their tendency to a mass mobilization that breeds violence - is what Charles Taylor grapples with, in a book as timely as it is timeless.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Marred by the long quotes in terrible French

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

This was always going to be a challenging listen, because of its length and the complexity of its theme. But the reason I had to abandon it partway through had nothing to do with the content.

The written work includes frequent long (up to a paragraph in length) quotations from key thinkers in the original language, followed by a translation. For the audible version, it needed to be edited so that only the translation was narrated. I don't know anybody who can translate mediaeval Latin or 18th century French by ear while driving a car down the motorway, so including the original texts added nothing. As the book progressed, I became increasingly frustrated at having to listen to several minutes of incomprehensible narration before getting to the translation.

As the narrative of the book moved to consider the thinkers of 17th and 18th century France, my frustration was increased by the grating, truly bad French accent of the narrator, and for the first time I had to abandon an audio book in the middle


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- P

Challenging, Complex and Intellectually Brilliant!

500 years ago, almost everyone was religious. "God" was assumed to be self evident as a power in the World. So how did we get to this, our secular age, where belief is often seen as irrational, mainstream religion is in decline, and the diversity of beliefs and unbelief have gone supernova? This is the central question Taylor addresses in this fascinating, detailed and intellectually rich magnum opus.

This is not a book for the faint hearted - several chapters were so complex, I had to listen hard, with full attention, and often go back more than once to really understand them. Once "in the groove" however, I found the fullness of Taylor's analysis, and the breadth of his understanding, awesome.

This is an account of the evolution of Western thought over the past 1000 years and beyond - not just an evolution of ideas, but in what Taylor calls our "Social Imaginary". He evocatively traces how the Mediaeval "porous" self, within an "enchanted" Cosmos, where dis-ease in nature reflected disease of spirit, where witches & demons, saints and relics had power, and transcendent & imminent worlds coalesced in a mutually supporting hierarchy of the "chain of being" - God, King, Priests, Barons, Surfs etc. as a unity of community and Cosmos - how this evolved through the Reformation and Enlightenment, through attempts (ironically) to reform the laity to the highest standards of piety, and became our modern day secular "buffered" humanistic individualistic self, living in a "disenchanted" imminent mechanistic universe.

What Taylor is attempting to refute are the prevalent "subtraction" narratives: that we have "grown up" out of religion, casting off childish superstition and ignorance, to be replaced by science and rational secular humanism. These subtraction accounts are compelling, and heroic, but totally unsupported by history. We are here because, not in spite of, our cultural roots. For example modern humanist values are traceable back to Christian values of "agape" as universal concern for others and we often forget that the precursors of our hospitals, universities and all forms of social care were founded and for centuries run, by the Church.

As for the future of religion, Taylor presents an optimistic and well argued case for a resurgence of interest in diverse forms of "transcendent" spiritual expression, and argues against the subtractionist view that religion will fade out as an unnecessary historical encumbrance. Imminent pleasures alone are insufficient, we need the transcendent dimension to re-discover the vivid fullness of life.

So, in conclusion, more than most audiobooks, listen to the sample before you buy. One thing that helped me was the narration by Dennis Holland in a pleasing and relaxed Canadian accent (Taylor is Canadian). Some short passages were in Latin, French or German, but for me, this did not detract.

Overall, whatever your views on religion, this audiobook is an erudite and ultimately highly enriching listen - but it does require some intellectual heavy lifting!
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- Jim Vaughan

Book Details

  • Release Date: 25-08-2014
  • Publisher: Audible Studios