Sunday, September 2, 2007

getting beyond “a secular age”

A notion of a “secular age” is evinced by Charles Taylor's new, monumental book of that title, A Secular Age. But secularity only makes sense relative to religious life, as non-religious or post-religious. From an anthropological perspective, being human precedes religious life, always accompanied it humanistically (I would argue), and may get along quite well without religiosity—with all due graciousness toward the mass of humanity that needed and needs religious life.

A humanistic view of being is not anti-religious. Religious life is a kind of humanism, especially defined by worshipful faith in very-humanistic ceremony (albeit supernaturalized) and orientation of one’s lifeworld relative to interpretations of texts (written by persons) that have been divinized (via very human experiences of entrancement, enchantment, etc.).

But this comment isn’t meant to be a rigorous definition of religious life; rather, just to express that religious life can be understood anthropologically (no ontologization of theistic notions required) and humanistically (no trans-human supernaturalization required).

“Getting beyond ‘a secular age’” would be about getting beyond relativizing understanding of the present “age” in terms of secularity (which is a notion relativized to passed religious orientation, life, whatever). Getting beyond secularity is about finding the motive of our humanity in that humanity, evolutionarily appreciated and oriented by the futurity of the human interest (itself anthropologically deep-seated). Relative to such humanization, religious life (thus secularity) looks like a Moment in cultural evolution, whose nature was always already a humanization more profound (as a matter of its temporal horizon) than religious life ever imagined.

In any case, Taylor’s intellectual history of secularity appears to me (from reading his long, programmatic “Introduction”) to be a great, accessible complement to Habermas’ moral solidarity with religion in the public sphere---diachronic (Taylor) with synchronic (JH)? However, Taylor barely mentions Habermas in the 896 pages (gasp!) of the book, which is ironic because they’re good friends.

Anyway, Publishers Weekly notes (at—I have the book, but quoting PW is reliably easier): “... 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 keynote here is Taylor's animus against a negative dialectic in theory of secularization.

It seems to me that Taylor is seeking to explicate our *historically shared* devotion to finding spiritual/humanistic "fullness" (his central notion, apparently) in life, that binds plural modernizations with the history of religious pluralism in north Atlantic societies (his geographical focus). By seeking to eventually explicate a post-secular fullness of life, he claims a third way between "Belief" and anomic dis-Belief which appears to prospect a common ground for the future of cultural pluralism.

His book is a major contribution to humanistic philosophy of modernization. I expect to read it through a cultural evolutionary lens which leads from classical Greek culture through Renaissance humanism to our humanistic modernity that experiences religious life as part of that evolution, not its basis (contrary, evidently, to Habermas). Religiosity emerges from the childhood of humanity that is primordially of that humanity. “Emergence of the secular,” then, expresses a de-supernaturalization of our humanity, thanks to humanistic modernity.