Not Your Grandma's Secularization Thesis

Taylor’s massive tome, A Secular Age, is one of those big, heavy landmark books that is destined to be a definitive classic. Taylor is out to tell a story about the emergence of our “secular” age, articulating a new kind of secularization thesis that also functions as a criticism of tired, triumphalistic versions that confidently predicted the steady withering of religion in our “modern” world. On Taylor’s account, secularity or secularization should not be merely identified with a diminishment in religious belief or the decline of religious observance. Rather, a “secular” age is one in which belief in God is no longer axiomatic. The shift that gave rise to secular modernity was a shift in the plausibility conditions of society such that even religious believers recognize the contestability of religious belief. In this respect, Europe (with little public religious observance) and the United States (rife with public religiosity and high religious participation) are both secular insofar as religious belief is considered one option among others. This shift in plausibility conditions makes possible the emergence of an “exclusive humanism” that, for the first time, imagines human flourishing without reference to transcendence. Essential reading.

For further discussion of Taylor's book by signicant scholars, visit The Immanent Frame.