Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age

Stuart Jeffries over at the Guardian:

Taylor hints obligingly at a time in which secularism’s “hegemony of the mainstream master narrative” could be over (a great elucidator of Hegel, Taylor doesn’t so much turn a phrase as let it curdle in philosophical jargon). They will also no doubt like the fact that Taylor is highly critical of so-called “subtraction stories”, those Whig versions of secularism’s history, whereby human nature steadily casts off its shackles of ignorance and superstition, finally emerging from a Bastille of the mind into the bright morning of truth.

Taylor’s account is much more complicated. There is chronology, but hardly a straightforward narrative that might explain why the only recent bestseller about religion was written by a vituperative atheist. One might think that the cumulative impact of the Reformation, Renaissance, Enlightenment and myriad scientific revolutions was to make it possible to think about the material world without reference to any transcendent power (Taylor calls this the “immanent frame”), but that is not the whole story. He argues that the west has been changed by what he calls a “nova effect”: once a humanistic alternative to the transcendent frame established itself, it spawned an ever-widening variety of moral and spiritual positions, in the professor’s words, “across the span of the thinkable and perhaps even beyond”.