Bruce Robbins Writes on Secularism and Reviews Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor, philosopher
Charles Taylor, philosopher


Bruce Robbins writes that while Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age is "inconsistent and unpersuasive," it benefits by contrast with the writings of prominent academic anti-secularists.  Part of b2‘s sustained engagement with issues of secularism and religion, this essay launches the journal’s online presence as an extension of its printed form. 


  1. I want first to comment on this passage: "The large question that Nietzscheans like Foucault have never been very good at facing is whether these God-terms are really God-equivalents. For if the secularization of theological concepts results in nothing but more theology, if God-terms are functional point-for-point equivalents for God, then God is effectively indestructible. And if so, then as I suggest above, secularization has in fact never happened. In that case, everything would indeed be religion, or faith, or belief. Taylor’s narrative flirts with this idea but doesn’t espouse it. “Perhaps there is only the choice between good and bad religion.” But if that’s the choice, then after all there would have been no disenchantment. This is a conclusion that Taylor does not and perhaps cannot recognize. But it pulls visibly on the story he’s telling and on the common sense that has reached out to him." Forgetting Foucault for a minute, and remembering Nietzsche, to the degree there is something deemed experiementally unquestionable there is "a god-phenomenon." This includes, of course, especially science and its method. Beyond this point, I like this review-essay a lot, admiring its clarity and pointed style. No doubt the smartest review Taylor has gotten.

  2. This is a supplement: during the Spring of 2008, the LSE held a conference on ‘Religion, Secularism and Modernity’ ( which contains a talk by Veit Bader · What is Wrong with Secularism of all Sorts? Priority for Democracy. Bader is also the author of a 2008 book, Secularism or Democracy. I mention this here because Bader articulates his position as more unfriendly to secularism than but building on Taylor’s work. This material educated me in a body of policy writings on secularism that I had not known.

  3. Why people want/need to hold something sacred and find that sacred something in organized religions is, of course, a historical, political, ideological, and psychological problem discussed at length in many disiplines. But it is also an ethical matter. That is, for me, to profess belief in any organized religion is an ethical failure, a failure of the scholarly conscience, first of all, for intellectuals. This endorsement of the scholarly conscience is the strain in Nietzsche worth following. I also would hold, for myself, that unorganized, so-called private religions, are also to be rejected, but it’s the social consequences that matter most.


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