I recently worked my way through Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, which, since its publication in 2007, has become one of the most widely reviewed and critically lauded books on religion and secularism — and which, in a tangential way, was one of the provocations that led me to start this blog in the first place. What follows are some thoughts on Taylor’s notions of immanence and transcendence, and on the “third way” of radical immanence, or immanent naturalism, that has become an important conversation partner in the debate that has arisen in the wake of Taylor’s book. (See The Immanent Frame for some of this debate, especially the contributions by William Connolly, Elizabeth Hurd, Lars Tonder, Patrick Lee Miller, and Taylor himself.) These thoughts are taken from a longer argument that I presented at last week’s ISSRNC conference in Amsterdam.
It’s rare that a nearly 900-page tome of dense and circuitous philosophical and historical prose gets the kind of attention A Secular Age has gotten, and the fact that Taylor is as brilliant, respectful, and nuanced a thinker as he is makes it a book well worth celebrating. Conferences have been held in its honor, and the Social Science Research Institute-supported blog The Immanent Frame, on “secularism, religion, and the public sphere” and named after one of the book’s central concepts, has attracted the contributions of dozens of high-profile thinkers to weigh in on the themes raised by Taylor. (The list includes Talal Asad, Arjun Appadurai, Robert Bellah, Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Martin Marty, Wendy Brown, Craig Calhoun, Jose Casanova, William Connolly, Saba Mahmoud, Donald S. Lopez, Jr., Roger Gottlieb, Timothy Fitzgerald, Todd Gitlin, Christina Lafont, and Taylor himself.)