Book | A Secular Age by Charles Taylor


The AuthorCharles Taylor


A key concept that comes from the book is that of the buffered self. Taylor argues that modern, western civilization has disenchanted the cosmos and moved away from a porous self—in which the person can be influenced and interpenetrated by forces and spirits of the cosmos—to the buffered self which lives primarily from its own lived, internal experience of reality. The self is detached, or buffered, from direct contact with reality and thus is able to interpret and create meaning from the subjective self.

View my Evernote Annotations

This is an important component to my research in spirituality. The following list is a series of reviews that I have read of the book. The following .pdfs include my annotations:

A review of A Secular Age by a Timothy Sedgewick

the world is interpreted in terms of the experience of the self, and the process of disenchantment begins. This “turn to the subject” breaks the sacred hierarchy. Interpretive lenses come to buf- fer the self. By degree, time is flattened until meaning is tied to historical cause and effect, so that history is tied to a universal moral order and notions of historical fulfillment. (513)

At the heart of Taylors argument is the claim that Christian faith is marked by three features: (1) the sacralization of life in which the human person is connected to society and the cosmos; (2) the conversion of the self which is grounded in and gives rise to a sense of the individual and his or her agency; and (3) a universal moral order and purpose which Christians are called to acknowledge, obey, and realize. (513)

Taylor suggests, for example, that Christian reform movements that seek to purify Christian faith in terms of conversion and an immanent moral order lead toward an “excarnation” of Christianity, a turning away from the experience of the sacred to right belief and practice, often with strong emphasis on duty and responsibility. (514)

Review of A Secular Age by Ian Ward

A Review of A Secular Age by Martin Marty

Among the delights along the Charles Taylor way are any number of provocative designations to match “exclusive humanism.” Among these are “the closed immanent frame,” “the narratives of secularity,” “the buffered identity,” and “fragilization,” along with easier-to-grasp categories for development, such as, simply, “loss” and “disenchantment.” (775)

Review of A Secular Age by Rene Kollar

An exciting aspect of the author’s story is his discussion of the nineteenth century, which some commentators see as the beginning of the age of unbelief. Taylor’s remarks about the Romantic Movement and the ethos of the Victorian culture are important in the story of secularity and also serve as a bridge to twentieth century development with its two world wars and culture of materialism. The result of this long history of secularism, beginning with the Reformation’s emphasis on individualism, is the current Age of Authenticity where freedom, self-expression, and personal choice are the encouraged and promoted. Taylor examines the cultural revolution of the 1960s and its gospel of individual freedom and shows how it challenged accepted religious beliefs. His comments on the nature of violence, especially in today’s climate of global brutality and bloodshed of a religious and ethnic nature, is noteworthy for people searching for value and meaning in life and society. (536)

Review of a Secular Age by John Kinsey

One of Taylor’s main themes is a critique of “subtraction stories” that try to explain the emergence of secular modernity as being an escape from or rejection of the errors, superstitions, or limitations of the medieval outlook. (75)

As Taylor sees it a key driver of change has been the determination “to make over the whole society to higher standards” (p. 63), in short the drive for “Reform.” The term is apt but potentially misleading. For what Taylor means by “Reform” includes but is by no means limited to the Refor- mation. It refers more broadly to those many currents of social, moral and spiritual renewal which, by virtue of their scope and intensity, tend to be highly interventionist, promote uniformity, and lead, often unintentionally, to a rise in the use of instrumental modes of reason. (76)

What emerges is a transformed and recognisably modern conception of the self – that of the “disciplined, disengaged agent” (p. 142).This conception has two main and closely related components: disenchantment and instrumental control. (76)

And since this transformation takes place in the context of both a clear distinction between the natural and the supernatural and the rise of mechanistic science, everyday life is eventually experienced and understood as embedded within an “immanent” natural order – or “frame” – that stands over against a now merely possible “transcendent” spiritual realm. Indeed, Taylor maintains that “the immanent frame is common to all of us in the modern West . . .” (p. 543). (77)

Review of A Secular Age by Richard Amesbury

The net effect of the past five centuries is not, for Taylor, the withering away of belief but a shift in its conditions – of what it is to believe. The characteristic feature of our secular age is what Taylor calls its “immanent frame”: life is lived within a self-sufficient, “natural” order that can be explained and “envisaged without reference to God.”17 God is manifest neither in discrete instances of the sacred as distinct from the profane nor in the moral order on which civilisation is said to depend.To say that the world can be understood apart from God is not, however, to say that it must be understood as closed to transcendence – for the immanent frame can be conceived as open to something “supernatural.” Indeed, the very distinction between the “natural” and the “supernatural,” like the modern conception of a miracle as a violation of a law of nature, belongs to the immanent frame – to a world understood in terms of an order from which God’s presence has receded. (73)

Review of A Secular Age by Vaughan Roberts

According to Taylor the phenomenon of secularization itself should also be understood in a nuanced way. First, it can refer to the way in which public spaces have been emptied of God or of any reference to ultimate reality. Second, it can mean the falling of religious belief and practice, particularly as found in the countries of Western Europe. Third, it speaks of the complete change in society whereby belief in God is no longer axi- omatic but is just one option among many. It is this latter process which Taylor seeks to describe in the term “the great disembedding,” which has led to the transformation of our “social imaginary,” or “the collective social practices which make up our common life” (172). One outcome of this has been that faith is often seen in terms of a dualism between “religion” and “spirituality.” (121)

As he seeks to draw his wide-ranging narrative to a conclusion Taylor speculates on the future of faith, and, whilst he admits that no one can predict how the story will continue to develop, he suggests that Epsteins notion of minimal religion “may turn out to be prescient” (770). He has earlier defined this as: ‘a spirituality lived in one’s immediate circle, with family and friends, rather than in churches, one especially aware of the particular, both in individual human beings, and in places and things which surround us … it seeks to honour the “image and likeness of Godwin the particular people who share our lives.’ (123)


Taylor describes our current problems with theodicy as being one of secular thinking having us ask the wrong question. The rational thinker asks “Why did this bad thing happen?”. We look for a logical reason. Finding none, we become angry with God. Taylor argues that the real question of theodicy is “Something bad has happened – so what is our response to be?” Will we choose revenge or forgiveness, judgment or reconciliation. If the goal of the life of faith is restoring communion then we will know how to respond to every unjust situation.

This is an article by Taylor in response to some of his critics…Charles Taylor responds to his critics

7 thoughts on “Book | A Secular Age by Charles Taylor”

  1. Well when you finish reading this, I want a book report, Because I probably will get lost after the first page.

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