The Rules of Engagement

Communion in a Scientific Age

Charles Taylor’s remarkable book A Secular Age achieves something quite different from what other writers on secularization have accomplished. Most have focused on decline as the essence of secularism—either the removal of religion from sphere after sphere of public life, or the decrease of religious belief and practice. But Taylor focuses on what kind of religion makes sense in a secular age.

He speaks of “the conditions of experience of and search for the spiritual” that make it possible to speak of ours as a “secular age.” Taylor is asking not only how secularism became a significant option in a civilization that not so long ago was explicitly Christian, but what that change means for the spiritual quest, both of those who are still religious and those who consider themselves secular.

I doubt many people have even perceived that aspect of secularism, and Taylor’s book should be as much of a revelation to them as it was to me (see Peter Steinfels’s review essay, “Modernity and Belief,” May 9). Viewing secularism as Taylor does means calling into question some of the presuppositions of the usual discussions, including the notion that “science” has undermined the possibility of religious belief, or that science has “...

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About the Author

Robert N. Bellah is professor of sociology emeritus, University of California, Berkeley. His most recent book is The Robert Bellah Reader (Duke University Press).