Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Sri Aurobindo seeks synergy between religion and politics

[Oct 24, 2007 1:42 AM The buffered self and the battle of ideas
from The Immanent Frame by Charles Taylor
As I read Wendy Brown's recent post on A Secular Age, I see that I made a bad job of communicating my intent. I organized the book in sections, and the main thrust of my account comes in the first half. Crucial to my view is a Foucault-influenced notion of Reform as both feeding on and further potentiating certain disciplines, which become woven into our family, work, schooling and professional lives and hence continue to define us. What I call the "buffered self" is one facet of what results.]

[Sep 22, 2007 11:14 PM New Book by Charles Taylor Gets Positive Reception
from Vox Nova by Policraticus
Charles Taylor, Professor of Philosophy at Northwestern University and winner of the 2007 Templeton Prize, has a new book out entitled A Secular Age. Michael Perry over at Mirror and Justice notes some of the positive reviews Taylor’s work is receiving. This looks like a wonderful and insightful read.]

[Oct 26, 2007 6:42 AM Secularism of a new kind
from The Immanent Frame by Robert Bellah
I have long admired Charles Taylor and have read most of what he has written and always found him helpful. Yet for me, A Secular Age is his breakthrough book—one of the most important books to be written in my lifetime. Taylor succeeds in no less than recasting the entire debate about secularism. From the very first pages it is clear that Taylor is doing something different from what others writing about secularization have achieved.]

[Oct 24, 2007 1:42 AM Introducing The Immanent Frame
from The Immanent Frame by Jonathan VanAntwerpen
On the shelves for only a handful of weeks, Charles Taylor's
A Secular Age is already receiving at least some of the attention it well deserves. The book has been reviewed in the pages of The Economist and The Wall Street Journal, and two short excerpts were recently published in Commonweal. Taylor's massive tome---it's just shy of 880 pages long---was even held aloft and glossed earlier this month by a young denizen of youtube.]

[Dec 1, 2007 1:26 AM The truth? from The Immanent Frame by Simon During
As many here have noted, A Secular Age is a remarkable achievement. And it marks the culmination of a life’s work. As far as I’m aware, Charles Taylor’s argument first took shape in an essay he wrote forty years ago as a member of the Catholic New Left for the volume From Culture to Revolution (1968). At the time he was committed to an anti-marxist “radical socialism” ]

[Nov 28, 2007 11:46 PM Deus absconditus and disenchantment
from The Immanent Frame by Akeel Bilgrami
Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age is an inspired yet rigorously argued Wagnerian effort to analyze the distinctive anxieties of modern intellectual and social life, by one of the most important and interesting philosophers of the last five decades. I will pick up one strand that illustrates Taylor’s central themes of religion and secularity and the conceptual and historical continuities and discontinuities between them: the process of so-called ‘disenchantment’ that is supposed to mark our modernity.]

[Nov 28, 2007 11:46 PM After Durkheim from The Immanent Frame by Robert Bellah
I continue, as I reread it, to have the highest opinion of A Secular Age and to believe that it is among the handful of the most important books I have ever read, to the point where The Chronicle of Higher Education speaks of my
“effusive” praise. So it was with some surprise that I found there was a point where, if I didn’t entirely differ from Taylor, I had at least some serious questions to raise.]

[Going beyond from The Immanent Frame by Craig Calhoun
One of the main arguments of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Ageis that people, at least modern secular Westerners, have come routinely to think that the world as it is must be all there is. The contrast between immanence and transcendence is thus one of Taylor's main organizing themes. Immanence locates both our sense of reality and our sense of the good within the world around us; transcendence gives us a sense of something beyond. Taylor develops this in conjunction with a notion of “fullness” to try to evoke what it means to live in more constant engagement with that which is beyond the immediately given, the spiritual which might infuse nature, for example, or the Divine which might lift morality above a notion of ethics as mere fairness.]

[Don't Poop Under the Dinner Table, and Other Rules of Etiquette from One Cosmos by Gagdad Bob
I guess I'll be going back and forth between topics for a while, but I want to get back to Taylor's
A Secular Age and ponder a few things I read yesterday. Again, the central question his book addresses is how human beings "moved from a condition in 1500 in which it was hard not to believe in God, to our present situation just after 2000, where this has become quite easy for many." In ways that never existed before, even nominally religious people are quite content to pursue goals that are purely immanent and to enjoy activities that take no account of the transcendent...I was particularly struck by Taylor's discussion of the "civilizing process" that commenced in Europe in the 16th century.]

[Living in a Bersercular Age from One Cosmos by Gagdad Bob
The central question in Taylor's
A Secular Age is how human beings went from a situation just a few hundred years ago, in which naive religious belief was the "default" position and unbelief was unthinkable, to our current cultural situation in which people naively believe that unbelief is the default, or "natural" position, and that belief is somehow superimposed, so to speak, on that. To a certain extent, this simplification is true. For example, even for contemporary believers, their belief is an option or a choice, at least in the West. For our Islamic enemies, belief is clearly not a choice, since it's difficult to believe anything when your head has been removed from your body. But for the radical left as well, unbelief might as well not be a choice. It's just a naive, unreflective, and kneejerk stance, for example, in our fully secularized academia. Therefore, it seems that only in the freely religious society is the believer able to exercise his freedom to choose God. This is clearly one of the things that makes the United States (and a few other places) so unique and valuable. Just as love isn't love if it is compelled, only if you are free to reject faith is faith truly meaningful. For this reason alone we could say that the present age (at least in the modern West) is -- at least potentially -- more spiritually "evolved" than premodern societies where faith was taken for granted and not freely chosen. Really, the main purpose of my book was to make religion relevant to modern minds who might otherwise be caught up in the cultural template of naive unbelief, and therefore miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime.]

[Framing the middle from The Immanent Frame by Jonathan Sheehan
From the opening pages, my historical antennae quickly began to quiver. Taylor’s book works in a space far removed from what I understand (speaking perhaps parochially) as proper historical argument. I say this with due caution: Taylor has always believed in the importance of a historical setting for his arguments. And from the outset of A Secular Age, he specifically addresses the issue of history. “Who needs all this detail, this history?” he asks, to insist that indeed “our past is sedimented in our present.”]

[Becoming Somebody on the Way to Being a Big Nobody
from One Cosmos by Gagdad Bob... I'm trying to find the time to make some headway with Charles Taylor's A Secular Age, which is almost 800 pages long and not an easy read. It's a very important book, and one that I will be spending a lot of time discussing in future posts, partly as a way of assimilating the material, but also to show how it relates to my book. But first I have to read it. Thus far I'm only up to page 96. I could never be an actual scholar like Taylor, but I'm certainly glad they exist. However, I feel that my task is to assimilate these "lower" truths (and I certainly don't mean that in any pejorative sense) into a more unified vision of the whole.]

[a secular age from Indistinct Union by cjsmith
title of Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor’s new book.
I’m only two chapters in and for my money it is one of the best books I have ever read. Within the category of (Western) philosophy it’s right up there with Being and Time, Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality, and
The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere.
The work begins very simply (but profoundly) by asking what is it to live in a secular world?
Taylor articulates three different definitions of secularity:
1) The reduction of religion from the public sphere and decisions made on non-doctrinal basis. (e.g. No Divine Right of Kings or State Church).
2) The secularization thesis: i.e. that religion is an early phase of human development that will be outgrown into rationality. Auguste de Comte, Karl Marx, and now Richard Dawkins.
3) [Taylor’s view] Secularity is about a world where one’s identity, view of the world, culture, etc. is chosen. Or at least open to multiple viable options. Counter to #1 would arguably be India.
Counter to #2 is the United States,where contrary to (some) left/secular fear-mongering and social con/right ignorance, the United States is not a Christian nation. It is a secular nation, but has not followed the path of Comte’s secularization thesis as opposed to Western Europe which generally has. [Canada being somewhere midway between W. Euro and USA].
What Taylor’s outlook does is allow one to trace the history (through narrative form as Taylor does) of secularity AND allow for multiple streams within the secular world. It gets not at what people think or believe, but how they think what they think, how they come practically and philosophically to what it is they believe.
It is an irenic text. While he does take Foucault seriously–even in certain ways out-Foucault-ing Foucault–the text, like Habermas, is overall a defense of modernity. But this time from a devout Catholic Christian. Not a naive, blushing, cheer-leading defense of modernity, but not a deconstructive pomo trashing of modernity either.
By undertaking an investigation into the feeling, the thought-world of secularity (both religious within secular and non-religious within secular), Taylor is light years ahead of the dumb faith-science debates. It’s a deeper phenomenology of the conditions for belief, secularity, and the like.
I’ll do periodic posts as I work my way through it (700 pages or so). Personal note: Taylor is deeply influenced by
Catholic Social Thought, as I am. He comes less from the Locke-J.S. Mill libertarian/utilitarian streak of individualist and more from the Catholic social thought strain of modernity.
But even those who are from the more Lockean-strain I think will find the book (I hope) illuminating.]

[Nov 26, 2007 7:13 AM Secularization: Updated with Linky Simondon Goodness
from Larval Subjects by larvalsubjects
Nick, over at
The Accursed Share, has an interesting review of Taylor’s recent book The Secular Age. Nick writes:
What Taylor proposes, however, is an alternative view – one that focuses neither on the secularization of public institutions nor on the secularization of private practices. Rather, he takes a Kantian approach and focuses on ‘the conditions of belief’ and how they have changed over history. While in the other approaches, there may still be remnants of the past that have not changed over time (e.g. swearing on a Bible before testimony, or the various religious traditions that have been retained in private), from the perspective of the conditions of belief, nothing is the same, even for the believer. The reason for this, simply put, is that even for the believer, his/her belief in the transcendent is no longer capable of being the “naïve” and certain view point it once was; instead, one’s belief is self-consciously only one viewpoint amongst many. (Of course, there were dissenters from the naïve certainty in transcendence in the past – Taylor mentions Epicureanism as a philosophy that denied the relevance of gods to human life – but it is only in our secular age that such an option has become not only widespread, but in many ways the default position.) Even among devout believers, there are times and spaces in life where they must eschew their belief and take on the perspective of the non-believer; or they must acknowledge that other perspectives are perfectly valid in themselves.
From my perspective, the really interesting point of this work, however, is that Taylor explicitly sets up the argument to examine and answer the question of “how did the alternatives become thinkable?” (25). In other words, how did the conditions of belief shift over time such that new possibilities that were previously impossible become thinkable? Moreover, Taylor notes that it is not a matter of simply removing some sort of religious blinder (as people like Dawkins would have us believe) which would then open our eyes to possibilities which were there all along. Rather, “secularity is the fruit of new inventions, newly constructed self-understandings and related practices” (22). It is the construction of these new practices and self-understandings and the construction of new conditions of belief that produce an assemblage in which new possibilities become thinkable and, indeed, naturalized. In this sense, secularization can even be seen as a revolution in thought, insofar as revolution involves making what was previously deemed impossible into the possible (and even the necessary). Finally, Taylor’s work holds interest to me insofar as he defines religion in terms of a belief in transcendence. The history of secularization, therefore, is the story of the emergence of immanence over time.]

[Nov 26, 2007 7:13 AM Secularization: Updated with Linky Simondon Goodness
from Larval Subjects by larvalsubjects... Although I’ve had mixed feelings about Taylor– though always enjoying his books –this sounds like exactly the right way of posing the question. If we take seriously the standpoint of immanence, we cannot treat such cultural shifts as the work of sovereign individuals (like Freud, Nietzsche, Marx, and Darwin) who came up with ideas of genius, but must instead ask what were the conditions under which such thinkers could be individuated in the first place, or rather what had changed socially and culturally for such possibilities to become thinkable? As Deleuze and Guattari argue in “The Postulates of Linguistics” (A Thousand Plateaus) and Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature, all enunciations are collective enunciations. To speak, in other words, is to inflect and iterate the social field within which one speaks. Or as they dramatically put it, to speak is to repeat. Consequently, we cannot see such transformations coming from sovereign individuals, but must look at broader, systematic shifts taking place in the social field. We’re still learning how to engage in this sort of analysis, though Marx and others have taught us a lot as to just what such forms of analysis look like. Along these lines, early Marx, especially, places religion at the forefront of his analysis, arguing that it is failed politics, while paying great respect to it nonetheless. The infamous Jewish Question is especially important reading in this regard for those interested in how Marx was thinking about religious alienation, whatever else its other drawbacks might be.]

[Nov 2, 2007 5:37 PM Problems around the secular from The Immanent Frame by Charles Taylor
One great problem is that the term “secular” is a western term, and corresponds to a very old distinction within Christendom. Then it goes through a series of changes in order to surface in such neologisms as “secularization,” and “secularism.” But even so, some of the original meanings carry over. These terms are then applied unreflectingly to what are seen as analogous processes and ideas elsewhere, and the result can be great confusion.]

[Mar 3, 2008 Mangesh V Nadkarni who became a Savitri legend for us
Science, Culture and Integral Yoga™ by RY Deshpande
Let me now say just a word or two about India’s Spiritual Destiny: Its Inevitability and Potentiality by Mangesh Nadkarni... To quote Nadkarni: “Spirituality is indeed the master-key of the Indian mind. But it is a mistake to think spirituality is only about the supra-sensible... Spirituality must flourish on earth and touch every aspect of human life and transform it with its vast creative possibilities.” That is the Aurobindonian message and Nadkarni carried it wherever he lectured, within India or abroad. On one occasion he perorated: “If the traditional Church and Marxism haven’t delivered, a spirituality which is sufficiently secular may be the answer.” I’ll only add that there are no grades of secularism in true spirituality. The discovery of the truth of the individual and the truth of the cosmic working, of collective life, based on foundational principles of Existence and Awareness and Love and Happiness is the secret urge in us and it’s that which must be promoted.]

Sri Aurobindo seeks synergy between religion and politics. A recent release, Sri Aurobindo — A Contemporary Reader (Editor: Sachidananda Mohanty / pp. 235 / Rs 275 Routledge India: January 2008) needs to be read in companion with Charles Taylor's A Secular Age. [TNM] 5:55 PM

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