A Secular Age Beyond the West: Religion, Law and the State in Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, 2021

A Secular Age Beyond the West: Religion, Law and the State in Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. Edited by Mirjam Künkler, John Madeley, and Shylashri Shankar. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. xviii + 422 pp. $120.00 cloth, $34.99 paper, $28.00 e-book

Gregorio Bettiza

Few scholars have contributed to deepening our contemporary understanding of the relationship between modernity, secularization, and religion than Charles Taylor. In his magnum opus A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; 2007), the Canadian philosopher invites us to radically rethink the meaning of secularization away from what he terms “subtraction stories,” whereby the rise of modernity = processes of secularization = less religion in the public and private spheres. Subtraction stories form what is commonly understood to be the core of secularization theory, which either involves the functional differentiation of religious and non-religious spheres (what Taylor terms Secularity I), or the decline of religious belief and practice (what Taylor labels Secularity II). Taylor conceptualizes secularity instead as constituting a profound epistemic and cultural break within our Western “conditions of belief.” This entails the movement from “a society in which it was virtually impossible not to believe in God, to one in which faith, even for the staunchest believer, is one human possibility among others” (Taylor, 2007, 2). This is what Taylor terms Secularity III, namely the notion that “belief in God is no longer axiomatic” (Taylor, 2007, 3). For Taylor this third dimension of secularity is largely a precondition for the first two.  

From a global perspective (my own disciplinary home is that of International Relations), one of the pressing questions hovering over Taylor's monumental book has long been whether this shift in the conditions of belief is a uniquely Western development or can actually take—and has taken—place across other societies around the world...