CT: Yes, but I have to say that there are lots of very, very valid criticisms of the form that “you didn’t take account of …” because, as I tried to say in the preface, [A Secular Age] is really like a collection of essays. I realized that my experience puts me in the centre, in the middle of the Anglophone, of the Francophone, and, because of my reading and interest in Germany, in the middle of the Germanophone…, okay?
But it’s also very Catholic-centred. I got this brilliant letter from a Dane who has written a brilliant book, and I hope I can get it translated, saying, “You didn’t understand Luther. You don’t understand how this makes for a different account.” Well, guilty as charged! I mean, I think of [A Secular Age] as a kind of sketch of what will one day (but never come!) be a more complete picture of that question of the Western World.
JS: Well, I think it has functioned as an invitation in that respect. You’re quite content to see people take pieces and trajectories and follow them more deeply and carefully and fill out, colour in the cartoon, as it were.
CT: Yeah, that’s right. Or change some of my summary judgments. You made the point [in How (Not) to Be Secular] about Calvin, and obviously Calvin is not one of my strong points. So I recognize that there are lots of things missing here, but what I’m tremendously pleased at, frankly, is that it started a discussion. Instead of people saying, “He didn’t write about that, so let’s forget that,” people say, “He didn’t write about that!” [laughs]
JS: Yes, and now, “Let’s undertake the work.” It’s a wonderful catalyst for what I think will be a generation of people who are working on these questions, which again, have such existential import.
“Why Do I See the World So Differently?” | Comment Magazine. The whole interview of Charles Taylor (CT) by Jamie Smith (JS) is great, but this is my favorite part. A vast comprehensive narrative like A Secular Age (or for that matter Sources of the Self) is not meant to end the conversation but to deepen, enrich, and propel it. The best readers of A Secular Age will be engaged in critical reflection on it, in charitable dispute with it. But it’s a massive and, to my mind, necessary achievement — one of the most important books of our time.