History and Method
Charles Taylor (Belknap Press: Sep 20, 2007), 896 pages.
In his characteristically erudite yet engaging fashion, Taylor, winner of the 2007 Templeton Prize, takes up where he left off in his magnificent Sources of the Self (1989) as he brilliantly traces the emergence of secularity and the processes of secularization in the modern age. Challenging the idea that the secular takes hold in a world where religion is experienced as a loss or where religions are subtracted from the culture, Taylor discovers the secular emerging in the midst of the religious. The Protestant Reformation, with its emphasis on breaking down the invidious political structures of the Catholic Church, provides the starting point down the road to the secular age. Taylor sweeps grandly and magisterially through the 18th and 19th centuries as he recreates the history of secularism and its parallel challenges to religion. He concludes that a focus on the religious has never been lost in Western culture, but that it is one among many stories striving for acceptance. Taylor's examination of the rise of unbelief in the 19th century is alone worth the price of the book and offers an essential reminder that the Victorian age, more than the Enlightenment, dominates our present view of the meanings of secularity. Taylor's inspired combination of philosophy and history sparkles in this must-read virtuoso performance.
Jaroslav Pelikan (Yale University Press: Nov 10, 1999), 304 pages.
Ask anyone to name the most influential person in history, and chances are the reply will be, simply, "Jesus." Here, Yale historian Pelikan ably explores the universe of power and influence embedded in that revered five-letter name, as he surveys the role of the carpenter from Galilee in "the general history of culture." Pelikan proceeds from the premise that the "image" of Jesus - his identity as perceived by successive epochs - is a mirror reflecting the course of Western civilization, and that tracing that image through time will reveal the "continuities and discontinuities" of the past two millennia. His project uncovers mostly discontinuities; Western culture's christological imagery changes dramatically from age to age. Pelikan begins by looking at the early concept of Jesus as prophet and and rabbi, prevalent in the first century. Subsequent chapters cover in chronological order 17 other major representations of Jesus. These include Jesus as Logos, as "bridegroom of the soul," as "Universal Man," and so on. Behind these wildly divergent images, however, a rainbowlike pattern emerges: Jesus's prestige arches steeply upwards from his humble origins as a crucified wonder-worker, reaches its apogee in his medieval elevation to alpha and omega of the cosmos, declines in modern times to his quasi-mundane role as prototypical social liberator. This man, it seems, can be all things to all people; like the Beauty he embodied for the Romantics, Jesus lies in the eyes of the beholder.