How (Not) to Be Secular

How (Not) to Be Secular

Basic information

  • Published: May 1, 2014
  • Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
  • Page count: 160
  • ISBN: 978-0-8028-6761-2

How (Not) to Be Secular

A smart, intelligent guide to navigating today's culture.

How (Not) to Be Secular is what Jamie Smith calls "your hitchhiker's guide to the present" — it is both a reading guide to Charles Taylor's monumental work A Secular Age and philosophical guidance on how we might learn to live in our times.

Taylor's landmark book A Secular Age (2007) provides a monumental, incisive analysis of what it means to live in the post-Christian present — a pluralist world of competing beliefs and growing unbelief. Jamie Smith's book is a compact field guide to Taylor's insightful study of the secular, making that very significant but daunting work accessible to a wide array of readers.

Even more, though, Smith's How (Not) to Be Secular is a practical philosophical guidebook, a kind of how-to manual on how to live in our secular age. It ultimately offers us an adventure in self-understanding and maps out a way to get our bearings in today's secular culture, no matter who "we" are — whether believers or skeptics, devout or doubting, self-assured or puzzled and confused. This is a book for any thinking person to chew on.


Conrad Grebel Review
"Readers in any church tradition, or none at all, can benefit from Smith's accessible and lively book."
Tim Keller
—Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City
"Charles Taylor's crucial book on our secular age is inaccessible for most people, including the church leaders who desperately need to learn from its insight. Jamie Smith's book is the solution to this problem. As a gateway into Taylor's thought, this volume (if read widely) could have a major impact on the level of theological leadership that our contemporary church is getting. It could also have a great effect on the quality of our communication and preaching. I highly recommend this book."
T. M. Luhrmann
—Stanford University
"This is a brilliant, beautifully written book on the dilemma of faith in a modern secular age. It introduces the reader to the material in Taylor's dense book, of course, but it does more. It invites the reader on a journey through the experience of the spirit in different centuries, and how our conceptions of mind and person shape belief in ways far more intimate than we usually imagine. How (Not) to Be Secular is a gem."
Hans Boersma
—Regent College
"Charles Taylor's daunting tome, A Secular Age, has just turned a great deal less intimidating. Combining his usual lucid style, his love for literature, and his passion for the church's future, Jamie Smith offers a faithful guide through the pages of Taylor's monumental work. Along the way, he wisely cautions his co-religionists against facile responses to the `disenchantment' of modernity, but he also insists that the Christian faith may have much more going for it than many recognize."
Review of Metaphysics
"I highly recommend Smith's book, a short and clear introduction to Taylor's A Secular Age. Having slogged through Taylor's book, I think that Smith's book communicates well, contra MacIntyre, Taylor's analysis and extraordinary skill. . . . Illuminating and insightful."
Christian Century
"The importance of A Secular Age is matched by its inaccessibility. It is a great woolly mammoth of a book. . . . Smith's book does great work in opening Taylor's tome to a wider readership. His commentary is clear, accurate, and insightful. It is also concise, leading readers deep into Taylor's ideas in well under 200 pages. Smith's sure grasp of Taylor's big picture makes the details of the argument pop with fresh intelligibility."
Religious Studies Review
"For those who have been intimidated by Charles Taylor's massive tome A Secular Age (2007), Smith has provided an accessible entry point to Taylor's work in How (Not) To Be Secular. . . . The work endeavors to distill Taylor's work for a wider audience and is more digestible than Taylor's daunting volume thanks to Smith's lucid and engaging prose. Those desiring an accurate summary of Taylor's work or those looking for a more sophisticated understanding of the secular age would find this book well worth the time."
Books & Culture
"An altogether readable, charming and short introduction to Taylor's behemoth."
First Things
"Those looking for an introduction to this supremely important work (Taylor's A Secular Age) but reluctant to wade through its 896 pages can turn to this economical commentary."
"Smith offers a reader's guide to Taylor's lengthy work. This book succeeds as both a summation of Taylor's argument . . . and as a light critique. . . .A sympathetic, astute summation of Taylor's most ambitious work. Recommended."
Englewood Review of Books
"This is philosophy with feet, a thick theology that will get your heart beating because it meets you in the complicated world we all share."
University Bookman
"Already in previous books Smith has proven himself adept at translating difficult philosophical and theological ideas for the broader church and culture. How (Not) to Be Secular continues in this trajectory. It is part cultural analysis, part philosophical ethnography, always accessible, and always with an eye toward the implications of Taylor's insights for the practice of Christian faith."
"Splendid, yet accessible and brief overview and discussion of what is arguably the most widely discussed work of philosophy of the last twenty years."
The Presbyterian Outlook
"If one wants to understand the roots of our current cultural condition, Charles Taylor's book is essential. There is no better guide to it than James K. A. Smith."
Los Angeles Review of Books
"Well written, clear, and accessible. Most important, it supplies a very reliable reconstruction of the essentials of Taylor's position. Smith is particularly adept at emphasizing the existential quality of Taylor's analysis of secularity: what does it feel like to be a believer or non-believer in the modern Western world? . . . Anyone seeking a quick but dependable overview of Taylor's argument in A Secular Age would benefit immensely from Smith's book. . . . [It] is a fine achievement and accomplishes just what it sets out to: providing its readers with a reliable road map to Charles Taylor's account of our secular age."

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