Vincent Lloyd, who has written extensively on Gillian Rose, offers an intriguing critique of Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age.  It’s easy to see his Rose-influenced position shine through when he questions the respondents’ queries regarding the conspicuously absent ‘other’ (e.g. Jewish, Islamic, American colonial varieties of secularism vs. Latin Christendom) in Taylor’s assessment:

“But this line of questioning is symptomatic of a certain ambivalence, a tension between purported intellectual commitments and the performance of scholarship. The line of questioning is animated by a desire for completeness, by the fantasy that, once all of the data is accounted for, we can rest assured that we will get the world right. Yet many of these critics, and certainly Taylor himself, would reject just such a desire; he is offering a story, one among many. The way this ambivalence is often dealt with is by speaking of complexity rather than completeness, of nuance that additional data will encourage. Instead of constructing monolithic entities, Taylor ought to allow many voices, many contours, many folds, to show forth—even more than he already does.

I cannot help but think that this is just a new guise of the will to truth, the desire for completeness put in hipper language (in religious studies there is a vogue for “polythetic” definitions, supposed to strip concepts like “sacrifice,” “ritual,” and “religion” itself of their Protestant heritage, animated by much the same desire). But it is the desire that matters, not the particular guise that it takes in one generation or the next, or at one conference or the next. It matters because it is problematic philosophically, politically, and pragmatically. It purports to clarify but actually obscures.”

Overall, Lloyd feels that “something is missing,” in Taylor’s book; namely, that he can’t quite account for the mundane, those practices and everyday occurrences which exist alongside or within a social imaginary, but which do not necessarily adhere to it’s contours.  So, to focus too heavily on a social imaginary, is to miss the nuances instead of remaining within the tension (or “broken middle?”):

“Practices never exactly follow norms. People never do exactly what they ought to do (Judith Butler’s work has wonderfully illustrated this). And everyone, everywhere, except perhaps academics, realizes this. People joke about norms, they make fun of those who take them too seriously, they use them strategically to advance their own interests, they subvert them, they face tragic choices between them—but they never act independently of them. This tension between practices and norms is ever present, regardless of the particular social imaginary of an age. Norms change, but the way people relate to them doesn’t. This tension is visible at the level of the mundane, invisible from the perspective of a social imaginary.”

Lloyd doesn’t mince words: “My suspicion is that certain social imaginaries—in particular, our present immanent frame—suppress awareness of the mundane. My further suspicion is that this has particularly to do with the expansion of the bourgeoisie, and with it, the prevalence of a particularly bourgeois attitude about following the rules; the academy, as home to theory, is obscenely bourgeois. More cynically, learning to recognize the mundane is what growing up means, that the parent’s word is no longer the word of law, that the normative world is complicated and conflicting and requires judgment. Our secular age is infantilizing, and universities all the more so; theorists never grow up.”

I’m not sure what to make of this conclusion, nor am I sure if Taylor would disagree with this.  Are not both Lloyd and Taylor going after the same thing, just coming at it from different angles?  Isn’t Taylor claiming that the rise of a disciplinary Latin Christendom at the cost of festival and comedy (the mundane, if there ever was one) helped to create the bourgeoisie modern university of purported ‘experts’ vs. merry makers?

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