Religious Studies Faculty Publications

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Journal of Scriptural Reasoning


This paper traces how Jewish philosopher Martin Kavka’s response to Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, a major work by a significant Christian philosopher, influenced my own reading of Taylor’s work. In addition, Kavka’s reading of this text spurred me to explore further my own concerns about what Taylor had done in terms of the habits of Christian exegesis that might represent a temptation for Christians. In addition to exploring what may be wrong with Taylor’s work, and comparing certain Jewish and Christian reading habits, the essay tries to point to a way that interreligious encounters can be fruitful.

Taylor’s A Secular Age culminates in the question of how to go on as a religious person in a secular age. In the book, “secularity” refers not primarily to the lack of assent to certain intellectual propositions about the existence of God, but to the experiential conditions of believing. Taylor is concerned with how these conditions are influenced by a whole outlook and way of life characteristic of our times. How to go on today as a religious person is, I believe, the main issue driving Kavka’s concerns in response to Taylor, as well as my own concerns. But related to this is the question of how to get along within the political and institutional frameworks we have—especially in a context of plurality within and among religious and nonreligious traditions, and the conflicts or “culture wars” that this plurality seems to generate.

The paper starts off by presenting Kavka’s reading of Taylor. He not only criticizes Taylor’s conclusions about what it means to be religious in our age, but he also offers a constructive alternative rooted in Jewish reading practices, especially a conception of divine and human law with roots in Maimonides. In the subsequent section, I take Kavka both to have identified an important shortcoming in Taylor, and to have goaded Christians to re-examine their tradition in order to clearly identify the temptation Taylor represents. I suggest that by drawing on Aquinas’s treatment of the “New Law” in the gospels we find a better approach that speaks to Kavka’s concerns. These steps, I suggest, provide the outline of an interreligious encounter and its fruits. I reflect on this in the conclusion.

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Society for Scriptural Reasoning





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