Taylor, Charles

Taylor, Charles
▪ 2008
Charles Margrave Taylor 
born Nov. 5, 1931, Montreal, Que.

 In 2007 Charles Taylor became the first Canadian to receive the Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries About Spiritual Realities. Announcing the award, the Templeton foundation's president, John M. Templeton, Jr., said that Taylor “has staked an often lonely position that insists on the inclusion of spiritual dimensions in discussions of public policy, history, linguistics, literature, and every other facet of humanities and the social sciences.” In further recognition of Taylor's interest in the tension between secularization and spirituality, in 2007 Quebec Premier Jean Charest appointed him cochair of a commission on the accommodation of cultural and religious differences in public life.

      Taylor was born to a French-speaking mother and an English-speaking father. After earning a B.A. (1952) from McGill University, Montreal, Taylor attended the University of Oxford as a Rhodes scholar and received a B.A. (1955) and Ph.D. (1961). His dissertation, which was supervised by noted philosopher Isaiah Berlin, was published as his first book, The Explanation of Behavior (1964). In that volume Taylor charged that psychological behaviourism studied human activity without considering thought or subjective meaning. In 1961 he returned to Canada, where he taught at McGill and attempted for a time to be elected to Parliament. Subsequently he taught at numerous Canadian, American, and European institutions, and he was in frequent demand as a lecturer. In 2002 he became a professor of law and philosophy at Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.

      A lifelong Roman Catholic, Taylor delivered the annual Marianist Lecture at the University of Dayton, Ohio, in 1997 (published as A Catholic Modernity? in 1999); he urged the church to avoid two extremes—fully identifying with Western civilization or fully rejecting modernity. In the Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh in 1999, Taylor traced the development of Western modernity as a movement away from spirituality toward objective reasoning. The lectures were published in three volumes, of which the last, A Secular Age (2007), was conceived as a comprehensive examination of secularization and the modern world.

      In all of his work, Taylor sought to remedy the tendency of academics in most fields to ignore the human need to seek meaning and goodness. When the 2007 Templeton Prize was announced, Taylor called for more study of the spiritual dimensions of violence; he characterized appeals to violence as a distortion of people's searches for meaning. He chastised those secularists and believers who did not consider themselves part of the problem, saying, “We will pay a high price if we allow this kind of muddled thinking to prevail.”

Darrell J. Turner

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Universalium. 2010.

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