TNR review of Mark C Taylor’s latest book about higher education :
The syndrome has become all too common. A provocative op-ed piece appears in a major newspaper (for preference, The New York Times). Its logic is fragile and its evidence is thin, but the writing is crisp and the examples are pungent, and the assault on sacred cows arouses a storm of discussion (much of it sharply critical, but no matter). It goes viral. And almost immediately, publishers comes calling. “This should be a book,” they coo, and the author, entranced by a bit of sudden fame (not to mention, perhaps, a decent advance), eagerly agrees. He or she sets to work, and soon enough the original 800 words expand to 50,000. But far from reinforcing the original logic and evidence, the new accretions of text only strain them further, while smothering the original provocations under thick layers of padded anecdote, pop sociology and oracular pronouncement. Call the syndrome Friedmanitis, after a prominent early victim, the New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. Continue reading
Let’s start then from the end of chapter 1 (“Theorizing Religion”) – as Shahar insightfully points out – it is not clear from my two previous posts what exactly is Taylor’s big contribution to the theory of religion. Assuming a rather uncharacteristically humble position, I am thinking that maybe I am missing something in Taylor’s discussion of the definition of religion. The first chapter ends with this statement of purpose:
My aim is both analytic and constructive: first, I seek to show how and why religion continues to play such an important role in the modern and postmodern world, and second, I attempt to provide a more adequate religious vision and ethical framework for negotiating the complexities and contradictions of life at the beginning of the twenty-first century. (42, emphasis mine) Continue reading
So the reading continues from yesterday’s post.
In the previous episode, Taylor introduced his definition of religion and the main crux of his argument that religion is everywhere and is very dangerous seemed to be contained in the phrase “figure(s) schemata” – religion is a type of network of symbols, myths and rituals that “figure schemata of feeling, thinking, and acting in ways that lend life meaning and purpose.” However, Taylor adds, this would seems like a very traditional definition if not for an additional element: religion is also a network of symbols, myths and rituals that “disrupt, dislocate, and disfigure every stabilizing structure.” When I first read this definition, I thought Taylor was trying to say something like this: religion is a certain type of network of elements that, as a network, acts in a constructive and a destructive way. Now that I’ve looked at it again, due to the form of the verbs “figure” and “disrupt, dislocate, and disfigure,” it seems that Taylor is referring not to the network’s figuring and disfiguring, but to the work of the “symbols, myths, and rituals” which, I suppose, means that religion is a type of network that manages to put together symbols, myths and rituals that act here creatively, there destructively.
Once Taylor returns from his description of “complex adaptive networks” that he borrows from physics, he launches into a rather interesting, even if somewhat imaginary, description of how our “cognitive activity” works: here one finds all kinds of interesting diagrams, suggestions (“data” – “information” – “knowledge” – “meaning” movement), insightful comments and more. The basic idea is to understand how understanding works, or to be more precise, how “schematization” functions. After Taylor is done with the basics, he writes: Continue reading
After I had a chance to hear Mark C. Taylor talk about his recent book – After God – I have decided to read it to see what the deal is. Admittedly, Taylor’s talk was very informative but in a kind of uninformative way, i.e. I learned about free markets and morgage crisis but not too much about his view on religion. So reading the book was the next logical step. It’s a thick one too. Having finished it late yesterday, I remain somewhat ambiguous about it and in an attempt to clarify certain things, I might as well write them out.
Taylor opens with a very ambitious statement: “You cannot understand the world today if you do not understand religion. Never before has religion been so powerful and so dangerous.” (xiii) Clearly, this statement is aimed to provoke a thoughtful discussion of the issues and to set a tone for the book. Taylor states his intentions right from the very start: he is not persuaded by the discourse of secularization and will spend the next 400 pages trying to show that, “it is necessary to consider not only [religion’s] explicit manifestations but also its latent influence on philosophy, literature, art, architecture, politics, economics, and even science and technology.” (xiii, my bold) For many years, Taylors tells us, his “tutored eye” has tracked the traces of religion and found it everywhere – now he’s ready to tell the world what religion is and how to deal with it. Ok, here’s a quick run through the chapters and what Taylor promises to do in them: Continue reading
I went to hear Mark C. Taylor this evening, his talk was titled “Religion in the Age of Globalization” but it was mostly about things he apparently discusses in his recent work, namely, on money and markets and on religion and auto-immunity. He talked about all these issues in a kind of “theory of everything” manner which, if I understand it, he tried to summarize in his work on complexity and networks. Now I have to say I had no idea Mark C. Taylor was publishing all this stuff. The last thing I remember him doing were all those things about Altarity and Imagologies. He certainly tried to present his recent research in a kind of basic power-point-like presentation (with very basic diagrams, in fact, so basic that one wonders if he needs to hire a good media person to help him with the visual stuff), but he spent an incredible amount of time trying to explain very subtle economic matters to the audience that was primarily interested in religion and philosophy. Continue reading