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The Joy of Secularism:
11 Essays for How We Live Now
Edited by George Levine

One of The New Yorker's Reviewer's Favorites of 2011

Paperback | 2012 | $25.95 | £20.95 | ISBN: 9780691156026
272 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 3 halftones.
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Can secularism offer us moral, aesthetic, and spiritual satisfaction? Or does the secular view simply affirm a dog-eat-dog universe? At a time when the issues of religion, evolution, atheism, fundamentalism, Darwin, and science fill headlines and invoke controversy, The Joy of Secularism provides a balanced and thoughtful approach for understanding an enlightened, sympathetic, and relevant secularism for our lives today. Bringing together distinguished historians, philosophers, scientists, and writers, this book shows that secularism is not a mere denial of religion. Rather, this positive and necessary condition presents a vision of a natural and difficult world--without miracles or supernatural interventions--that is far richer and more satisfying than the religious one beyond.

From various perspectives--philosophy, evolutionary biology, primate study, Darwinian thinking, poetry, and even bird-watching--the essays in this collection examine the wealth of possibilities that secularism offers for achieving a condition of fullness. Factoring in historical contexts, and ethical and emotional challenges, the contributors make an honest and heartfelt yet rigorous case for the secular view by focusing attention on aspects of ordinary life normally associated with religion, such as the desire for meaning, justice, spirituality, and wonder. Demonstrating that a world of secular enchantment is a place worth living in, The Joy of Secularism takes a new and liberating look at a valuable and complex subject.

The contributors are William Connolly, Paolo Costa, Frans de Waal, Philip Kitcher, George Levine, Adam Phillips, Robert Richards, Bruce Robbins, Rebecca Stott, Charles Taylor, and David Sloan Wilson.


"[T]he book valuably works over middle ground, the space vacated by both dogmatic religionists and dogmatic atheists. It is tolerant of, and even interested in, the varieties of religious practice, and maintains an engaged and equitable tone of voice. We might call this the New Secularism. . . . Essays . . . by Adam Phillips (on helplessness) and Rebecca Stott (on Darwinian wonderment), make for a nicely prismatic collection, in which the contributors happily pursue their own interests, and are often at their most secular when they're not trying especially hard to be. The book naturally radiates outward from its editorial theme as an ideal medieval town might spread outward--from a relaxed and unpoliced center."--James Wood, New Yorker

"George Levine has put together a diverse collection on what it means to be a secularist, with thoughtful essays from philosophers, historians, literary critics, and evolutionary theorists. . . . The essays are literate and sophisticated."--Simon Blackburn, Prospect

"In his upbeat Introduction, Levine's own joy in his religionless world is amply manifest. He is rapt in nature, especially birds, so expressions of aesthetic awe and wonder predominate. Secularism is not a fall, he affirms. Or rather, it is a fall, but upward (in Amy Clampitt's words) into the dazzling sun. Is life worth living in a (religiously) disenchanted world? 'You bet!' Levine answers emphatically."--Tamas Pataki, Australian Book Review

"This volume . . . is a valuable first contribution to an important topic, and will no doubt inspire much more work in this area."--Whitley Kaufman, Philosophy in Review

"While avoiding triumphalism, these essays make a powerful case for a secularism that is both intellectually rigorous and heartfelt."--Peter D Smith, Guardian

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Table of Contents:

Contributors vii
Acknowledgments xi
Introduction 1
George Levine
Chapter 1: Challenges for Secularism by Philip Kitcher 24
Chapter 2: Disenchantment--Reenchantment by Charles Taylor 57
Chapter 3: Enchantment? No, Thank You! by Bruce Robbins 74
Chapter 4: Shock Therapy, Dramatization, and Practical Wisdom by William E. Connolly 95
Chapter 5: Freud’s Helplessness by Adam Phillips 115
Chapter 6: A Secular Wonder by Paolo Costa 134
Chapter 7: Prehuman Foundations of Morality by Frans B. M. de Waal 155
Chapter 8: The Truth Is Sacred by David Sloan Wilson 168
Chapter 9: Darwinian Enchantment by Robert J. Richards 185
10: The Wetfooted Understory: Darwinian Immersions by Rebecca Stott 205
Notes 225
Index 253

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