Thursday, March 15, 2007

Charles Taylor the Montrealer.

I'm taking a very brief break from a wonderful week at Georgetown to comment on an item you may have seen in this morning's paper (or, alternatively, that you may have learned about from Matt's blog). The Templeton Prize, a $1.5 million award given annually to an individual who has aided "progress toward research or discoveries about spiritual realities," has been bestowed upon Montreal-born philosopher Charles Taylor, a longtime professor at McGill who now teaches at Northwestern. This well-deserved award offers an opportunity to reflect on how its recipient's thought was shaped by the bilingual and bicultural realities of the city, province and country in which he was born and raised. As Peggy Curran writes in today's Montreal Gazette:
Imagine Canada as a laboratory, an incubator where many of the issues troubling today's multi-ethnic, culturally diverse, western communities had a dry run.

The earliest experiment was Quebec, a place where two linguistic groups and assorted religious denominations have spent the past 400 years hammering out a sometimes uneasy peace.

Fifty years ago, Quebec launched the Quiet Revolution, a startlingly swift transformation into a modern, dynamic, self-confident society during which it would shuck off much of its Roman Catholic baggage without a backward glance to become one of the most secular societies in the Western world.

Philosopher Charles Taylor says there's no mystery to the topics that have occupied his mind and dominated his academic research for more than half a century. It's right there in his biography, in the tug-of-war between Quebec and the rest of the Canadian mosaic, and in Montreal, the bicultural city he still calls home.

"There's no question, almost everything I have done has been shaped by where I come from," Taylor, 75, said in an interview from New York, hours after winning the world's largest monetary prize for a lifetime spent trying to reconcile the secular and the spiritual realms.

His anglophone father, Walter, was a partner in a steel factory. His mother, Simone Beaubien, was a dress designer and a French-speaking Catholic. Taylor grew up immersed in two languages and two cultures - his sister is the journalist (and former McGill University chancellor) Gretta Chambers. Talk at the dinner table was of politics and Quebec's place in the Canadian puzzle.

At McGill, Taylor studied history, but was fascinated by theology, particularly by the authors of writings that inspired the church's overhaul in the Second Vatican Council.

In 1952, at Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, he studied philosophy, but was troubled by the "unstructured hostility" toward religious belief. It was there he began to challenge the virulent secularism that he felt pervaded the social sciences.

Back home in Quebec, the gangly, soft-spoken Taylor - now married with five daughters - tested the political waters. He ran unsuccessfully for the New Democratic Party four times, once against the young Pierre Trudeau in 1965, before settling down at McGill.

There, he delved deeper into the concepts that still preoccupy him - our sense of identity, the struggle to balance individual and collective rights, and understanding when the needs of groups within a society require protection. Taylor endorsed the notion of Quebec as a distinct society, and believes citizens should have a more active role in how democracies run.
Read the rest here. While you're at it, read the Gazette's other articles on Taylor's life and influence and on his new award. AMDG.


Post a Comment

<< Home