This book emerges from my Gifford Lectures at Edinburgh in the spring of 1999, entitled "Living in a Secular Age?". It's been quite some time since then, and in fact the scope of the work has expanded. Basically, the lectures of 1999 covered Parts I-III of the present book, and Parts IV and V deal with matters I wanted to discuss then, but lacked the time and competence to treat properly. (I hope the passing years have helped in this regard.)
The book has grown since 1999, and also increased its scope. But the first process hasn't kept pace with the second: The larger scope would have demanded a much bigger book than I am now offering to the reader. I am telling a story, that of what we usually call "secularization" in the modern West. And in doing so, I am trying to clarify what this process, often invoked, but still not very clear, amounts to. To do this properly, I should have had to tell a denser and more continuous story, something I have neither the time nor the competence to do.
I ask the reader who picks up this book not to think of it as a continuous story-and-argument, but rather as a set of interlocking essays, which shed light on each other, and offer a context of relevance for each other. I hope the general thrust of my thesis will emerge from this sketchy treatment, and will suggest to others further ways of developing, applying, modifying, and transposing the argument.
I want to thank the Gifford Lectures Committee at Edinburgh for giving me the initial impetus to start on this project. I also owe a debt of gratitude to the Canada Council for an Isaac Killam Fellowship during 1996-1998, which allowed me to get started; and to the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada for their Gold Medal Award of 2003. I benefited greatly from visits to the Institut fur die Wissenschaften vom Menschen in Vienna in 2000 and 2001. The Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin gave me a fellowship in 2005-2006 that allowed me to complete the project in the best possible conditions, including discussions with Jose Casanova and Hans Joas, who have been working on parallel projects.
I must also express my gratitude to the members of the network around the Centre for Transcultural Studies. Some of the key concepts I use in this work have emerged during our exchanges.
In producing the book, I was greatly helped by Bryan Smyth, who made or discovered many of the translations as well as preparing the index. Unmarked translations are almost always by him, occasionally modified by myself.