What is Humanism?

Rise of Humanism is one of the main reasons behind Renaissance. The French term ‘Renaissance’ literally means ‘rebirth’ or ‘a new beginning’. It is a very inclusive term which embraces all the prominent intellectual changes at the end of the middle ages. It marked the attainment of modern era.

  • The classics were revived and an interest in earlier civilizations developed significantly.
  • Trade and commerce altered the simple agricultural ways of the warrior second estate.
  • In social relationship, the warrior, the noble man’s castle and the bishop’s palace gave way to the new political consciousness evident in the decline of the papacy and the empire.
  • Fields like astronomy, physiology and medicine were now investigated with sound scientific procedure instead of the conventional methods of the church and inroads of science on theological scholasticism paved way for the reformation. It included much that was not found in art and literature.
  • The process of fundamental change started with the changed attitude of man towards himself and the world in which he lived. This perspective is commonly known as humanism.
  • Petrarch (1304-1374) is often called the ‘Father of Humanism’. During his student life, he was highly influenced by the Latin style and its form.
  • The humanists were interested mainly in classical literature, but they gave more preference to the nature, the human and the sensual in comparison to the esthetical, the supernatural and the theological. This reflected that more focused attention was given by them on things of this world- an exaltation of human nature.
  • The religious enlightenment, the scientific spirit, the new technique in art and architecture, and the new type of literature served as a background for the renaissance.

Characteristics of Humanism

  • Revival of antiquity (Greece and Rome) in philosophy, literature and art
  • Sought to reconcile pagan writings with Christian thought
  • Strong belief in individualism and the great potential of human beings. This was in contrast to the Middle Ages where humans were seen as small, wicked and inconsequential and should focus solely on earning salvation.
  • Believed the key to a good life was Reason and Nature
  • Focused first on studying ancient languages. Initially, Latin of ancient Rome was the main focus.
  • Believed in a liberal arts educational program that included grammar, rhetoric, poetry, history, politics and moral philosophy