See M. Hadas, Humanism: The Greek Ideal and Its Survival (1960, repr. 1972) and The Living Tradition (1966); J. Maritain, Integral Humanism (tr. 1968, repr. 1973); R. W. Southern, Medieval Humanism (1971).
In Renaissance Europe, a cultural impulse characterized by a revival of classical letters, an individualistic and critical spirit, and a shift of emphasis from religious to secular concerns. It dates to the 14th century and the poet Petrarch, though earlier figures are sometimes described as humanists. Its diffusion was facilitated by the universal use of Latin and the invention of movable type.
Learn more about humanism with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Renaissance humanism, and its emphasis on returning to the sources, contributed to the Protestant reformation by helping to gain what Protestants believe was a more accurate translation of Biblical texts.
The term "humanism" was coined in 1808, based on the 15th century Italian term umanista, which was used to designate a teacher or student of classic literature. The evolution of the meaning of the word humanism is fully explored in Nicolas Walter's Humanism What's in the Word.
Sixth century BCE pantheists Thales of Miletus and Xenophanes of Colophon prepared the way for later Greek humanist thought. Thales is credited with creating the maxim "Know thyself", and Xenophanes refused to recognize the gods of his time and reserved the divine for the principle of unity in the universe. Later Anaxagoras, often described as the "first freethinker", contributed to the development of science as a method of understanding the universe. These Ionian Greeks were the first thinkers to recognize that nature is available to be studied separately from any alleged supernatural realm. Pericles, a pupil of Anaxagoras, influenced the development of democracy, freedom of thought, and the exposure of superstitions. Although little of their work survives, Protagoras and Democritus both espoused agnosticism and a spiritual morality not based on the supernatural. The historian Thucydides is noted for his scientific and rational approach to history.
Many medieval Muslim thinkers pursued humanistic, rational and scientific discourses in their search for knowledge, meaning and values. A wide range of Islamic writings on love poetry, history and philosophical theology show that medieval Islamic thought was open to the humanistic ideas of individualism, occasional secularism, skepticism and liberalism. Certain aspects of Renaissance humanism has its roots in the medieval Islamic world, including the "art of dictation, called in Latin, ars dictaminis," and "the humanist attitude toward classical language."
Renaissance humanism was a movement that affected the cultural, political, social, and literary landscape of Europe. Beginning in Florence in the last decades of the 14th century, Renaissance humanism revived the study of Latin and Greek, with the resultant revival of the study of science, philosophy, art and poetry of classical antiquity.(see Burckhard The Civilisation of the Renaissance in Italy) The revival was based on interpretations of Roman and Greek texts, whose emphasis upon art and the senses marked a great change from the contemplation on the Biblical values of humility, introspection, and meekness. Beauty was held to represent a deep inner virtue and value, and an essential element in the path towards God.
Humanism's divergence from orthodox Christianity can be identified with the condemnation of Pelagianism by Jerome and Augustine. Like the Humanists, Pelagius perceived humans as possessing inherent capacity for developing the qualities that the church perceived as necessitating the gift of grace from God. Pelagius rejected the doctrine of original sin. The Humanists likewise recognize humans as born not with a burden of inherited sin due to their ancestry but with potential for both good and evil which will develop in this life as their characters are formed. The Humanists therefore reject Calvinistic predestination, and understandably therefore arouse the hostility of Protestant fundamentalists.
Renaissance humanists believed that the liberal arts (music, art, grammar, rhetoric, oratory, history, poetry, using classical texts, and the studies of all of the above) should be practiced by all levels of wealth. They also approved of self, human worth and individual dignity.
Noteworthy humanist scholars from this period include the Dutch theologian Erasmus, the English author (and Roman Catholic saint) Thomas More, the French writer François Rabelais, the Italian poet Francesco Petrarch and the Italian scholar Giovanni Pico della Mirandola.
In February 1877, the word "Humanism" was publicly used, apparently for the first time in America, to apply to Felix Adler, pejoratively. Adler, however, did not embrace the term, and instead coined the name "Ethical Culture" for his new movement a movement which still exists in the now Humanist-affiliated New York Society for Ethical Culture
Active in the early 1920s, F.C.S. Schiller considered his work to be tied to the Humanist movement. Schiller himself was influenced by the pragmatism of William James. In 1929 Charles Francis Potter founded the First Humanist Society of New York whose advisory board included Julian Huxley, John Dewey, Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann. Potter was a minister from the Unitarian tradition and in 1930 he and his wife, Clara Cook Potter, published Humanism: A New Religion. Throughout the 1930s Potter was a well-known advocate of women’s rights, access to birth control, "civil divorce laws", and an end to capital punishment.
Raymond B. Bragg, the associate editor of The New Humanist, sought to consolidate the input of L. M. Birkhead, Charles Francis Potter, and several members of the Western Unitarian Conference. Bragg asked Roy Wood Sellars to draft a document based on this information which resulted in the publication of the Humanist Manifesto in 1933. The Manifesto and Potter's book became the cornerstones of modern humanism. Both of these sources envision humanism as a religion.
In 1941 the American Humanist Association was organized. Noted members of The AHA included Isaac Asimov, who was the president before his death, and writer Kurt Vonnegut, who followed as honorary president until his death in 2007. Robert Buckman was the head of the association in Canada, and is now an honorary president.
All of this aside, Humanism can be divided into secular and religious types, although some Humanists, including the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), reject the addition of any adjective at all to "Humanist," and instead intended the word to have universal application.
The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) is the world union of more than one hundred Humanist, rationalist, secular, ethical culture, and freethought organizations in more than 40 countries. The Happy Human is the official symbol of the IHEU as well as being regarded as a universally recognised symbol for those that call themselves Humanists (as opposed to "humanists"). In 2002 the IHEU General Assembly unanimously adopted the Amsterdam Declaration 2002 which represents the official defining statement of World Humanism.
All member organisations of the International Humanist and Ethical Union are required by IHEU bylaw 5.1 to accept the IHEU Minimum Statement on Humanism:
Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.
When people speak of Humanism in general, they are sometimes referring to secular humanism as a default meaning. Some secular humanists take this even further by denying that less anti-religious humanists qualify as genuine humanists. Others feel that the ethical side of humanism transcends the issue of religion, because being a good person is more important than rejecting supernatural beliefs. The Humanist Manifestos, which represent consensus statements of Humanists, present Humanism as an ethical process and a religion through which we can move above and beyond both the divisive particulars of older religious stances and the negation of these.
The secular humanist movement, by that name, hardly existed prior to 1980. In 1979, Paul Kurtz lost his position as editor of The Humanist. Departing the American Humanist Association, he then launched his own publication, Free Inquiry, and founded the Council for Secular Humanism independently of the American Humanist Association yet pursuing essentially similar goals.
A number of religious humanists feel that secular humanism is too coldly logical and rejects the full emotional experience that makes humans human. From this comes the notion that secular humanism is inadequate in meeting the human need for a socially fulfilling philosophy of life. Disagreements over things of this nature have resulted in friction between secular and religious humanists, despite their commonalities.
Religious Humanism was studied and developed by the late Rev. Paul Beattie during his tenure as editor of Religious Humanism, a periodical which became Unitarian rather than Humanist after his death and continues as such today.
A Jewish form of religious Humanism was developed by the late Rabbi Sherwin Wine, who, in the fall of 1963 along with eight families in the northern suburbs of Detroit formed The Birmingham Temple. As the philosophy of "Jewish Humanism" took hold many other communities formed additional "temples" throughout the United States. Rabbi Wine was instrumental in training other Rabbis and lay people as leaders in those communities. Soon thereafter he founded the Society for Humanistic Judaism, now a worldwide movement with 40,000 adherents.
For more organizations see Humanist associations''