What Was the Relationship Between Secularism and the Renaissance?

Throughout the Middle Ages, religion was a strong, pervasive force in society. Most individuals were more concerned with God and the possibility of the afterlife than they were with current human affairs, says Encylopedia Britannica. By the time the Renaissance occurred, this social attitude was beginning to change. Religion was still practiced, but people began to be more focused on secular or humanist values, rather than spirituality, at this time.

Human affairs were no longer viewed as distasteful or inferior to the otherworldly possibility of Heaven. Instead, people began to appreciate their own humanity. A great cultural obsession began with human accomplishment and people began to feel more optimistic about their own short lives on earth, rather than their future eternal lives in Heaven.

At first, the rise of secularism disturbed theologians and religious leaders. They saw it as anti-religious and possibly even heretical in nature. This view continued until the 20th century, when theologians began to acknowledge that religious teachings could very easily be applied to modern existence, even enhancing the experience of human life.

The secularist movement also allowed people during the Renaissance to explore other worldviews. Secular humanists felt free to rebel openly against the Church. It is fitting, perhaps, that the word "Renaissance" means "rebirth," as this was a time when traditional Greek and Roman culture was uprooted and replaced with a free-thinking alternative.