Melanie Elyse Brewster
The present article explores scholarship regarding links between atheism, gender, and sexuality. A review and analysis of available theory and research is presented through a social scientific lens. Specifically, research suggesting that more men than women identify as atheist is contextualized through reviews of gender role socialization, structural location, personality, and evolutionary theories. Ties between atheism, women’s issues, and feminism are also discussed. Moreover, data about atheism and religiosity amongst lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) groups is presented. Findings regarding rates of atheist identification and sexual orientation indicate that atheism may be higher among LGBTQ individuals than heterosexually identified people; such research is discussed in the context of anti-LGBTQ religious stigmatization and oppression. Lastly, in an effort to deconstruct ‘coming out’ as atheist identity development processes, parallels between LGBTQ and atheist movements are examined and critiqued. Directions for future research are proposed.
Sharon D. Welch
Assaults on truth and divisions about the nature of wise governance are not momentary political challenges, unique to particular moments in history. Rather, they demonstrate fundamental weaknesses in human reasoning and core dangers in ways of construing both individual freedom and cohesive communities. It will remain an ongoing challenge to learn to deal rationally with what is an intrinsic irrationality in human cognition and with what is an intrinsic tendency toward domination and violence in human collectivities. In times of intense social divisions, it is vital to consider the ways in which humanism might function as the social norm by, paradoxically, functioning in a way different from other social norms. Humanism is not the declaration that a certain set of values or norms are universally valid. At its best and most creative, humanism is not limited to a particular set of norms, but is, rather, the commitment to a certain process in which norms are continuously created, critically evaluated, implemented, sustained or revised. Humanism is a process of connection, perception, implementation, and critique, and it applies this process as much to itself as to other traditions.
Focusing on the broad epistemological and political effects of humanism in the modern West beginning in the European humanist movements of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, this chapter will trance the emergence of a rudimentary discourse of “humanism against religion” that is rooted in the historical emergence of the modern state as a deconstructive movement against the theo-political order of Medieval Christian Europe. The chapter argues that the emergence of both a human-centric discourse of knowledge and the modern “secular” state out of medieval Christian Europe provide the most significant cultural and political conditions for the rise of western humanism and its wide-ranging critical perspectives of religion. Following this account of the discourse of humanism in the west, the chapter surveys a small sample of modern perspectives and authors that have offered direct humanist critiques of religion toward the service of explicit humanist philosophies or worldviews.
Peter Derkx and Hanne Laceulle
Humanism, as a meaning frame, is defined by four characteristics: human agency; human dignity; self-realization; and love of vulnerable, unique, and irreplaceable persons. A humanist view of aging is in favor of healthy aging and life extension, but human life is and remains inherently vulnerable (not just medically), and in a humanist view other aims are regarded as deserving a higher priority than life extension for privileged social groups with already a high (healthy) life expectancy. Humanist priorities are (1) a better social organization of a person’s life course with a better balance among learning, working, caring, and enjoying; (2) more social justice—for too long differences in socio-economic status have been determinants of shocking differences in health and longevity; (3) development and dissemination of cultural narratives that better accommodate the fulfillment of essential meaning-needs of the elderly than the stereotyping decline- and age-defying narratives); (4) less loneliness and social isolation.
Although early twentieth century humanist discourse was informed by an explicit emphasis on class and socioeconomic redress, contemporary iterations within “organized humanism” have been less definitive. In the post–World War II era, humanist scholars and activists have taken diverse approaches to connecting organized humanism and humanist discourse with class politics and class analyses. Changing demographics in the United States, including the rise of “Religious Nones” and the US shift from a majority white population, may play a prominent role in clarifying the nexus between humanism and class analysis.
J. Brent Crosson
Humanism and Enlightenment are words associated with the birth of rights-bearing Man. Yet this birth was accompanied by the rise of another Enlightenment concept: race. This chapter theorizes the effects of the twinned, contradictory birth of pseudo-biological human difference and “universal” Man. Starting in the Renaissance and concluding in the “posthuman” present, the chapter shows how conceptions of the human emerged from interactions between Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe. From the Enlightenment onward, theories of religion, politics, and culture have centered on contestations over the limits of this human. Rather than telling a linear narrative of Man–human–posthuman, such contests present an unfinished project that continues to this day.
Humanists, affirming that humanity is a “part of nature,” have urged responsible action on such problems as overpopulation and global warming since humanist organizations were created in the middle of the twentieth century. Many leading environmentalists, including Worldwatch founder Lester Brown, biologist E. O. Wilson, and animal rights advocate Peter Singer, have been publicly associated with the humanist movement. Yet some environmentalists, including Singer himself, fault humanism for deifying humanity and ignoring the dignity of other species. In the face of this criticism, some humanists seek to distance humanism from humanocentrism, while others insist that an optimistic confidence in human potential is preferable to ecological pessimism.
Sheila J. Nayar
This chapter explores the multifaceted relationship of humanism to film, without ever losing sight of the irony inherent in that context: humanism’s compulsory inter-animation with technology. The first half briefly traces the dramatization of humanists on celluloid, before exploring specific movies and movements that notably espoused a humanist philosophy, as well as advances in filmmaking that sometimes facilitated a humanist ethics. The chapter’s second half more innovatively addresses why conventional assessments regarding what constitutes a “humanist film” might not apply uniformly across today’s spectrum of spectators. In doing so, it intentionally forces a rethinking of where and how humanism can—and, in some instances perhaps, ought—cinematically to go. Such an analytical move seems especially pertinent given the incumbent rise of computer graphic imagery and digital media (including as animation) and consequent fading of film as a material medium.
Jeffrey J. Kripal
The chapter begins with a brief history of higher education, primarily in Europe and the United States. Such a history is traditionally traced back to ancient Greece, moves through medieval Europe and the Middle East, and eventually focuses on how religious forms of proto-humanist thought and early science split off from one another in the early modern period, post-1600. A summary follows of some of the debates, particularly around the nature and scope of “the human,” that are presently of deep interest in the humanities. The chapter concludes with some critical reflections on where humanist intellectuals might want to go from here and calls for new and more inclusive forms of the humanist imagination.
This chapter provides conceptual tools for mapping the role of humor in humanist communities. First, it sets parameters for the study, emphasizing humanist organizations’ self-definitions, a theory of humor based in current research, and atheist standup comedy as a data set to explore. Broadly, the chapter follows the International Humanist and Ethical Union’s 2002 “Amsterdam Declaration,” which sees humanism as ethical, rational, and supporting of democracy and civil rights; insists that personal liberty must be combined with social responsibility; is a response to the widespread demand for an alternative to dogmatic religion; values artistic creativity and imagination; and is a life stance aiming at maximum possible fulfillment. Next, it investigates the role of humor in the construction of atheist identity and communities. Finally, it suggests some other ways of looking at standup comedy to rethink and expand the boundaries of what constitutes humanist humor.
This chapter explores the relationship between humanism and music, giving attention to important theoretical and historical developments, before focusing on four brief case studies rooted in popular culture. The first turns to rock band Modest Mouse as an example of music as a space of humanist expression. Next, the chapter explores Austin-based Rock band Quiet Company and Westcoast rapper Ras Kass and their use of music to critique religion. Last, the chapter discusses contemporary popular music created by artificial intelligence and considers what non-human production of music suggests about the category of the human and, resultantly, humanism. These case studies give attention to the historical and theoretical relationship between humanism and music, and they offer examples of that relationship as it plays out in contemporary music.
Academic studies of humanism often ignore questions of race and both the existence and significance of non-white humanists. At the same time, scholarship on race and religion fails to consider humanist traditions. Through an analysis of work by literary critics, intellectual historians/philosophers, scholars of religious studies, and theologians this chapter calls for a greater attention to the intersection of race and humanism and posits three key points: scholars working in these fields must make greater use of archival sources and periodicals; explore the ideas and activism of white, black, Native American, and Latinx humanists; and carefully consider the influence of humanism throughout the African Diaspora on black humanism in the United States.
Play is a fundamental characteristic of the human condition, one that manifests itself prominently in the practice of sport. In this chapter, readers are introduced to the concepts of play, sport, and humanism—in particular, an understanding of humanism informed significantly by the work of philosopher Richard Rorty. Why should sport matter to the humanist? Because sport draws upon our fundamental nature as beings who play. It teaches us that we can passionately and meaningfully engage in play while also recognizing the fundamental contingency of the very activities that manifest play. Sport, when viewed through a humanist lens, can play an important role in a humanist vision of the future.
This chapter explores the relationship between humanism and well-being through the lens of value. Several conceptions of well-being will be explored. The first is Peter Derkx’s description of what constitutes a meaningful life. The second is Anthony Pinn’s notion of presence, absence, and the quest for complex subjectivity. The chapter provides critique of both proposals before moving to examine Yasmin Trejo’s exploration of Latina nones who struggle for value, through recognition, in Latin American communities. The chapter also connects Monica Miller’s presentation of Black youth and Jay-Z, as outlaw humanists, to well-being by constructing one’s self-worth. Through an examination of an often overlooked or underexplored demographic along with groups who have historically experienced dehumanization, the chapter lifts up the desire to be recognized as a necessary factor in well-being. And the ability to construct one’s own sense of meaning as a humanist practice is an essential element for increasing well-being. Ultimately, this chapter asserts that value, whether given, unearthed, or constructed, is the foundation of humanist well-being.
This chapter engages humanism and its fundamental assumptions by working through critical theory, black feminism, and black studies. It contends that there is a tension at the heart of humanism—while the ideal human appears to be the most widespread and available category, it has been constructed over and against certain qualities, beings, and threats. To elaborate on this tension, this chapter revisits the work of authors like Karl Marx and Michel Foucault. Marx acknowledges that the human is a site of conflict and antagonism even as his thought betrays a lingering commitment to progress and humanism. Foucault goes further than Marx by underscoring the fabricated quality of man and the ways in which racism functions to draw lines between those who must live and those who must die. In response to Marx and Foucault’s tendency to privilege Europe, this chapter engages black feminism and Afro-pessimism—Sylvia Wynter, Hortense Spillers, and Frank Wilderson—who show how the figure of the human within humanism is defined in opposition to blackness.
Both the Renaissance and humanism have anachronistically taken on meanings today that betray their historical reality. Emerging from the peculiar lay professional culture of medieval Italy, humanism joined in the Renaissance with other elements of medieval Italian culture to dominate the educated world of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe. The Renaissance humanists constituted, in the words of Paul Oskar Kristeller, “a characteristic phase in what may be called the rhetorical tradition in Western culture.” Renaissance humanism created not an ideology or philosophy, but a dynamic set of educated interests and methods dominated by rhetorical and literary interests and focused on imitation of classical eloquence and literature. The humanists would in time powerfully reshape European learning, education, and, ultimately, self-conception. A non-trivial residue of Renaissance humanism is our understanding of the disciplines that make up the humanities and that we view as essential to educated culture.
J. Sage Elwell
The Renaissance marked the emergence of scientific naturalism. Implicit in this naturalism was the replacement of supernatural explanations of the cosmos with the belief that the world could be known and represented through first-hand rational investigation. This in turn inspired the tools and techniques necessary for rendering the visible world with accuracy. One of those techniques was single-point perspective. Single-point perspective placed the individual at the center of a knowable and accurately representable cosmos. For over half a millennia single-point, or linear, perspective and the primacy of the individual perceiver dominated Western art. This is the clearest convergence of humanism and the visual arts. However, beginning in the nineteenth century that primacy began to be challenged as art moved away from the demand for perspectival accuracy and the myth of the autonomous, sovereign subject was dispelled.
This chapter discusses types of Confucian humanism in East Asia, their manifestations, functions, and shared core value. First of all, it differentiates two types of Confucian humanism: (a) ethno-historical humanism, and (b) culturo-philosophical humanism. The former was baptized in the spirit of temporality while the latter stressed a return to the spontaneity of one’s mind-heart, which was considered to be supra-temporal and supra-spatial. Both types of Confucian humanism took humanity or ren (仁) as their core value. Throughout the history of Confucian humanism, the meaning of ren fell into four categories, namely: (a) ren as the locale of physical and mental relief; (b) ren as the inner awareness of value judgment: (c) ren as social ethics; and (d) ren as political career. Confucius and Zhu Xi were the two major architects of Confucian humanistic thinking. The spirit of Confucian humanism manifested itself in beliefs in a (a) mind-body continuum, (b) self-other harmony, (c) homo-cosmic resonation, and (d) past-present fusion. Moreover, Confucian humanism functioned as (a) socio-cultural nostalgia, (b) political counter-factuality, and (c) day-to-day “practical learning.”
Carol Wayne White
This chapter provides an overview of select trends, ideas, themes, and figures associated with humanism in the Americas, which comprises a diversified set of peoples, cultural traditions, religious orientations, and socio-economic groups. In acknowledging this rich tapestry of human life, the chapter emphasizes the impressive variety of developments in philosophy, the natural sciences, literature, religion, art, social science, and political thought that have contributed to the development of humanism in the Americas. The chapter also features modern usages of humanism that originated in the English-speaking world in the nineteenth century. In this context, humanism is best viewed as a contested site in which its meanings, usages, and rhetorical power reflect a wide range of ideological allegiances that include positive and negative connotations. The complex, layered processes of colonization that are a part of the history of the Americas will also inflect the varied usages and connotations of humanism.
John R. Shook
The centuries covered in this chapter extend from the end of antiquity to the start of the Renaissance; roughly from the sixth century through the fourteenth century. Humanist ideas and ideals making a difference during medieval times have to be understood on their own terms. Christian humanism and humanitarianism upheld the moral worth and dignity of persons, an ideal that grew in significance from the late Middle Ages through the Renaissance and thereafter. Humanist thought attaining a degree of independence from Christian doctrine can be classed into four main categories: the human ability to reason without following religion; the human competence to understand the world without religion; the human aptitude for virtue and morality without religion; and the human facility for political organization without religion.