The Renaissance period, which means “rebirth” in English, is characterized by political advancements in philosophy, science, culture, art, and politics. The Renaissance Era produced some of the greatest thinkers in human history who aimed to revive the aims of classical antiquity in terms of philosophy, scientific discovery, and geographic exploration (Michelet). This era facilitated the transition from the Medieval Ages to Modernity. With its wide range of advancements, the Renaissance Era shaped the education, technology, politics, and society we enjoy today in the modern world. In this research paper, the author will discuss the developments achieved in the Renaissance Era that had an impact on the Western world.
The Renaissance Era: Defined
The Renaissance Era is considered by many as the golden age for humans. Most of the greatest thinkers that we continue to study and be inspired by were from that era. Indeed, most of things we enjoy today would not be possible without it. The Renaissance Era was heavily influenced and shaped by Humanism, Secularism, Individualism, which were all supported by the invention of Gutenberg’s version of the printing press.
Humanism is a cultural movement that gained momentum in the second half of the 14th century. This movement focused on the study of the humanities—Greek and Roman (i.e. classical) languages, literature, and history—and use it as a guide to life (Coates, White, and Schapiro, 1970). As can be inferred, Humanism led to secular thought. More people embraced rational thought over religious beliefs. This way of thinking is prevalent in the Renaissance Era, and arguably, is the one that propelled the developments achieved during the time.
Secularism placed human beings and the world in the center of life instead of God. As a result of secularism, the Church did not have as much of a grip on people as it used to in the Medieval Ages (Coates, White, and Schapiro, 1970). It encouraged people to join in intellectual, artistic, political, and commercial pursuits that aimed for the advancement of human life.
Another development that played a vital role in the Renaissance Era is the printing press. The printing press revolutionized thinking by democratizing information (Gilbert). The invention of the printing press in Europe increased literacy rates and allowed more people to have access to the works of the great Renaissance thinkers. Overall, the Renaissance Era facilitated religious reform and revived scholarship in Europe that will eventually influence the Western world.
The Impact Of The Renaissance On The Western World
The Renaissance Era is the foundation of the modern world. The Renaissance Era broke away from the Medieval Era and shed its religious and feudal shackles. These enabled Europeans to make great discoveries about the world and about the world (Michelet, 1965). Because people took on and studied different fields, the Renaissance Era made developments in education, science and technology, and politics. European society as a whole changed for the better. This immense progress in human thought and knowledge paved the way for the modern world.
Before the Renaissance, education centered on religious education (Gilbert, 1967). Only biblical teachings were taught and with the purpose of preparing future leaders of the Church (Gilbert, 1967). The two factors that changed education during the Renaissance are humanism and the printing press. Humanism shifted the focus of education from religious to practical. Humanists believed that the study of science and humanities through education could make good citizens (Gilbert, 1967). So, they emphasized teaching history, astronomy, geometry, and music.
Secularism also played a role in shaping education during the Renaissance. Although education was not completely divorced from the Church—various religious organizations still play a major role in education today—it no longer had the same control over what can be explored and discussed. This paved the way for the many discoveries during the Renaissance Era. Couple this with the printing press, scientific and philosophical knowledge quickly overwhelmed the Church. Without the level of freedom attained at that time, humanity would not have achieved its greatest feats in the 21st century.
Historians agree that there was a scientific revolution in the Renaissance Era. Astronomy and physics were the two fields that achieved great feats during the time (Brooks, 2019). However, a considerable advancement was still attained in the field of medicine despite the prejudices against working with human cadavers. Still, the secularism of the time allowed some scientists to work with the human body and conduct experiments or make pronouncements that would have otherwise been banned by the Church.
It was during the Renaissance Era that the heliocentric view of the universe was established, as opposed to the geocentric view that prevailed during the Medieval Ages. The microscope, telescope, bacteria were all discovered during the Renaissance (Brooks, 2019). The discovery of these things enabled scientists to further their studies of the world and the human body. Evidently, some of the developments from this era, such as those mentioned above, are still used to this day, though with major adjustments and modifications.
Humanism also had a profound influence in science. Scientists did not simply agree with what were written by ancient scholars (Brooks, 2019). Instead, they sought empirical evidence. In addition to empirical evidence, scientists emphasized the utilization of reason, giving birth to the scientific method (Brooks, 2019). The precedence of complete objectivity in modern science can be traced back to the Renaissance Era.
The end of the Medieval Ages saw the end of feudalism and the consequent rise of cities that was dependent on commerce rather than agriculture. With the urban economy, feudal lords and the Church were replaced by strong central governments, namely princedoms, monarchies, and republics (Gilbert, 1967). Although the rise of cities and commerce enabled serfs to be freed and pursue other trades or simply work in factories, they were still governed by any of these leaders. Princedoms and monarchies usually gained power by displacing ruler either through politics or force. They created laws establishing succession to ensure that their family will not be replaced. However, their powers are not necessarily absolute. They, particularly princedoms (which are essentially younger monarchies), depended on nobility and the merchant community (Gilbert, 1967). Worth noting is that monarchies in Europe grew in size during the Renaissance Era.
Another power, the merchants, also rose in the cities. Merchants formed city-states which were governed by interlocking and balanced councils and committees (Gilbert, 1967). The merchants, influenced by the great thinkers of the Renaissance Era, took influences from ancient Rome. Although the city-states were essentially ruled by the top merchants or the oligarchies, they believed that their rule was based on the consent of the people (Gilbert, 1967). Participation in the republic was based on one’s standing, as opposed to birth, which influenced modern politics a great deal.
Diplomacy was also developed during the Renaissance Era. Due to the rise of different powers, wars and attempts to conquer another state were too common (Gilbert, 1967). Alliances were naturally formed, and consequently, foreign policies were developed. To further maintain neutrality, representatives of one government is sent to another—called “resident ambassadors”—who acted as a middleman between his own government and the one where he lives (Gilbert, 1967). Often, leaders—princes, monarchs, and republics alike—sought men who were educated in humanist schools for diplomacy (Gilbert, 1967). The need for educated men further cemented the influence of humanism in the Renaissance Era and in politics in general. Today, ambassadors continue to play a crucial role in foreign policy. International politics continues to be as complex as ever, but the prevalence of diplomacy in place of military action is a major advancement brought about by the Renaissance Era.
A result of the Scientific Revolution and Humanism is a change in people’s view of societal customs. As mentioned earlier, the Church had had less influence in Europe during the Renaissance Era, which opened up the Western world to progress. First and foremost, scientists no longer feared punishment or backlash from the Church whenever they propose new scientific ideas or discoveries (Brooks, 2019). Furthermore, society also became more tolerant of Protestants. When Martin Luther first presented his 95 theses and separated from the Catholic Church, Protestants experienced extreme discrimination (Brooks, 2019). However, as the Renaissance Era progressed, Protestantism became more tolerated.
Women also experienced some advancements during the Renaissance Era. Most notably, there are a few scientists who, through their studies of the sciences, came to the conclusion that patriarchal customs were not based on empirical, biological reasons, but are merely “customs” (Brooks, 2019) However, feminism was not to be established during the Renaissance Era as more male scientists insisted on finding proof to reinforce the sexist stereotypes of society (Brooks, 2019). Nevertheless, society had become more progressive, and more women, particularly aristocratic women, had participated in various scientific fields assisting their fathers or husband (Brooks, 2019). Other women had also conducted their own experiments and had made their mark in their respective fields, such as Margaret Cavendish and Maria Winkelmann.
The Western world owes its progress to the Renaissance Era. In particular, without the rise of Humanism and Secularism had the greatest impact on the Western World. It did not only change the way people thought, but it also changed the very fiber of Western society. These two are the foundation of all the other philosophies, political theories, and scientific discoveries from the years after it. The education, scientific and technological developments, diplomatic politics, and the society we enjoy today would not be possible if not for the era’s great thinkers.
Brooks, C. (2019). Western Civilization: A Concise History II. Retrieved from https://human.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/History/World_History/Book%3A_Western_Civilization_-_A_Concise_History_II_(Brooks)
Coates, W. H., White, H. V., Schapiro, S. (1970). The emergence of liberal humanism: An intellectual history of Western Europe (Vol. 2). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Gilbert, N. W. (1967)Renaissance. Retrieved from https://www.encyclopedia.com/literature-and-arts/language-linguistics-and-literary-terms/literature-general/renaissance
Michelet, J. (1965). The Renaissance and the Discovery of the World and Man. In D. Hay (ed.), The Renaissance Debate. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.