In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Humanism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Resources
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Humanistic Studies
  • Philosophy and the Civic Life
  • Petrarch
  • Florentine Humanism
  • Roman Humanism
  • Venetian Humanism
  • Humanism in the Italian States
  • German Humanism
  • French and Spanish Humanism
  • Humanism and Religion
  • Biblical Humanism
  • Humanism as Rhetoric
  • Cicero and Imitation
  • Humanist Historiography
  • Consolatory Literature
  • The Transmission of Greek and Latin Learning
  • Pedagogical Humanism and Humanists
  • Humanism and the Protestant Reformation

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

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Renaissance and Reformation Humanism
Paul Grendler
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0002


Humanism was the major intellectual movement of the Renaissance. In the opinion of the majority of scholars, it began in late-14th-century Italy, came to maturity in the 15th century, and spread to the rest of Europe after the middle of that century. Humanism then became the dominant intellectual movement in Europe in the 16th century. Proponents of humanism believed that a body of learning, humanistic studies (studia humanitatis), consisting of the study and imitation of the classical culture of ancient Rome and Greece, would produce a cultural rebirth after what they saw as the decadent and “barbarous” learning of the Middle Ages. It was a self-fulfilling faith. Under the influence and inspiration of the classics, humanists developed a new rhetoric and new learning. Some scholars also argue that humanism articulated new moral and civic perspectives and values offering guidance in life. Humanism transcended the differences between the Protestant and Catholic Reformations, as leaders of both religious movements studied and used the ancient Latin and Greek classics. Because of the vast importance and broad scope of humanism, it is not surprising that scholars have studied it intensively and view it in different ways. This article provides a sampling of some of the best and most influential scholarship on the subject and demonstrates the broad impact of humanism in the era of the Renaissance and Reformation.

General Overviews

Because humanism is a vast topic, overviews are few. Nauert 2006 is brief but has the advantage of presenting a single viewpoint, while Rabil 1988 is large and has many authors.

  • Nauert, Charles G., Jr. Humanism and the Culture of Renaissance Europe. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

    Excellent and concise one-volume survey of humanism across Europe. A good starting point both for students and scholars.

  • Rabil, Albert, Jr., ed. Renaissance Humanism: Foundations, Forms, and Legacy. 3 vols. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988.

    Forty-one essays by recognized authorities, each with bibliography, about humanism across Europe and specific themes. Vol. 1 deals with the foundations of humanism and humanism in Italy; Vol. 2, with the rest of Europe; and Vol. 3, with humanism and the disciplines, the professions, arts, and science. A good starting point for advanced students and scholars lacking knowledge in particular fields of study.

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