The Renaissance was a period in European history which started in Florence, Italy in the 14th century and spread to the rest of Europe by the end of the 17th century. This period is known to be a bridge between the mediaeval times and the modern history. The important changes have happened over this period, in particular the reassessment of Greek philosophy, and rise of humanistic values in all fields of human activity (such as art, science, politics, literature, etc.). The Renaissance brought a revolution to how people view the world, with liberalization in art (painting naked body became a norm), politics (it was now separated from religion), science (observation and inductive reasoning substituted blind following of religious norms) and literature (freedom of expression and rediscovery of Latin texts). But the most important shift was in philosophic tradition, which was marked with the transition of moral philosophy to humanism from religious dogmatism, previously prevalent in the Middle Ages. The authors of the time identified humanism as “the movement to recover, interpret, and assimilate the language, literature, learning and values of ancient Greece and Rome” (Burke 1990). Homocentrism, i.e. treatment of humans as central beings, became an important aspect of lives of many people.
The Reformation was another major shift in the people’s worldviews. It took place in the 16th century in Germany with a schism initiated by Martin Luther and his followers. Martin Luther introduced Protestantism, the religious movement in opposition to Roman Catholic Church. The main objection against the canonical church was the sale of indulgencies and the doctrine of Church merits. One of the main changes that Protestantism brought was a passion for hard work and worldly achievements, thus raising them to a level of religious virtues. Thanks to the invention of a printing press and support of monarchs who wished to finally separate politics from church, the ideas promoted by Luther and his followers were rapidly spread all throughout Europe. On the other hand, the schism gave birth to religious heterogeneity in Europe which led to several wars (for example between Protestant England and Catholic France) and even civil wars (for example in France and Germany). Unsurprisingly, the witch hunt intensified during this period, because supporters of opposing religious groups started accusing each other in heresy and Satanism. Because women were frequent targets of a witch hunt, the intensification in this activity was also explained by Protestantism abolishing convents and nunneries, thus giving more rights to women.
The scientific revolution is cited to be the predecessor of the Enlightenment. Started towards the end of the Renaissance and finished by the end of the 18th century, the scientific revolution brought the increased interest of masses to scientific fields (such as math, physics, chemistry, etc.) and therefore shaped their worldviews accordingly. A number of prominent figures came to the world arena with ones of the brightest ideas in the history of science such as Nicolaus Copernicus (heliocentrism), Johannes Kepler (laws of planetary motion), Isaac Newton (gravitation), René Descartes (scientific method), Christiaan Huygens (works in the field of optics), and many others. Serious breakthroughs have been made in medicine (dissection of human corpses) and chemistry (early concepts of atoms, molecules and chemical reaction). William Gilbert discovered electricity and Otto von Guericke invented the early version of electrostatic generator. A number of mechanical devices were discovered such as telescopes, barometers, vacuum pumps, mechanical calculators, steam engines and so on. On the other hand, some historians tend to believe that scientific revolution was not a revolution but just a continuous flow in the scientific advancements (without any radical discontinuity) which already started in the Middle Ages.
- Burke, P. 1990. The spread of Italian humanism. In The Impact of Humanism on Western Europe, ed. A. Goodman and A. MacKay, London, p. 2.