Summary of Week 6
This week we have explored the question of whether it is possible to define humanism or to say specifically what humanists believe. We have learned about the history of the word, and the history of the beliefs we associate with humanism today. We have taken a look at how many people would use the label ‘humanist’ to describe themselves. Finally we have investigated what kind of a thing humanism might be.
Let’s summarise what we have learned:
- It is difficult to precisely define what makes somebody a humanist; recognising the overlapping similarities and resemblances that the different uses of the word have in common can help us to understand what we are talking about when we talk about humanism
- Many humanists believe the diversity within humanism is part of each richness; humanism embodies the possibility of disagreement and questioning as part of its nature as an approach to life that is open to change
- The word ‘humanism’ has been employed in different ways since its origin in the Renaissance; since the nineteenth century it has come to describe the non-religious attitude to life studied in this course
- Although the word might not have been used to describe it, humanist thought can be found as far back as early as the sixth century BCE
- Humanism and religion may have influenced each other, but many humanists believe that humanism is not simply a product of, or reaction to, religion
- The UK has seen significant demographic change over the past 30-40 years with a majority of citizens now declaring they have no religion; around 5% of the population use the word ‘humanist’ to describe themselves (although that figure rises to about 17% when the word is explained to people)
- Whether one can be religious and a humanist depends on how one defines the two terms: being religious can refer to one’s beliefs, practices, identity, or cultural heritage
- Whether humanism is a religion or not depends partly on whether one adopts an essentialist or functional definition of religion; humanists believe humanism has several clear differences from the world’s major religions
- One way in which humanism differs from religions is in the way many humanists adopt the label as one which fits the beliefs and values they already held
Reflect on what you have learned this week and share some of your conclusions in the comments box.