Renaissance Studies:
An Introduction
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    Renaissance Studies: An Introduction

    By Jeremy David Clos
         Historical Director, The North Carolina Renaissance Faire

    Renaissance Studies: An Introduction | Medieval Europe | The Renaissance Shift
    Renaissance Europe | Renaissance England

    The Renaissance Mindset

    Renaissance Religion

    The Protestant reformation, in the philosophy of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and King Henry VIII further lessened the power of the Catholic Church in Europe. Protestantism placed emphasis on ritual and sacraments and placed the emphasis on an individual's direct relationship with God. At the most simplistic, the view of some Protestants was that through the Bible and faith a person could achieve salvation without the need for church hierarchy. Because Protestant countries were no longer bound by an allegiance to the Pope, he could now wield little direct political power over the Protestant nations, and the strategy of the church became to encourage Catholic nations to return the Protestant nations to the church by whatever means necessary.

    In England, King Henry VIII assumes the title of Supreme Head of the Church, placing both spiritual and political power in the hands of the sovereign. This power would be extended by his son Edward VIs government, rescinded under his Catholic daughter, Mary I, and restored under Queen Elizabeth I.

    Renaissance Politics

    Stronger monarchies emerge in contrast to those which existed in the Feudal system. Many sovereigns now claim the diving right to rule, rather than being the first man among equals.

    The idea of being loyal to your nation becomes more important and there is a rise of patriotism and nationalism. This is a departure from the universalism of the middle ages which is embodied in the philosophical idea of Christendom. This departure emerges in the writings of the period which now emphasize national and secular interests rather than focusing more exclusively on religious interests.

    Renaissance Social Classes

    As the class system of the Medieval period begins to break down, there is a the rise of a Middle class. Instead of stricter divisions of clergy, nobility, and peasants, society now has a rapidly growing middle class of merchants, businessmen, and professional people.

    There is more fluidity of social classes and people, with hard work and the favor of people in authority, can distinguish themselves and raise their social standing with more ease than was possible before.

    Renaissance Science and Education

    The beginning of the scientific method emerges amongst alchemists of the period, who have a desire to understand the nature of the world and how it works. Misconceptions still abound, but through observation, experimentation, and study, new theories emerge.

    In education, this world and its beauty are given more emphasis than before. Secular writing and art expand, and there is an increase in the number of schools and books available which allow more individuals, including members of the new middle class, the benefit of education. There is still no national system of education, however, and the economic status of the individual determines the opportunities for learning and education.

    The renaissance was an age in which there was a renewed interest in exploration and discovery. The great voyages of discovery by sailors like Columbus and Magellan provide for a new knowledge of the world which leads to the development of more accurate maps.

    The Renaissance Individual

    During the renaissance, the individual becomes more important than ever before. People gain increased rights as individual human beings.

    Humanism is often associated with the renaissance. Though this term is often given anti-religious overtones, humanism does not imply a disbelief in God. Humanism simply gives more emphasis to life and to this world. Emphasis begins to be placed on human things rather than spiritual or other worldly issues. Humanism teaches that humans have worth as individuals and have potential and capabilities which they should work to develop so that they may achieve and understand as much in the world around them as possible. The common term Renaissance Man is related this humanist idea: that we should try to be all we can.

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