I’m interested in any good references to this question.
Let me first start with a bit of a characterization of humanism taken from Lacey, Alan. 1995. Humanism. In The Oxford companion to philosophy, edited by T. Honderich. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Firstly, there’s 2 sense of humanism that I’m not terribly interested in, namely, the sense in which it is used to characterize the study of man, in contrast to God or nature. This is the sense used in the expression “the humanities”. The other sense I’m not all that interested in is the sense that you probably all mean by it, which is the sense of of it as “atheism”, which arose as a result of the conflict in the 19th C. when Darwinian theory was taken as a broad side against Christian dogmatism. So, in this second sense we have “humanism” as a triumph of reason (and science) over some sort of religious understanding of things as they are, and especially the “nature and destiny of man” (376).
The sense that interests me is a sense that is no doubt related to these other two senses, but I’m interested in this sense as the focus. This third sense is of “humanism” as the view that expresses a sense of the high status, importance, power, achievements, authority and the emphasis on advancing the interests of humans (exclusively?) (375).
This last sense characterizes the dominant “flavour” of our own milieu and is expressed as an overwhelming confidence in our ability to alter things for the better, and a great confidence that we can figure it all out, and so on.
What interests me here is the history of this shift. Obviously a world that de-emphasizes God is a huge part of the story. But the other part has to be a positive confidence in our own nature. I know, for instance, that Pelagious was a major figure in the denial of original sin and this was an important milestone, and so forth.
Has anyone come across any great histories on this topic that I might look at? Much appreciated.