Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Building Bridges: A World Religions Program for 8th-9th Grades

Leader Resource 1: Humanism Background

Explain that the term humanist has various meanings. A person described as a humanist might have all the opinions we just discussed. But the word "humanist" is also used to describe when something is being looked at through human experience and with regard to its effect on human beings. For example, a Christian Humanist can believe in the divinity of Christ - a supernatural belief - but will think of Christianity as having the obligation to make people's lives better now, not making them wait for a better life in heaven. Judaism is often humanist, and Confucianism is a completely humanist faith, having no reference beyond people's current lives and no purpose but to make their lives better.

Share that the two major categories of humanists are Secular Humanists and Religious or Spiritual Humanists. Secular Humanists prefer to keep religion out of the discussion altogether. Religious Humanists practice their humanist beliefs within a religious tradition, with a focus on serving the needs of human beings in the here and now.


Humanist philosophy first surfaces in historical records about 500 BCE in ancient Greece, which was not so incidentally the birthplace of democracy, as well. (Show Greece on the world map.) Ask youth: why would democracy be considered humanist? Because it confers power on everyday people, trusting them to make decisions about things that affect their lives.

Humanism appears throughout the years in every field from time to time: humanist authors, scientists, theologians. Frequently they were seen as enemies of religion and persecuted, but in the Renaissance in Europe (14th -17th centuries), there was a strong intellectual humanist movement. (Show Europe on the world map.) This led directly in to the Age of Enlightenment (1650-1800), and the humanist movement contributed to the burst of religious activity during that time, including the Protestant Reformation.

With the movement to the New World came the opportunity for a humanist revolution, literally. Humanism is the guiding philosophy behind the American Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. As democracy has spread through the world, so has humanism, and humanist philosophy has contributed to fundamental changes in nearly all civilized societies, including the abolition of the death penalty nearly worldwide (but not in the United States) and the gradual dismantling of the caste system in India.


Hard to tell how many humanists there are. Humanism pervades Western culture. While an extremely tiny percentage of the population would identify their religion as "Humanism" a large majority of people in the industrialized world view life, public policy, and events with a humanist perspective. Many Unitarian Universalists identify as humanist and others would certainly say they have a humanist view of life.