Science & Religion in Renaissance Europe

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  • 0:01 What Was the Renaissance?
  • 1:31 Science During the Renaissance
  • 3:20 Religion During the…
  • 5:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will learn about science and religion during the Renaissance. We will explore the role these two forces played in Renaissance Europe, and we will identify the major themes involved.

What Was the Renaissance?

Maybe some of you have heard of a Renaissance Festival. Maybe you've seen commercials for it, or maybe some of you have even been to one. If you haven't, a Renaissance Festival typically involves jousting tournaments, medieval food and drink, and is basically a celebration of all things 'Renaissance.'

So, what was the Renaissance? If you already know, bear with me. For those who don't, the Renaissance was a European cultural movement that took place between the 14th to 17th centuries. The word 'renaissance' literally means 'rebirth.' The Renaissance involved a renewed appreciation for Greek and Roman art and culture. One of the central themes of the Renaissance was humanism. In its simplest form, humanism is a belief system that emphasizes human actions and places great value on human nature. We'll talk more about this in a little bit, so hang on to this concept of humanism.

Art played a major role in the Renaissance. Guys like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were popular artists, as were Donatello and Raphael. Remember, we're not talking about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles here! We're talking about the real dudes! But in this lesson, we won't be focusing on Renaissance art. Instead, we're going to look at its impact on science and religion.

Science During the Renaissance

Before the Renaissance, European thinkers had many incorrect ideas about the universe. This time before the Renaissance has even been called the 'Dark Ages' by many historians (although this view has been challenged in recent years). For example, they believed that the Earth was at the center of the universe, and that the sun and the planets revolved around the Earth! This is called the geocentric view of the universe. Crazy, I know.

But, gradually, things began to change. Commonly called the movable-type printing press, the first modern printing press was invented by Johannes Gutenberg around the year 1439. This was one of the most important inventions of all time because it resulted in the widespread availability of print material. In some ways, Gutenberg's printing press had the same effect that the Internet has had in our lifetime. Gutenberg's printing press started a revolution in printing and helped spread more knowledge throughout Europe.

And then, of course, there was Christopher Columbus' 'discovery' of the New World in 1492. His expedition gave birth to the Age of Exploration, which was a period of intense global exploration which peaked between the late 15th and 17th centuries. Galileo's telescope, Copernicus' heliocentric view of the universe, and the development of the scientific method were other important scientific innovations of the Renaissance. The bottom line here is that during the Renaissance scientific knowledge expanded rapidly.

Religion During the Renaissance

So, as I mentioned in the beginning, humanism was a central characteristic of the Renaissance. During the Renaissance, people increasingly began to see the world from a human-centered perspective. This had a powerful impact upon religion. Increasingly, people were paying more attention to this life rather than the afterlife. Eventually, humanism brought about a spirit of skepticism.

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