Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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core definition

Humanism refers to aview that rejects religion and focuses on the potential of human development.

explanatory context

Humanism is a term with several meanings. First, humanism refers to the intellectual movement of the European Renaissance culture. It refers back to the literature of the Ancient Greeks (and to a lesser extent Romans), which was referred to as humanist because it was optimistic about human potential, was enthusiastic about human achievements and was rather dismissive of niceties of theological debate. However, humanism in this sense was quite compatible with a belief in a god.


Second, humanism is a term applied in the 20th century to a view which rejects all religious beliefs and argues that people should only be concerned with human welfare in the existing (and only) world. In effect this is a positive way of referring to atheism (which tends to be defined negatively and have negative connotations).


Third, humanism has been associated with the post-Enlightenment idea of self-development and self-perfection particularly in the idea of a humanist as someone interested in (high) culture, affairs of state and history.


Fourth, humanism refers to a general approach in both philosophy and social sciences which demands that people and their meaning constructs (rather than systems) should be the central concern of enquiry and analysis. This approach is evident in the concerns of existentialist philosophers, phenomenologists, humanist Marxists, and hermeneuticists as well as some social researchers who adopt ethnographic or verstehen approaches.

analytical review

Raynet Sociology Glossary (undated) states:

Humanistic (humanism): The appreciation of people and appreciation of what human beings can accomplish given the opportunity. Humanism generally operates on the premises, beliefs, and assumptions that people have some sense of unity, that individuals are "perfectible" by their own efforts, that people in general are intrinsically good, and that humans can and should take the responsibility in coping with the problems of the human situation. Humanism generally utilizes the methods of science, reason, and logic (to the exclusion of mystical, sacred, and otherworldly explanations) with the purpose of promoting, directing, and constructing a world that is more egalitarian and liberative. The greater good, the welfare, and the happiness of all people (as opposed to serving the interests of a few select elite) is seen as an ethical good, the direction, and the purpose that all should strive for. Humanism can be seen as an orientation for some and a belief system and ideology for others that stresses emancipation of the spirit, opposition to restrictive, oppressive, and differentially applied authority, and freedom of the intellect. The general orientation of humanism by some is the observation that social relations, institutions, practices, myths, beliefs, etc., that maintain and promote inequality, suffering, and lack of opportunity are oppressive and inhumane, i.e., unhuman, unhumanlike. Humanism with this orientation has an interest in and seeks to promote those social institutions, social relationships, social reforms, and, if need be, revolutions that will bring about less oppressive relations and social structures.

associated issues


related areas

See also




Raynet Sociology Glossary, undated, available at, no longer available 20 December 2016.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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