Difference Between Scholasticism & Humanism

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Scholasticism and humanism are both historical philosophies that influenced particular university-level teaching methods. The two ideologies both encouraged students to develop understandings and ideas that would influence society at large. However, the focus and the views of the supernatural differed considerably between scholasticism and humanism.

1 Humanism Defined

Humanism is defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary as “A doctrine, attitude, or way of life centered on human interests or values,” and in particular, “a philosophy that usually rejects supernaturalism and stresses an individual's dignity and worth and capacity for self-realization through reason.” Humanism is a broad term, referring to several philosophies and methods of study over the centuries, but the common tie between all these philosophies under the umbrella of “humanism” is a focus on human concerns and values. Renaissance humanism had the goal of training citizens to be able to speak, write and persuade others, through the course of studying a broad range of classical works. Modern humanism is somewhat different from classical humanism – it is an ideology that bases decision-making and understanding of morality on human reason and ideas of justice, rather than on religious or supernatural teachings.

2 Scholasticism Defined

Scholasticism was a method of learning that was first used by a monk named Anselm of Canterbury around A.D. 1100 and taught in medieval universities by “schoolmen,” who were also often monks or other religious figures. Scholasticism was a prominent method used until around 1600, although its emphasis on debate still influences our educational systems today. In scholasticism, students were encouraged to face apparent contradictions in the things they were being taught, and find a consensus between teachings that seemed to oppose each other. They were expected to use their reason and experience – in combination with knowledge that was accepted on the authority of church fathers and teachers – to make their arguments. Scholasticism attempted to reconcile Christian teachings with one another, as well as with such philosophies as Aristotelianism and Neoplatonism.

3 Aims of Teaching Methods

Scholasticism and humanism were both educational methods that existed simultaneously; but each had a different focus. Scholasticism focused on training people who would work as theologians, lawyers or doctors, and thus used works of theology, philosophy, medicine and law as a basis for study. Humanism, on the other hand, focused on creating people who would be ideal citizens in whatever domain their work lay and would be able to speak persuasively to encourage those around them to a moral life; thus, students pursuing humanist studies were instructed from historically important works of poetry, history, grammar and rhetoric.

4 Views of the Supernatural

Humanism and scholasticism differ perhaps most distinctively in their views of the supernatural. Scholasticism was a method of study that existed for a handful of centuries and always included a faith in the supernatural; specifically, it was promoted and taught by Christian (Catholic) church fathers. In scholasticism, faith in spiritual things was an intrinsic understanding, and a large portion of study focused on theological works and their significance. Humanism, on the other hand, rejects the supernatural as a basis for study and work; instead, it places the emphasis on human reasoning and human achievement; students of humanism (whether Renaissance or modern humanism) do not study the supernatural or use it as a launchpad for discussion and teaching; instead, they study human works and ways of thinking, and they use the natural – specifically, the human – as the reference point for their conclusions.

Asha Kalyani has more than seven years of experience writing about linguistics, language learning and many other educational and cultural topics. She received a Master of Arts in applied linguistics and enjoys teaching and interacting with people of all language and cultural backgrounds.