Many modern people like to think that their current progress and achievements have nothing in common with their past. They believe that their growth at this period has an immense power that did not characterize previous centuries. However, contemporary society and the society of the early Renaissance may be compared regarding such elements as the set of values and beliefs, the role of technology, and even the spread of political power.
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The Renaissance was the period that considerably influenced an understanding of human life and relationships people are free to develop. In this paper, the basics of both epochs, as well as similarities and differences of the Renaissance and contemporary societies, will be discussed. Contemporary society takes a lot from the Renaissance period in terms of personal values, religion, education, and medicine, and these lessons help to promote a better future for the whole nation.
Two Epochs’ Basics
In Europe, the period of the Renaissance covered social, art, political, and other changes between the 14th and the 17th centuries. Zarakol (2017) agrees that “European society became increasingly more complex and more interdependent” (p. 59). People of that time found it normal to break old ties and use their different backgrounds to create new groups and discover new options. The Renaissance society was defined as a part of the rebirth that meant not only the recovery of the past but a step to innovations and power (King, 2017). These basics can easily be traced in contemporary society.
The complexity according to which many people like to live today is impressive. Millions of people cannot imagine their lives without cell phones, personal computers, and other technologies that, as they believe, facilitate their routine affairs. The level of progress during the Renaissance and the contemporary world can never be compared because different frames and boundaries were established regarding the available resources. Still, passion, intentions, and desire are what unites the representatives of different societies. Today, a symbolic rebirth happens to everyone without them even understanding this fact.
The most significant characteristic of the Renaissance era is the enormous progress the society made during that time compared to the Middle Ages. There are several events that became a catalyst for it, which happened in trade, economic, religious, and cultural spheres. For instance, the exploration of many territories overseas during the so-called Age of Discovery brought changes to many aspects of people’s lives. As new lands appeared on the world map with clearly defined coastlines and other geographical elements, it became a point when the European society started to question the wisdom of the ancients (Goldin & Kutama, 2016, p. 21).
It became evident that the Earth’s structure and history as presented in the Bible were not accurate. This progressive thought mingled essentially with the humanistic ideals of that time that promoted individual and community growth. The Reformation, which was another important element of the Renaissance era, made it possible to recover the classical learning that had previously been neglected as a creation of pagans (Bartlett & McGlynn, 2014, p. xvii). Religious liberation, in turn, caused progress in education, art, trade, and other sectors.
The modern community experiences the highest level of liberties in all social, political, economic, and other spheres than ever before. Nowadays, people in the Western world are free to shape their future independently from their cultural background, religious beliefs, material status, or other conditions. However, the most important characteristic of society nowadays is the tremendous growth of the world’s population and the developing ties between individuals disregarding their geographical position.
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It seems that the question of social well-being has remained the same during different epochs. If a person has enough money to feed, study, and buy different things, he or she gains power. During the Renaissance, social classes existed and determined relationships between people (King, 2017). Some people could afford appropriate education, medicine, and healthcare, and some groups of people had to survive using all available options.
Another important similarity includes the love of art and innovations. The Renaissance society established high basics of art and innovation favoritism. People of that era liked to fashion themselves, believing that calculation, self-control, and foresight were important for their social success (Zarakol, 2017). Almost the same happens today. Society wants to control everything to be sure that a safe future is available to them. The Renaissance experience seems to be appropriate for a modern person, and that is what promotes multiple similarities between these epochs.
Innovation, which is the primary similarity of the two eras, has become possible due to the major progress made in the sphere of information sharing. The Renaissance was marked by the invention of the printing press, which made the process of creating books much faster and easier. The new technology caused monasteries to lose their monopoly on knowledge, letting large groups of civilians get an education. As a result, the community enjoyed the appearance of many talented lawyers, philosophers, economists, and other specialists. It was during the Renaissance that poets demonstrated the victory of humankind over their shortcomings and mistakes of the past.
The most developed literature was in Germany, France, England, Spain, and Italy. Representatives of the Italian Renaissance literature were Francesco Petrarch and Giovanni Boccaccio. They were the first poets who began to Express sublime images and thoughts in the language of the ordinary people. This innovation was welcomed and spread to other countries.
Nowadays, society lives in the multimedia epoch, which means that different types of information carriers can be utilized simultaneously, depending on the needs. The invention of the Internet and its development is a progressive step compared to the printing press of the Renaissance. People from all over the world today have access to books, lectures, videos, and other materials, that work as a source of knowledge.
The development of modern literature with public access to information has led to the fact that writing has lost any restrictions: everyone can write on any topic in any style and any form. Numerous prohibitions in the creation of public texts that existed during the Renaissance have disappeared, now there are no taboos for a potential author. Therefore, the number of new forms of self-expression in the modern world is incomparably more significant than in any previous period of historical development.
Another similarity between the two epochs is the focus on an individual. After the idle Ages, when God and the saints had been the only moral examples, Renaissance philosophers rediscovered the classical ideas of humanism. A person was declared to be a potential carrier of positive features, and his or her value was not to be judged from the religious point of view. The Renaissance perceived the human body as an infinite beginning. Scientists and artists regularly improved their skills and knowledge by studying the bodies of individuals. The prevailing view was that man was created in the likeness and image of God.
This statement reflected physical perfection. The principal and important objects of Renaissance art were gods. Nowadays, Western society is also highly individualistic, celebrating diversity and personal achievement. There is no longer any single scenario according to which a human should live a life. There are many paths that can be taken depending on the individual skills, values, desires, and other personal characteristics.
It is necessary to admit that the Renaissance and contemporary societies are far away from each other. Therefore, certain differences are evident. First, people observe academic and social progress. Compared to the Renaissance system of education, modern boys and girls can choose the same forms of education, as well as choose any occupation depending on their personal preferences. Modern medicine and healthcare introduce a variety of options to save human lives and improve the quality of health, while in the Renaissance, medicine was practically identified with art and philosophy.
Often outstanding medical figures of that time acted only as observers during operations, deducing various theories. According to Park (2014), just at the end of the century, artists and doctors saw “how the new knowledge of perspective and drawing could be applied to the medical fields of anatomy” (p. 221). Finally, religious freedoms should be admitted. The Renaissance people were dependent on the Catholic Church. Now, people are free from religious boundaries, which was unacceptable during the 14th-17th centuries.
The passion of the Renaissance was reflected in the relationship of the new culture with religion and the Church. Although the influence of atheism was strong, and people rebelled against the restriction of freedom during the Renaissance period, they remained within the Christian view of nature, created by God. Some thinkers fervently defended the ideas of the divine prescription of each phenomenon, others rejected it, but they all recognized the human mind as the sole master of human life.
Religion was seen as the religion of mind. However, Christianity changed, entering into relations with a new culture, which led to the Reformation and a new direction in Christianity — Protestantism (Brucker, 2015, p. 249). The Renaissance, for the first time, revealed the opposition not only between religion and scientific knowledge but also between religion and the institution of the Church.
The modern attitude of society towards religion is much more diverse. Because of the mutual integration of different cultures and faiths around the world, certain religious affiliations are no longer necessary for safe and equitable coexistence in any developed country.
The exceptions are closed religious associations that flourish in developing countries, but the restrictions there are becoming less pronounced. The modern person does not rely so much on religious dogmas and chooses his views according to subjective preferences rather than social standards of behavior. During the Renaissance, the progressive strata of society only began to realize the need to separate the Church from the state regulation. Now religion is one of the spheres of the voluntary spiritual life of people in most developed countries, but not another lever of control.
A word must be said about the international relations due to the Age of Discovery during the Renaissance and the modern globalization trend, which have a significant difference in its character. While European travelers explored other lands overseas, they did not view local people as equal since they were not Christians. That factor allowed powerful kingdoms like Britain, Spain, France, and others, to create colonies as a source of their wellbeing without caring for the local population.
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Nowadays, as religion ceased to be a part of a government and colonies have become independent, European society no longer segregates people based on their racial and cultural background. Nevertheless, there is still an issue of formally independent countries that have their economic and political decisions dependent on other states, which is characterized as neo-colonialism (Maloba, 2017, p. 5). There are many reforms that must be made before Europe can deny the former practices of controlling overseas territories as it did from the Renaissance.
The colonial past has its effect on the modern world, although there is a major difference regarding the social interactions between different nationalities during the two epochs. The translation of the Bible to languages of the European communities as a part of the Reformation became a focal point of the nations’ construction and development. Societies became more different, shaping their literature as a basis for the state’s cultural identity.
During the Renaissance era, customs played a major role in communities, and foreigners found it difficult to mingle with locals. Nowadays, the issue of the territory being a place for a single set of social norms is no longer in use. Modern society celebrates diversity, as people from different countries practice their traditional activities side to side with each other. The Western countries currently experience immigrant flows from former colonies, which is a significant economic and political issue to the governments. However, ordinary people no longer find it extraordinary to live next to foreigners as different cultures mix to form a new cosmopolitan society.
To conclude, the effect of the Renaissance period cannot be ignored in contemporary society. It brought us the experience of geographical discoveries, achievements of social, cultural, and economic development – it gave humanity a serious push forward compared to the Middle Ages. The similarities and differences between the chosen epochs show how people can use their best past achievements and contribute them to the future.
Both periods of history faced their difficulties, and both made every effort to make the best of the experience and leave behind its remnants. People should learn and respect their history to use progress and promote new improvements. Instead of arguing which epoch is better, it is possible to learn how to survive with the greatest main benefit to human life.
Bartlett, K. R., & McGlynn, M. (2014). The Renaissance and Reformation in Northern Europe. Ontario, Canada: University of Toronto Press.
Brucker, G. A. (2015). The civic world of early Renaissance Florence. Princeton University Press.
Goldin, I., & Kutana, C. (2016). Age of discovery: Navigating the risks and rewards of our new renaissance. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.
King, M. L. (2017). A short history of the renaissance in Europe. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press.
Maloba, W. O. (2017). The anatomy of neo-colonialism in Kenya: British imperialism and Kenyatta, 1963-1978. London, England: Palgrave Macmillan.
Park, K. (2014). Doctors and medicine in early Renaissance Florence. Princeton University Press.
Zarakol, A. (2017). States and ontological security: A historical rethinking. Cooperation and Conflict, 52(1), 48-68.