We are a research network and an international and interdisciplinary double-badged PhD program, sponsored by six universities around the world under the umbrella title “Contemporary Humanism”.
The program, which is accredited by the Italian Minister of University and Research as Innovative, is articulated in four curricula: 1) Philosophy and Religion, 2) Education, 3) Literature and Cultural Studies, 4) Social and Political Studies.
Why the category of Humanism?
Humanism is a polysemic category, being at once historical, cultural and axiological. Historical, in that it indicates a precise period of intellectual history: that of Italian Humanism and its immediate heirs. Cultural, in that it is valid as a generative category of an entire civilization, hence from its ethnic origin – which took place within the geographical borders of Europe – but with universal claims, as the various universal declarations of human rights have effectively testified for some centuries now. Finally, axiological, inasmuch as it indicates a horizon of meaning and a constellation of values whose foundation rests on a conception of humanity as a task – and not as a simple fact – and in a recognition of this humanity as an essential and constituent trait of every human being, quite apart from the age and civilization that produced humanism.
So is the category of humanism still pertinent in the cultural sense, as a synthetic and generative category of a particular civilization, and in an axiological sense, as an ideal regulator and a valorial frame of reference? Is there anything that can be called a contemporary humanism? What are their historical forms and their variations? Are they merely intellectual forms, or rather practices and institutions that bear a humanistic matrix in their DNA, and which, precisely for this reason, foster and condition our ability to understand what humanism is? Can we do without this category?
Many challenges await us. Among them all, naturally, the one arising from the power that humanity wields today: the power to transform the world and humanity itself. This power, cognitive, technical and practical, does not contain within itself instruments and criteria to regulate it. Rather it is seen as an end in itself and used for its own sake. With respect to this power, so axiologically indifferent, we need a horizon of meaning and value. Can the category of humanism still offer a direction and a guide, as happened – many decades ago now – after the catastrophe of global warfare?