Resilience & Humanism
The ‘Resilience & Humanism’ research project aims to repossess and update the project that was set in motion by Jaap van Praag, the founding father of contemporary Dutch humanism, and which he considered to be his ‘great mission’. Convinced of the importance of worldviews as a factor in individual resilience, he aimed to develop humanism and promote human mental resilience.
Van Praag was profoundly influenced in this pursuit by witnessing the emergence of rampant fascism in the 1930s and 1940s. According to Van Praag, the orientation and inspiration that issues from a consciously lived worldview such as humanism have the power to make people resilient to the forces and temptations of mass movements of this kind. However, the context that makes resilience urgent today differs markedly from that in the time of Van Praag. Whereas, in the manifestly pillarized postwar Netherlands, he was able to develop a humanist worldview alongside the established churches and associations, the world we live in today is one of increasing globalization, migration, multiculturalism, North-South inequality, and individualization, also in an ideological sense – to mention but a few of the commonly applied labels.
But in these times too, people are exposed to an assortment of mass phenomena, from consumerism, cultural levelling, pressure to perform, a normative lifestyle and opinion pressure, to media hype, Islamophobia and wholesale xenophobia. People need resilience to avoid becoming a plaything of these kinds of movements and trends. The need stems from the threat posed by these movements and trends to vital human values, such as freedom, responsibility, solidarity, and even human dignity.
This research project draws together humanism and resilience in a contemporary context. An aim is to promote an interworldview humanism, with the expectation that this will foster the resilience that is needed today. This humanism is based on dialogue and humanist fundamental principles, and differs from monadic worldviews by virtue of openness and debate. It aspires to a joint quest rather than predetermined answers, and accordingly demands the wise handling of finiteness, uncertainty, and differences. As a dialogic worldview, humanism manifests itself as a critical, inquisitive and innovative cultural movement – therefore with its own tradition, but not exclusive. As an inquisitive worldview oriented to academic and general debate, humanism expressly seeks to forge links with ‘humanist’-like elements and movements in other religious and worldview traditions.
The academic objective of this research project can be summarized concisely as the linking of humanism with resilience and its advancement. The questions linked with this overall objective are: how to develop and interpret a concept of open, interworldview humanism that contributes content and function to the resilience of individuals and groups in the sociocultural and historical context of the 21st century; and how to define resilience in a way that can respond credibly to all challenges, both opportunities and threats, that this sociocultural and historical context presents to the individuals and groups of today.
This question links several constituent issues, which are the subject of individual and joint investigation by the researchers on this project. This research project is being conducted cooperatively in three teams, each with a specific perspective: (1) historical: the history of humanism; (2) empirical and practical: with a focus on, but not restricted to, humanist counselling; and (3) philosophical: with a focus on, but not restricted to, the significance of exemplars.
The research in this interdisciplinary project is not restricted to the methods and approaches of traditional social sciences and humanities, such as philosophy, ethics, historical studies, religious studies and psychology. An aim is to link these approaches with life sciences, including both evolutionary and behavioural biology (De Waal, Hrdy), and aspects of brain research, including mirror neurons (Gallese, Iacoboni).