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Introduction

The chair group Humanism and Philosophy focuses on humanist traditions, meaning in life, and resilience. The research into humanism and meaning is made more specific, concrete and linked to practice by a focus on questions of ageing well.

Humanist tradition

The humanist tradition is long and varied. We primarily study the history of humanism and humanism as a meaning frame which helps (ageing) people to experience meaning in their lives. A meaningful life is conceptualised as a life in which seven needs for meaning are fulfilled: purpose, moral worth, self-worth, competence, comprehensibility, connectedness and excitement.

Academic position

The meaning, resilience and ageing dimensions of our research are part of several international scientific debates. Also, there is a vast amount of current research on Renaissance Humanism and figures like Lorenzo Valla and Desiderius Erasmus. Other, more recent types of humanism are attracting scientific investigation as well. However, the humanism research in our programme focuses on humanism as a meaning frame and in this research we also consider the humanist movement, nationally and internationally. That is as unique as is the position of our university: the only university in the world based on and inspired by humanism as a worldview or meaning frame.  

Approach

Theoretically our research on humanism as a meaning frame is characterised by its hermeneutical and multidisciplinary approach (combining history, philosophy and social science), its starting point in a relational anthropology while not surrendering the importance of personal agency, and by a hypothesis on the positive relationship between a humanist meaning frame and resilience.

The humanist way of making meaning (meeting these needs for meaning) is characterised by four core convictions:
  • all human beings have human dignity and therefore should treat each other as equals;
  • each and every meaning frame is a product of human culture in a particular context;
  • each human being should develop him- or herself, his or her capacities and talents;
  • and ultimately human life is about the destiny of specific, unique, vulnerable and irreplaceable persons, loving and being loved by others and aspiring to a meaningful life.
A hypothesis is that the experience of a meaningful life (humanist or other) is related to people’s spiritual, mental and even physical resilience.

Through this aim we contribute to two of the three focus themes in the university’s new strategic plan:

• Fundamental research into humanism and the foundations of Humanistic Studies
• The EU Horizon 2020 societal challenge on Health, demographic change and wellbeing.

Aging well

Our interpretation of the societal challenge on Health, demographic change and wellbeing is both more existential and more critical than the EU web sources that point in the direction of biomedical and labour market approaches. Together with members from the Research Methodology and Theory of Sciences group, the group focuses its research on existential issues of ageing well. The societal challenge is obviously important for the future of Europe. However, the question how to interpret and evaluate health and wellbeing - in the context of unprecedented demographic change and the need for positive meaningful ideals for ageing – is vitally important. The perspectives of meaning in life and mental resilience, while crucial, are very often neglected or ignored, as are the differences and inequalities among the elderly resulting from social structures.