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Meanings of life and humanisation

Humanistic studies is structured around two principal themes: meanings of life and humanisation.

Meanings of life

Meanings of life is concerned with placing something in a broader context of meanings that affect human life. The definition of existential meanings of life can be refined as being a personal stance towards the world that sets an individual life in a broader context of interrelated meanings, in which goal orientation, fullness of values, solidarity and transcendence are experienced, along with competency and acknowledgment, thereby also creating a sense of motivation and well-being (cf. Smaling & Alma, 2010).


Meanings of life not only have constitutive significance for personal identity, but are also a basis of social processes of culture formation, consisting of more or less fully formed or specialized worldviews. Conversely, a worldview can bring goal orientation, a certain consistency and integration into the multiple aspects of life. A worldview can also provide a framework of values and foster a sense of security and mental well-being. Otherwise, a worldview can also constrain, or even threaten, personal meanings of life. Dogmatism and institutionalization can turn a worldview into a force with the potential to oppose individual freedom.


Humanistic studies investigates the influence of worldview diversity on the way worldviews function as meanings-of-life frameworks, the meaning-giving power of various worldview traditions, especially humanism, and humanism’s potential contribution to interworldview dialogue. This investigation pays heed to various past and present humanist movements and views. In other words, existential meanings of life are always also studied as worldview meanings of life, with particular regard for humanist viewpoints. 


There is an inextricable link between meanings of life and humanisation. Humanisation can be defined in a general sense as cultivating the right conditions for personal meanings of life, within equitable institutions and in a sustainable world society (Nussbaum 2006). The research is not restricted to theoretical reflection and clarification, but also aspires to making a practical contribution to fostering specific humanisation  processes in diverse practical contexts. Given the humanisation orientation based on humanist inspiration, this research uses the actor perspective as a starting point, which means that the research devotes explicit attention to personal experience, opportunities, and sources of inspiration.

Key questions in University of Humanistic Studies research are concerned with the relationship between meanings of life and humanisation, and their reciprocal contributions. Meanings of life and humanisation run in parallel on both conceptual and practical levels, and refer constantly to each other. The orientation to humanisation issues leads among other things to research into the social, economic and political conditions that may enable people to shape what they deem to be a meaningful life. The research is also oriented to the practical support of attempts to improve the implementation of these conditions in specific institutional contexts, such industry and the care sector. It must be noted that, in the process of giving meaning to life, people develop perspectives on humanisation.

An important element of the University of Humanistic Studies research programme is identifying and augmenting all sources of meanings of life and education that may provide existential inspiration and courage to live, and foster engagement with humanity. This element is linked with questions of parenting, engaged citizenship, normative professionalization and corporate social responsibility, both locally and globally. The specific interpretation of a justness and sustainability perspective is always linked with specific historical circumstances. The definition of what is deemed a good life invariably depends on the historical dynamics of meanings of life and pedagogical processes, and constantly shifting articulations of a good life.

It will be clear from this conceptual and thematic exploration of how the meanings-of-life and humanisation concepts interrelate, that the complex central research questions in humanistic studies demand a normatively inspired multidisciplinary, or interdisciplinary, approach. Questions surrounding meanings of life and humanisation operate on the interface between body, person, group, culture and community. The theory of science and methodological questions that are associated with this normative interdisciplinary approach therefore have an important place in the research programme.