Question Ciaran Art, Media & Literature

Liberal Humanism

What is liberal humanism?

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Liberal humanism is a term used to designate the ‘traditional’ ideology that underpins the discussion and analysis of texts in literary studies – particularly that which was widespread throughout Anglo-American universities from mid-Victorian times, through the early 20th century, to the 1970s when much of the alternative body of literary scholarship (various schools of thought under the banner of literary theory) began arising to challenge it. Predominantly, it has tended to view ‘great’ literature as ‘timeless’, self-contained, and reflective of a universal human condition, regardless of temporal, societal, cultural or political differences. Various models for analysing texts on this basis were formulated by critics like F.R. Leavis, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, with the ideal being an unbiased, unclouded view of the text in a bid to uncover its meaning, which would be tied to essential human truths. Such approaches to literary study are still respected and conducted, although they are now almost always taught alongside the various oppositional approaches throughout literary theory.