The Renaissance was a time of renewal and rebirth in Europe. It began in Florence in the 1300s and would spread across Europe and last over 300 years. But, how did the Renaissance influence Western Civilization?

The contribution of the Renaissance to Western civilization includes Individualism, Humanism, the Age of Exploration, and the Protestant Reformation. Some of the world’s greatest works of art, architecture, and literature come from this era.

The Renaissance paved the way for the Age of Enlightenment and eventually led to the Scientific Revolution. It ushered in the concept of Secularism which would be a cornerstone of modern Western democracy.

In this article, we will explore how each of these aspects of the Renaissance profoundly affected Western civilization as a whole.

How Did the Renaissance Influence Western Civilization?

We will analyze how the Renaissance changed Europe and influenced Western civilization from the following different angles:

  1. A Spirit of inquiry and questioning
  2. Renaissance Humanism
  3. Rejection of Religious Dogma & Protestant Reformation
  4. Great strides in Art, Architecture, Literature and Education
  5. The Printing Revolution
  6. Age of Exploration
  7. Trade and Commercial Revolution
  8. Advances in Science and Medicine
  9. The birth of Nation-states
  10. Secularism and Democracy
How did the Renaissance influence Western Civilization
Florence- The birthplace of the Renaissance
(Image Source)

Now, let’s look closely at each of the angles of the Renaissance that so greatly affected Western civilization.

#1. A Spirit of inquiry and questioning

A fundamental way in which the Renaissance was different than the Middle Ages was a shift from a faith-based to an inquiry-driven approach to knowledge. This spirit of inquiry and questioning was crucial in propelling the advancement of science, literature and the arts.

Today in Western civilization, we take for granted the importance of questioning, hypothesizing and discovering. This wasn’t always so; it was during the Renaissance that this new way of thinking took hold.

#2. Renaissance Humanism

Humanism was the defining philosophy of the Renaissance and Renaissance Humanism sought to revive Classical antiquity, and reintroduce classical learning and thinking into the Europe of the day.

Renaissance humanism was based on the focus on the individual and individual capability rather than the reliance on divine authority or structure. This was a profound advancement that eventually led to the Enlightenment and modern democratic principles of self-governance.

#3. Rejection of Religious Dogma & Protestant Reformation

The Renaissance was a period of great impact on the Catholic Church with people looking to shed religious dogma and tradition.

Renaissance Humanists wanted to change religion to make it more accessible to the common man. This would open the door to the Protestant Reformation.

Reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin wanted to eliminate the Church’s abuses of power like the selling of Indulgences and return to individual faith. This religious revolution was one of the most important changes in Western civilization, as it led to the growth of Protestantism and freedom of (and from) religion.

#4. Great strides in Art, Architecture, Literature and Education

The Renaissance would result in enormous innovation in art, architecture, literature and education.

Incredible works of art like Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Ceiling, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and Raphael’s School of Athens represent the pinnacle of Renaissance achievement.

Architecture too reached its pinnacle during the Renaissance. St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the Duomo in Florence, and the Florence Baptistery (with its ‘Gates of Paradise by Lorenzo Ghiberti) are stunning examples of this period.

Renaissance literature was marked by a new focus on individual and secular themes rather than religious ones. Writers such as Dante, Petrarch, Shakespeare, Cervantes and Boccaccio wrote of personal love and worldly affairs. New genres like satire, romance and tragedy also emerged during the Renaissance.

Education was also revolutionized during this period, as universities were established to promote learning and scholarship. Classical education (still used in European secondary schools today) was introduced during the Renaissance.

The use of vernacular during the Renaissance also led to a great increase in literacy and education. Schools were established to teach the classics, as well as new subjects such as literature and philosophy.

#5. The Printing Revolution

In 1450, Johannes Gutenberg’ invented the movable-type printing press.

The Gutenberg Press would revolutionize the distribution of information and knowledge. It allowed the mass production of books, making books accessible to large numbers of people and, that too, at a relatively low cost. In fact, within 50 years of Gutenberg’s invention, there were more than 20 million books in circulation across Europe.

The Printing Revolution made possible the spread of ideas and knowledge, which helped in the promotion of science, literature, and education during the Renaissance.

The impact of the Printing Press on the Renaissance and then on the Western Civilization cannot be overstated. It broke down barriers and borders and even now, more than 600 years since its invention and despite the Internet revolution, our reliance on printing hasn’t diminished.

#6. Age of Exploration

The Age of Exploration saw European countries searching for new trade routes to Asia and Africa.

The discoveries of explorers like Christopher Columbus, Vasco de Gama and Ferdinand Magellan had a profound impact on the world. The Renaissance contributed to the age of exploration by creating an environment in Europe that would promote discovery and exploration.

The exploration of the world led to a cultural exchange between Europe and other parts of the world – a cultural exchange that would shape Western civilization for centuries to come.

But analyzing the effects of the Renaissance on European Exploration also shows us that not all effects were positive. There was a dark side. Europen navigators also brought conflict and exploitation.

The Age of Exploration led to colonization, exploitation and slavery. This is why the Renaissance was both good and bad and its negative effects are still felt not just in the rest of the world but also in Western civilization.

#7. Trade and Commercial Revolution

The Renaissance triggered a trade and commercial revolution that would bring tremendous wealth and prosperity back to Europe.

Even though trade routes to the Levant had been opened by the Crusades, the development of new technologies, such as the compass and astrolabe, as well as advances in shipbuilding made navigating longer trade routes possible.

This commercial revolution had a huge effect on the culture of Europe, as well as its economy. Monarchs started to encourage exploration as it brought them power, glory and riches.

Merchants gained power during the Renaissance and some, like the Medici of Florence, became rulers in their own right.

These changes in trade and commerce also led to the emergence of a new class of wealthy merchants, financiers, and bankers and seeds of modern capitalism were planted.

#8. Advances in Science and Medicine

The Renaissance saw remarkable advances in science and medicine.

Scientists such as Galileo and Copernicus challenged the traditional views of the universe and proposed the heliocentric model of the universe, according to which the sun is at the center with planets revolving around it.

The Renaissance also saw advances in anatomy and medicine, as Physicians such as Vesalius studied the human body with unprecedented accuracy. Ambroise Pare performed surgery with silk threads and William Harvey studied the circulatory system.

These advancements of the Renaissance would not only shape our understanding of the world but would pave the way for the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century.

#9. The birth of Nation-states

The modern nation-states that we see in Europe today can trace their roots to the Renaissance. Power shifted from the Papacy to secular rules in city-states in Italy and larger nations such as Spain, France and England.

This shift in the political landscape of Europe is one of the reasons why the Renaissance is often considered to be a turning point in history for Western civilization.

#10. Secularism and Democracy

Secularism refers to the idea that religion should not be the basis of politics and law.

Various aspects of the Renaissance like individualism, personal independence, rejection of religious dogma, the promotion of reason and empirical evidence and freedom of thought would all end up promoting Secularism.

The promotion of Secularism by Renaissance Humanism would, in turn, would plant the seeds for self-determination and modern democracy, thus profoundly impacting Western civilization.


The Renaissance was a major turning point in history for Western civilization, forever changing the political and social landscape. From advances in science to the exploration of new lands, from trade and commercial revolution to the birth of nation-states, it’s clear that this period had an immense impact on our current world.

The promotion of secularism by Renaissance Humanists would go on to plant the seeds for self-determination and modern democracy – a legacy we can still see today in many aspects of how we live.