Humanism and Secularization

From Petrarch to Valla

Humanism and Secularization

Duke Monographs in Medieval and Renaissance Studies

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Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: Published: January 2003

Author: Riccardo Fubini

Translator: Martha King

History > European History, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism, Pre-Modern Studies > Medieval and Early Modern Studies

The Renaissance movement known as humanism eventually spread from Italy through all of western Europe, transforming early modern culture in ways that are still being felt and debated. Central to these debates—and to this book—is the question of whether (and how) the humanist movement contributed to the secularization of Western cultural traditions at the end of the Middle Ages. A preeminent scholar of Italian humanism, Riccardo Fubini approaches this question in a new way—by redefining the problem of secularization more carefully to show how humanists can at once be secularizers and religious thinkers. The result is a provocative vision of the humanist movement.
Humanism and Secularization offers a nuanced account of humanists contesting medieval ideas about authority not in order to reject Christianity or even orthodoxy, but to claim for themselves the right to define what it meant to be a Christian. Fubini analyzes key texts by major humanists—isuch as Petrarch, Poggio, and Valla—from the first century of the movement. As he subtly works out these authors’ views on religion and the Church from both biographical and textual information, Fubini reveals in detail the new historical consciousness that animated the humanists in their reading of classical and patristic texts. His book as a whole shows convincingly just how radical the humanism of the first half of the fifteenth century was and how sharply it challenged well-entrenched ideas and institutions. Appearing here in English for the first time, his work provides a model set of readings of humanist texts and a critical perspective on Italian humanism that will alter and enrich discussion and understanding of the nature of the humanist movement.


"[A] provocative vision of the humanist movement." — Translation Review

"This learned, witty and provocative book is extremely rich and instructive for anybody who has an interest in Renaissance thought, and makes us wish that also some other of Fubini's voluminous studies will soon become available in English." — Marcello Simonetta, Annali d'Italianistica

"Fubini's exceptional learning and sensitivity to the material makes his collection of essays accessible even to those outside of the field, while his meticulous research and careful citation of sources makes this work highly valuable to the Italian Humanist scholar. . . . His analytical method is innovative and his learning prodigious. . . . This book will undoubtedly become a staple for students and scholars of Italian Humanism alike." — Heather A. Sexton , Comitatus

"These five essays should be required reading for every student of Quattrocento intellectual history. Their argument illuminates major events in the movement known as humanism, and the extensive footnotes contain an encyclopedic wealth of close readings and commentary. . . . [T]his volume makes an important collection of Renaissance studies available to the wider readership it deserves." — David Marsh , CLIO

"This is an important, densely argued, and deeply learned book. Fubini's approach represents the best in a postwar Italian historicist tradition. . . . [A] provocative and interesting book. Its virtues lie not only in Fubini's learning, which is prodigious, but also in his analytical method, which is context-sensitive, intertextual, and sparklingly alive with intellectual agility." — Christopher S. Celenza, Catholic Historical Review

"This series of essays is thoroughly documented, containing a notes section which comprises 40 percent of the book. This section is itself a valuable resource, providing, among other things, numerous Latin experts substantiating Fubini's thesis." — Margaret Franklin, Sixteenth Century Journal

“A splendid collection. Fubini’s studies offer a powerful and coherent account of Italian humanism from Petrarch to Valla. They make a strong case for the seriousness of humanism as an intellectual movement, rather than a simply literary or pedagogical one. They thus do us the important service of making our image of humanism at once more complex and more responsive to primary sources. . . . Fubini lays the basis for a whole new approach to humanist texts.” — Anthony Grafton, Princeton University

“Fubini is a major figure in the study of Italian humanism today. In this collection he addresses what has always been since Burckhardt a central issue in the interpretation of humanism, namely, to what extent and in what ways is the humanist movement responsible for secularizing Western cultural traditions at the end of the Middle Ages. His is an important voice urging us to see the full range and complexity of humanist attitudes to religion and helping us to situate the humanists more precisely vis a vis the Protestant Reformers and the Deists and philosophes of the Enlightenment.” — James Hankins, Harvard University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Riccardo Fubini is Professor of Renaissance History at the University of Florence. He is the author of Umanesimo italiano e i suoi storici: Origini rinascimentali, critica moderna; Quattrocento fiorentino: Politica, diplomazia, cultura; and Italia quattrocentesca: Politica e dipolmazia nell’età di Lorenzo il Magnifico.

Martha King is the editor of New Italian Women: A Collection of Short Fiction, translator of Grazia Deledda’s Reeds in the Wind and Elias Portulu, and cotranslator of Luigi Pirandello’s Her Husband, published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top


1. Consciousness of the Latin Language among Humanists: Did the Romans Speak Latin?

2. Humanist Intentions and Patristic References: Some Thoughts on the Moral Writings of the Humanists

3. Poggio Bracciolini and San Bernardino: The Themes and Motives of a Polemic

4. The Theater of the World in the Moral and Historical Thought of Poggio

5. An Analysis of Lorenzo Valla’s De Voluptate: His Sojourn in Pavia and the Composition of the Dialogue


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Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3002-8
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