"Humanism" is a term assigned different and contradictory meanings by different authors at different times.
Humanism is an active ethical and philosophical approach to life focusing on human solutions to human issues through rational arguments without recourse to a god, gods, sacred texts or religious creeds. Humanism has become a kind of implied ethical doctrine ("-ism") whose sphere is expanded to include the whole human ethnicity, as opposed to traditional ethical systems which apply only to particular ethnic groups.
Many early doctrines calling themselves "humanist" were based on Protagoras' famous claim that "man is the measure of all things." In context, this asserted that people are the ultimate determiners of value and morality— not objective or absolutist codices. In its time, Protagoras' statement was a radical and objective view of the human condition, which has convincingly refuted absolutism for much of Western philosophical history since. Subsequent interpretations of this "principle" became split between relativism and universalism —the former views all ethics as derived from the individual (individualism), while the latter views ethics as meaningful only if they are applicable to all. While relativism gained prominence during the Industrial Era, global communication and transculturation have deprecated relativism in favor of a universalist view of humanism.
Renaissance humanism was a cultural movement in Europe beginning in central Italy (particularly Florence) in the last decades of the 14th century. It revived and refined the study of language (First Latin, and then the Greek language by mid-century), science, philosophy, art and poetry of classical antiquity. The "revival" was based on interpretations of Roman and Greek texts. Their emphasis on art and the senses marked a great change from the medieval values of humility, introspection, and passivity. Beauty was held to represent a deep inner virtue and value, and an essential element in the path towards God. As a result, the production of art in this period is particularly rampant. The crisis of Renaissance humanism came with the trial of Galileo, for it forced the choice between basing the authority of one's beliefs on one's observations or upon religious teaching. The trial made the contradictions between humanism and religion visible to all and made humanism a dangerous doctrine.
Renaissance humanism was an aristocratic movement, not at all a democratic one, by which is meant that it was primarily practised by the upper levels of society (merchant and patriarchal or aristrocratic classes), but its tenets hardly extended towards the populous masses. On the other hand, humanist reform of the educational system did contribute to at least a certain diffision of the basics of humanist ideals to any child who attended grammar school. Some of humanism's opponents saw it as a corrupting, luxurious doctrine. Nevertheless, the appeal of humanist accomplishment has always been strong, and its patronage of the arts assured that it would find a place in the artisan class. With the spread of printing and the appearance of the intellectual writer, a middle-class humanist also appeared, and the Age of Enlightenment can be viewed as the spread of humanist values beyond the aristocracy. The Enlightenment tended to present science and reason, more than art, as the defining trait of human dignity. Enlightenment humanists, perhaps more than any other group, took their Protagoras straight and did not offer many qualifiers to his principle.
Modern humanisms - It has two branches.
i) Religious humanism:
Religious humanism stems from the Renaissance-Enlightenment tradition. It contains many artists, mainline Christians, and scholars in the liberal arts. Their view tends to concentrate on the dignity and nobility of human achievement and possibility.
ii) Secular humanism:
Secular humanism reflects the rise of globalism, technology and the collapse of religious authority. It too acknowleges an individual's dignity and worth and capacity for self-realization through reason and logic. They see themselves as providing an answer to the need for a common philosophy that transcends the cultural boundaries of local moral codes and religions.
Many people call themselves humanists of one form or another. Some people consider themselves humanists because their religious beliefs are moral, and therefore humane. Humanism is also sometimes used to describe humanities scholars (particularly classicists). There is also a school of humanistic psychology.
Humanism as a current in education began to dominate school systems in the 19th Century. It held that the studies that develop our intellect are those that make us most truly human. Assimilationist, stern, and rigorous, the aim was to bring the affective and psychomotor natures under the control of the intellect. The practical basis for this was faculty psychology, or the belief in distinct intellectual faculties such as the analytical, the mathematical, the linguistic, etc. Strengthening one faculty was believed to help other faculties as well (transfer of training).
A key player in the late 19th century educational humanism was U.S. Commissioner of Education W.T. Harris, whose "Five Windows of the Soul" (math, geography, history, grammar, and literature/art) were believed especially appropriate for development of the faculties. Educational humanists believe that the best studies for the best kids are the best studies for all kids. While humanism as an educational current was largely discredited by the innovations of the early 20th century, it still holds out in some elite preparatory schools and some high school disciplines (especially, of course, literature).