New Book: Humanity. A History of European Concepts in Practice From the Sixteenth Century to the Present

This edited volume investigates the development of the concepts and practices of “humanity” from the sixteenth century to the present. By choosing a longue-durée approach the book analyzes how shifting concepts of humanity shaped various practices and at the same time how ideas themselves were informed by these practices in the course of four hundred years. As humanity is evoked in a remarkable array of themes, the contributors deliberately focus on issues such as humanism, colonial expansion and imperialism, missions, abolitionism, international humanitarian law, humanitarianism, human rights, charity and philanthropy. In their understanding, these are crucial arenas, in which concepts and practices of humanity were sustainably shaped, defined, questioned and reconfigured. While there are a huge number of individual studies on each theme, the book seeks to connect these various fields and analyze their entanglements under the overarching theme of the idea of humanity.


Accordingly, the volume regards the notion of humanity not as static and related only to one specific century, but as a dynamic concept, which emerged in the course of several centuries. One of the central aims is to show its procedural and evolutionary character with all its ambiguities and inconsistencies in the context of Europe itself as well as the continent’s relation to the wider world. Beyond Europe, the volume covers another three different geographical regions – namely Africa, America, and Asia, thus seeking to combine methodologically European history with approaches of transnational and global history.

Being aware of the multidimensional character of the topic and underlining the enrichment of research from different perspectives, the book adopts an interdisciplinary approach. Beyond doubt in the debates around the idea of humanity, religion played a remarkable role. Jewish, Catholic as well as Protestant teaching shaped the notion in many significant ways. It served for various actors such as philosophers, reformists, missionaries, abolitionists, and legal scholars frequently as a fundamental source for inspiring their theories and influencing their action. For this reason, theologians and historians in the United States, Great Britain, Germany, and Switzerland provide, for the first time together, innovative perspectives on the European concepts of humanity in practice. Thus, the book promotes an integrative approach to the theme by combining not only different geographical regions but also various historical epochs and academic disciplines in a single volume.

By taking a comparative approach and exploring the intersections of religious studies, international law, philosophy, as well as history the contributors deal with three essential areas: morality and human dignity, humanitarianism, violence and international law as well as finally charity, philanthropy, and solidarity. Within these key areas, the contributors ask which actors used the concept of humanity for which purposes. In other words, what are the concrete implications of theoretical discourses on the concept of humanity to practice in various fields? Furthermore, they investigate to what extend the term is connected to the emergence of normative concepts and guiding principles, implying moral and religious commandments, humanitarian obligations, international law, and human rights. In other words, did humanity become a “moral compass” for societal behavior among human beings in the course of four centuries? If yes, how did this development sustainably influence their action in various fields? In other words, instead of only asking only what the idea of humanity is, the contributors rather want to discuss what does the concept of humanity trigger. They ask how action of taking care for the unfree, the uncivilized, the non-Christian, the wounded, the suffering, the unprivileged, the persecuted, and the helpless was embedded in the notion of a common humanity and contributed for crystalizing various concepts? Overall, it is the aim of this volume to address the remarkable entanglement of diverse actors, of religious, political, military, civilian, legal, and cultural relations, and of national, international and transnational perspectives.

Table of Contents:

Fabian Klose and Mirjam Thulin

Introduction: European Concepts and Practices of

Humanity in Historical Perspective


Part I: Humankind and Humanity

Francisco Bethencourt

Humankind: From Division to Recomposition

Paul Betts

Universalism and its Discontents:

Humanity as a Twentieth-Century Concept


Part II: Morality and Human Dignity

Mihai-D. Grigore

Humanism and its Humanitas: The Transition From

Humanitas Christiana to Humanitas Politica in the

Political Writings of Erasmus

Mariano Delgado

“All People have Reason and Free Will”: The Controversy

Over the Nature of the Indians in the Sixteenth Century

Judith Becker

Conceptions of Humanity in Nineteenth-Century German

Protestant Missions

Robert Brier

From Emancipation to Transcendence? Dignity, Catholicism,

and the Changing Imageries of Humanity in Post-War Europe


Part III: Humanitarianism, Violence, and

International Law

Thomas Weller

Humanitarianism Before Humanitarianism? Spanish Discourses

on Slavery From the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century

Fabian Klose

“A War of Justice and Humanity”: Abolition and Establishing

Humanity as an International Norm

Kerstin von Lingen

Fulfilling the Martens Clause: Debating “Crimes Against

Humanity”, 1899–1945

Esther Möller

Between Globalisation and Contestation: Humanity as a Polemical

Concept Within the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement


Part IV: Charity, Philanthropy, and Solidarity

Joachim Berger

“Une oeuvre internationale d’un caractère humanitaire”:

The Appeal to Humanity in International Masonic Relations

Katharina Stornig

Between Christian Solidarity and Human Solidarity:

Humanity and the Mobilisation of Aid for Distant Children

in Catholic Europe in the Long Nineteenth Century

Gerhard Kruip

The Unity of the Human Family: A Foundation for Global Justice


Part V: Epilogue

Johannes Paulmann

Humanity – Humanitarian Reason – Imperial Humanitarianism:

European Concepts in Practice

OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
Fabian Klose (October 25, 2016). New Book: Humanity. A History of European Concepts in Practice From the Sixteenth Century to the Present. Humanitarianism & Human Rights. Retrieved July 21, 2024 from

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