During the 20th century, diverse intellectual and cultural movements questioned the existence of objective knowledge, the ability of reason to arrive at truth, and the role of religion in determining moral standards.
The major trend of 20th-century European thought and culture moved from an optimistic view that modern science and technology could solve the problems of humankind to the formation of eclectic and sometimes skeptical movements that doubted the possibility of objective knowledge and of progress. Existentialism, postmodernism, and renewed religiosity challenged the perceived dogmatism of positivist science. While European society became increasingly secular, religion continued to play a role in the lives of many Europeans. Religious denominations addressed and in some cases incorporated modern ideas, such as the toleration of other religions, as well as scholarship — biblical and scientific — that challenged the veracity of the Bible. The Christian churches made these accommodations as immigration, particularly from Muslim countries, altered the religious landscape, challenging Europe’s traditional Judeo-Christian identity.
After World War I, prewar trends in physics, psychology, and medical science accelerated. In physics, new discoveries and theories challenged the certainties
of a Newtonian universe by introducing the ideas of relativity and uncertainty. Psychology, which became an independent field of inquiry at the end of the 19th century, demonstrated that much human behavior stemmed from irrational sources. By the mid-20th century, dramatic new medical technologies prolonged life but created new social, moral, and economic problems. During World War II, the potential dangers of scientific and technological achievements were demonstrated by the industrialization of death in the Holocaust and by the vast destruction wrought by the atomic bombs dropped on Japanese cities. It became clear that science could create weapons powerful enough to end civilization.
The art world in the 20th century was defined by experimentation and subjectivity, which asserted the independence of visual arts from realism. Futurism glorified the machine age; Dadaism satirized traditional aesthetics; and Expressionism
and Surrealism explored the relationship between art and the emotions or the unconscious. In the interwar period, the slogan “form follows function” expressed a desire by architects to render the space in which we live and work more efficient. Throughout the century, American culture exerted an increasing pull on both elite and popular culture in Europe.
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The widely held belief in progress characteristic of much of 19th-century thought began to break down before World War I; the experience of war intensified a sense of anxiety that permeated many facets of thought and culture, giving way by the century's end to a plurality of intellectual frameworks.
Science and technology yielded impressive material benefits but also caused immense destruction and posed challenges to objective knowledge.
Organized religion continued to play a role in European social and cultural life despite the challenges of military and ideological conflict, modern secularism, and rapid social changes.
During the 20th century, the arts were defined by experimentation, self-expression, subjectivity, and the increasing influence of the United States in both elite and popular culture.
Pages below are from Jackson Spielvogel's Western Civilization, Updated 9th AP Edition
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