VII. The Contemporary Period, 1945–2000 > B. Europe, 1945–2000 > 2. Religious and Philosophical Thought
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  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
 
(See 1934–54)
 
2. Religious and Philosophical Thought
 
In the realm of religious thought, secularism continued to make great strides as divorce and contraception, for example, became more commonplace. But the churches did not stand still in this period. Pope John XXIII (1881–1963) convened Vatican II (1962–65), the world Catholic council that updated the Church. Later popes, while remaining traditionalists in matters like priestly celibacy, the ordination of women, and birth control, continued to campaign for social justice. In the Protestant churches, two theological movements emerged. Under the leadership of the Swiss theologian Karl Barth (1886–1968), some Protestants dismissed the notion that reason could save the soul, arguing instead for the primacy of revelation and the powerlessness of humans without God's grace. Others, following the British theologian John Robinson, built on 19th-century liberalism to argue that the Bible must be interpreted in a modern context. Robinson believed modern Christians had to extract the inner meanings from the old biblical myths and apply them to each situation of modern life, a stark difference from Barth's fundamentalism.  1
For many, however, the notion that God was dead was as true after World War II as it had been after World War I. Indeed, philosophical thought in postwar Europe continued along trends established in the interwar period that highlighted the absurdity and meaninglessness of life. The philosophical school that best expressed this view was existentialism, led by French philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–80), Simone de Beauvoir (1908–86), and Albert Camus (1913–60). These theorists argued that there were no absolutes or eternal truths for humankind. In the 1960s a new school of thought, known as structuralism, rose to challenge this view (See Nov. 3). Major figures, including anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss (b. 1908) and literary critic Roland Barthes (1915–80), grounded their theories on structural linguistics and the science of signs to assert that human consciousness was the helpless victim of objective structures implied in the laws of language syntax. In the late 1960s and early 1970s other intellectuals, such as Jacques Derrida (b. 1930) and Michel Foucault (1926–84) challenged the linguistic stability and systematic function of structuralism. Their emphasis on textual analysis and relativist positions was instrumental in the formation of poststructuralism and deconstruction in the post-1968 intellectual community.  2
 
 
 
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

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