Discuss the powerful movements that transformed European society during the early modern era.

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This question seems to be addressing important movements, not important developments. So I have not included major developments such as the emergence of a market economy, overseas exploration, the Agricultural Revolution, the enormous expansion of the population during the eighteenth century, or other important changes and advances during the early modern period in my answer below.

The Renaissance, which is generally considered to mark the beginning of the early modern period, reinvigorated European intellectual, artistic, and cultural life. In particular, it emphasized humanism, which entailed both an emphasis on the secular and on classical texts as sources of learning. It contributed, in short, to a critical worldview in addition to the great art, architecture and literature that it spawned. 

Perhaps the most important movement of the early modern period was religious in nature. The Protestant Reformation, which began with Martin Luther's protests against the Catholic Church, spread quickly and shattered the hegemony the Church had held over Western European life. It also contributed to political conflict, and, historians used to argue, embraced a worldview more friendly to the development of capitalism.

Another important movement was the so-called Scientific Revolution, in which thinkers across Europe began to suggest that the universe and its laws could be investigated and understood through scientific inquiry. Early modern scientists established fundamental principles for understanding the universe, and began to recognize that these same principles applied her on Earth as well. They classified natural life, sought increased understanding about the human body, and developed mathematical explanations for the motion of bodies.

The Enlightenment, in many ways, was the intellectual offspring of the Scientific Revolution. While it was a very broad, diverse movement, generally speaking Enlightenment philosophes sought to apply the same principles of critical inquiry to human institutions, from government to religion. They argued that the best results could be attained when reason was employed. Some of them began to posit fundamental natural rights that were, to them, analogous to the natural laws discovered by scientists.