In the pre-modern era, many people's sense of self and purpose was often expressed via a faith in some form of deity, be it that in a single God or in many gods. Pre-modern cultures have not been thought of creating a sense of distinct individuality, though. Religious officials, who often held positions of power, were the spiritual intermediaries to the common person. It was only through these intermediaries that the general masses had access to the divine. Tradition was sacred to ancient cultures and was unchanging and the social order of ceremony and morals in a culture could be strictly enforced.
The term modern was coined in the 16th century to indicate present or recent times (ultimately derived from the Latin adverb modo, meaning "just now"). The European Renaissance (about 1420–1630), which marked the transition between the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern times, started in Italy and was spurred in part by the rediscovery of classical art and literature, as well as the new perspectives gained from the Age of Discovery and the invention of the telescope and microscope, expanding the borders of thought and knowledge.
In contrast to the pre-modern era, Western civilization made a gradual transition from pre-modernity to modernity when scientific methods were developed which led many to believe that the use of science would lead to all knowledge, thus throwing back the shroud of myth under which pre-modern peoples lived. New information about the world was discovered via empirical observation, versus the historic use of reason and innate knowledge.
The term "Early Modern" was introduced in the English language in the 1930s. to distinguish the time between what we call Middle Ages and time of the late Enlightenment (1800) (when the meaning of the term Modern Ages was developing its contemporary form). It is important to note that these terms stem from European history. In usage in other parts of the world, such as in Asia, and in Muslim countries, the terms are applied in a very different way, but often in the context with their contact with European culture in the Age of Discovery.
In the Contemporary era, there were various socio-technological trends. Regarding the 21st century and the late modern world, the Information Age and computers were forefront in use, not completely ubiquitous but often present in everyday life. The development of Eastern powers was of note, with China and India becoming more powerful. In the Eurasian theater, the European Union and Russian Federation were two forces recently developed. A concern for Western world, if not the whole world, was the late modern form of terrorism and the warfare that has resulted from the contemporary terrorist acts.
The modern period has been a period of significant development in the fields of science, politics, warfare, and technology. It has also been an age of discovery and globalization. During this time, the European powers and later their colonies, began a political, economic, and cultural colonization of the rest of the world.
By the late 19th and 20th centuries, modernist art, politics, science and culture has come to dominate not only Western Europe and North America, but almost every civilized area on the globe, including movements thought of as opposed to the west and globalization. The modern era is closely associated with the development of individualism, capitalism, urbanization and a belief in the possibilities of technological and political progress.