AskDefine | Define anthroposophy

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From Greek anthrop or anthropo (person or man) and the suffix -sophy (study or knowledge of).


  1. A spiritual philosophy that maintains that anyone who “conscientiously cultivates sense-free thinking” can have insights into the spiritual world.
  2. Knowledge or understanding of human nature.
  3. Human wisdom.


a spiritual philosophy
  • Norwegian: antroposofi

Derived terms

Extensive Definition

Anthroposophy is a spiritual philosophy based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner (25 February 186130 March 1925) which postulates the existence of an objective, intellectually comprehensible spiritual world accessible to direct experience through inner development - more specifically through cultivating conscientiously a form of thinking independent of sensory experience. Anthroposophy aims to attain in its investigations of the spiritual world the precision and clarity of natural science's investigations of the physical world.
Anthroposophical ideas have been applied practically in areas including Steiner/Waldorf education, special education (most prominently the Camphill movement), biodynamic agriculture, anthroposophical medicine, and the arts. The split became irrevocable when Annie Besant, then president of the Theosophical Society, began to present the child Jiddu Krishnamurti as the reincarnated Christ. Steiner strongly objected and considered any comparison between Krishnamurti and Christ to be nonsense; many years later, Krishnamurti also repudiated the assertion. Steiner's continuing differences with Besant led him to separate from the Theosophical Society Adyar; he was followed by the great majority of the membership of the Theosophical Society's German Section, as well as members of other national sections. He spoke about what he considered to be his direct experience of the Akashic Records (sometimes called the "Akasha Chronicle"), thought to be a spiritual chronicle of the history, pre-history, and future of the world and mankind. In a number of works, Steiner described a path of inner development which he felt would enable anyone to attain comparable spiritual experiences. Sound vision could be developed, in part, by practicing rigorous forms of ethical and cognitive self-discipline, concentration, and meditation; in particular, a person's moral development must precede the development of spiritual faculties. virtually no anthroposophists ever joined the National Socialist Party.
By 2007, national branches of the Anthroposophical Society had been established in fifty countries, and about 10,000 institutions around the world were working on the basis of anthroposophy. In the same year, the Anthroposophical Society was called the "most important esoteric society in European history."

Etymology of anthroposophy

The term anthroposophy is from the Greek, virtually , from "human", and "wisdom". It is listed by Nathan Bailey (1742) as meaning "the knowledge of the nature of man" (OED). Earlier authors who used the term include Agrippa von Nettesheim and Immanuel Hermann Fichte. Steiner began using the word to refer to his philosophy in the early 1900s as an alternative to theosophy, the term for Madame Blavatsky's movement, itself from the Greek , with a longer history with a meaning of "divine wisdom".

Anthroposophy in brief

Spiritual knowledge and freedom

Anthroposophical proponents aim to extend the clarity of the scientific method to phenomena of human soul-life and to spiritual experiences. This requires developing new faculties of objective spiritual perception, which Steiner maintained was possible for humanity today. The steps of this process of inner development he identified as consciously achieved imagination, inspiration and intuition. Steiner believed that the results of this form of spiritual research should be expressed in a way which can be understood and evaluated on the same basis as the results of natural science: For Steiner, it was the human capacity for rational thought which would allow individuals to comprehend spiritual research on their own and to bypass the danger of dependency on an authority. Anthroposophy speaks of the reincarnating human spirit: that the human being passes between stages of existence, incarnating into an earthly body, living on earth, leaving the body behind and entering into the spiritual worlds before returning to be born again into a new life on earth. Steiner called the dependence between different lives karma. After the death of the physical body, the human spirit recapitulates the past life, perceiving its events as they were experienced by the objects of its actions. A complex transformation takes place between the review of the past life and the preparation for the next life; the individual's karmic condition eventually leading to a choice of parents, physical body, disposition and capacities which will provide the challenges and opportunities needed for further development, which includes karmically chosen tasks for the future life.

Christ between Lucifer and Ahriman

Lucifer and his counterpart Ahriman figure in anthroposophy as two polar, generally evil influences on world and human evolution. Steiner described both positive and negative aspects of both figures, however: Lucifer as the light spirit which "plays on human pride and offers the delusion of divinity", but also motivates creativity and spirituality; Ahriman as the dark spirit which tempts human beings to "deny [their] link with divinity and to live entirely on the material plane", but also stimulates intellectuality and technology. Both figures exert a negative effect on humanity when their influence becomes misplaced or one-sided, yet their influences are necessary for human freedom to unfold. These are called Steiner/Waldorf schools or simply Waldorf schools, after the first such school, founded in 1919. Sixteen Waldorf schools in 14 countries have been affiliated with the United Nations' UNESCO Associated Schools Project Network, a program which sponsors education projects which foster improved quality of education throughout the world, in particular in terms of its ethical, cultural and international dimensions. Waldorf schools receive full or partial governmental funding in some European nations and in parts of the United States (as Waldorf method public or charter schools). Since the first school opened in Germany in 1919, Waldorf education has spread to every continent, and has been characterized as "the leader of the international movement for a New Education," Schools based on Steiner/Waldorf education are found in a wide variety of communities and cultures: the impoverished favelas of São Paulo and the wealthy suburbs of New York City,

Biodynamic agriculture

Biodynamic agriculture, the first intentional form of organic farming, began in the 1920s when Rudolf Steiner gave a series of lectures since published as Agriculture. Steiner is considered one of the founders of the modern organic farming movement.

Anthroposophical medicine

Steiner gave several series of lectures to physicians and medical students; out of this grew a complementary medical movement which now includes hundreds of M.D.s, chiefly in Europe and North America, and which has its own clinics, hospitals, and medical schools.

Centers for helping those with special needs (including Camphill Villages)

Early in the twentieth century, when proper care for those with special needs was largely ignored in many countries, anthroposophical homes and communities were founded for the needy. The first was the Sonnenhof in Switzerland, founded by Ita Wegman in 1922; later, in 1940, the Camphill Movement was founded by Karl König in Scotland. The latter in particular has spread widely, and there are now well over a hundred Camphill communities and other anthroposophical homes for children and adults in need of special care in more than 22 countries around the world.


Steiner himself designed around thirteen buildings, many of them significant works in a unique, organic-expressionistic style. Foremost among these are his designs for the two Goetheanum buildings in Dornach, Switzerland. Thousands of further buildings have been built by a later generation of anthroposophic architects. Architects who have been strongly influenced by the anthroposophic style include Imre Makovecz in Hungary, Hans Scharoun and Joachim Eble in Germany, Erik Asmussen in Sweden, Kenji Imai in Japan, Thomas Rau, Anton Alberts and Max van Huut in Holland, Christopher Day and Camphill Architects in the UK, Thompson and Rose in America, Denis Bowman in Canada, and Gregory Burgess in Australia.
One of the most famous contemporary buildings by an anthroposophical architect is an ING Bank building in Amsterdam, which has been given many awards for its ecological design and approach to a self-sustaining ecology as an autonomous building.


In the arts, Steiner's new art of eurythmy gained early renown. Eurythmy seeks to renew the spiritual foundations of dance, revealing speech and music in visible movement. There are now active stage groups and training centers, mostly of modest proportions, in 12 countries.

Social Finance

see also Social finance Around the world today there are a number of banks, companies, charities and schools for developing co-operative forms of business which work out of Steiner's ideas about economic associations, aiming at harmonious and socially responsible roles in the world economy. The first anthroposophic bank was the Gemeinschaftsbank für Leihen und Schenken in Bochum, Germany, founded in 1974. Socially-responsible banks founded out of anthroposophy in the English-speaking world include Triodos Bank, founded in 1980 and active in the UK and Netherlands, and RSF Social Finance in San Francisco. RSF has been independently rated one of the top 10 organisations which "best exemplify the building of economic opportunity and hope for individuals through community investing."

Organizational development, counselling and biography work

Bernard Lievegoed, a psychiatrist, founded a new method of individual and institutional development oriented towards humanizing organizations and linked with Steiner's ideas of the threefold social order. This work is represented by the NPI Institute for Organizational Development in Holland and sister organizations in many other countries. Various forms of biographic and counselling work have been developed on the basis of anthroposophy.

Speech and drama

There are also anthroposophical movements to renew speech and drama. They go back to the work of Marie Steiner-von Sivers and Michael Chekhov, the nephew of the playwright Anton Chekhov.

Other areas

Other areas of anthroposophic work include:

Prerequisites to and stages of inner development

For Steiner, the aim of spiritual development is to achieve "knowledge of higher worlds" (cf. his eponymous central work). Steiner's stated prerequisites to beginning on a spiritual path including a willingness to take up serious cognitive studies, a respect for factual evidence, and a responsible attitude. Central to progress on the path itself is a harmonious cultivation of the following qualities:
  • Control over one's own thinking
  • Control over one's will
  • Composure
  • Positivity
  • Impartiality
Steiner sees meditation as a concentration and enhancement of the power of thought. By focusing consciously on an idea, feeling or intention the meditant seeks to arrive at pure thinking, a state exemplified by but not confined to pure mathematics. In Steiner's view, conventional sensory-material knowledge is achieved through relating perception and concepts. The anthroposophic path of esoteric training articulates three further stages of supersensory knowledge, which do not necessarily follow strictly sequentially in any single individual's spiritual progress.
  • Through focusing on symbolic patterns, images and poetic mantras, the meditant can achieve consciously directed Imaginations which allow sensory phenomena to appear as the expression of underlying beings of a soul-spiritual nature.
  • By transcending such imaginative pictures, the meditant can become conscious of the meditative activity itself, which leads to experiences of expressions of soul-spiritual beings unmediated by sensory phenomena or qualities. Steiner calls this stage Inspiration.
  • By intensifying the will-forces through exercises such as a chronologically-reversed review of the day's events, a further stage of inner independence from sensory experience is achieved, leading to direct contact, and even union, with spiritual beings ("Intuition") without loss of individual awareness.. In his early works, Steiner sought to overcome what he perceived as the dualism of Cartesian idealism and Kantian subjectivism by developing Goethe's conception of the human being as a natural-supernatural entity, that is: natural in that humanity is a product of nature, supernatural in that through our conceptual powers we extend nature's realm, allowing it to achieve a reflective capacity in us as philosophy, art and science. Steiner was one of the first European philosophers to overcome the subject-object split in Western thought. and Richard Tarnas.

Possibility of a union of science and spirit

Steiner believed in the possibility of applying the clarity of scientific thinking to spiritual experience, which he saw as deriving from an objectively existing spiritual world. Steiner identified mathematics, which attains certainty through thinking itself, thus through inner experience rather than empirical observation, as the basis of his epistemology of spiritual experience.

Relationship to religion

The Christ as the center of earthly evolution

Steiner's writing, though appreciative of all religions and cultural developments, emphasizes Western tradition as having evolved to meet contemporary needs.}}
This view has certain similarities to the concepts of Christogenesis advocated by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

Divergence from conventional Christian thought

Steiner's views of Christianity diverge from conventional Christian thought in key places, and include gnostic elements:

Religious nature

Anthroposophy has sometimes been called religious and there have been criticisms that any spiritual movement, anthroposophy in particular, is necessarily religious in nature. In 2005, a California federal court ruled that a group alleging that anthroposophy is a religion for Establishment Clause purposes did not provide any legally admissible evidence in support of its view; the case is under appeal. In 2000, a court case was brought in France against a government minister for describing anthroposophy as a cult; the court ruled that the minister's comments were defamatory.

Scientific basis

Though Rudolf Steiner studied natural science at the Vienna Technical University at the undergraduate level, his doctorate was in epistemology and very little of his work is directly concerned with the traditional realm of contemporary science, the natural world. His primary interest was in applying the methodology of science to realms of inner experience and the spiritual worlds, and Steiner called anthroposophy Geisteswissenschaft (lit.: Science of the mind, or cultural or spiritual science), a term generally used in German to refer to the humanities and social sciences; in fact, the term "science" is used more broadly in Europe as a general term which refers to any exact knowledge.
"[Anthroposophy's] methodology is to employ a scientific way of thinking, but to apply this methodology, which normally excludes our inner experience from consideration, instead to the human being proper."
As Freda Easton explained in her study of Waldorf schools, "Whether one accepts anthroposophy as a science depends upon whether one accepts Steiner's interpretation of a science that extends the consciousness and capacity of human beings to experience their inner spiritual world." Sven Ove Hansson has disputed anthroposophy's claim to a scientific basis, stating that its ideas are not empirically derived and neither reproducible nor testable. Carlo Willmann points out that as, on its own terms, anthroposophical methodology offers no possibility of being falsified except through its own procedures of spiritual investigation, no intersubjective validation is possible by conventional scientific methods; it thus cannot stand up to positivistic science's criticism. Peter Schneider calls such objections untenable on the grounds that if a non-sensory, non-physical realm exists, then according to Steiner the experiences of pure thinking possible within the normal realm of consciousness would already be experiences of that, and it would be impossible to exclude the possibility of empirically-grounded experiences of other supersensory content; a similar position is taken by Ken Wilber, who points out that mathematics, logic, psychology and sociology all deal with non-sensory, non-empirical, non-physical or metaphysical experience, and thus affirms the possibility of spiritual science.
Though Steiner saw that spiritual vision itself is difficult or impossible for others to achieve, he recommended open-mindedly exploring and rationally testing the results of such research; he also urged others to follow a spiritual training which would allow them directly to apply the methods he used eventually to achieve comparable results.

Statements on race

Steiner's ideas have been criticized from both sides in the race debate; for its strongly anti-racist stance:
  • From the mid-1930s on, National Socialist ideologues attacked the anthroposophical world-view as being opposed to Nazi racism and nationalistic principles; anthroposophy considered "Blood, Race and Folk" as primitive instincts which needed to be overcome.
as well as for "rankings" of races which occur in Steiner's philosophy:
  • "...with regard to race, a naive version of the evolution of consciousness, a theory foundational to both Steiner's anthroposophy and Waldorf education, sometimes places one race below another in one or another dimension of development."
To clarify its stance, the Anthroposophical Society in America has stated:
We explicitly reject any racial theory that may be construed to be part of Rudolf Steiner's writings. The Anthroposophical Society in America is an open, public society and it rejects any purported spiritual or scientific theory on the basis of which the alleged superiority of one race is justified at the expense of another race.



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anthroposophy in Bulgarian: Антропософия
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