Anthroposophy – A Spiritual Philosophy
Anthroposophy, a philosophy founded by Rudolf Steiner, postulates the existence of an objective, intellectually comprehensible spiritual world accessible to direct experience through inner development. More specifically, it aims to develop faculties of perceptive imagination, inspiration and intuition through cultivating a form of thinking independent of sensory experience, and to present the results thus derived in a manner subject to rational verification. In its investigations of the spiritual world, anthroposophy aims to attain the precision and clarity attained by the natural sciences in their investigations of the physical world.
Anthroposophical ideas have been applied practically in many areas including Steiner/Waldorf education, special education (most prominently through the Camphill Movement), agriculture, medicine, ethical banking, organizational development, and the arts.
The Anthroposophical Society has its international center at the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland.
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Anthroposophy in General
Anthroposophy by Rudolf Steiner
Goetheanum · Anthroposophical Society
Anthroposophically inspired work
Anthroposophical medicine · Biodynamic agriculture
Camphill Movement · Eurhythmy · Waldorf education
Philosophy of Freedom
Social three folding-Histories
Etymology of anthroposophy
Anthroposophy in brief
Anthroposophy and Judaism
Rudolf Steiner was a leader of The Earth’s Early Work of Philosophy of Freedom – as The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity and Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path.
The early work of the founder of anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner, culminated in his Philosophy of Freedom (also translated as The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity and Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path). Here, Steiner developed a concept of free will based on inner experiences, especially those that occur in the creative activity of independent thought.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, Steiner’s interests were leading him further and further into explicitly spiritual areas of research. These studies were of interest to others who were already oriented towards spiritual ideas; among these was the Theosophical Society. Theosophy was in vogue in Esotericism in Germany and Austria during that time. From 1900 on, thanks to the positive reception given to his ideas, Steiner’s involvement with the Theosophical Society confirmed and reinforced his spiritual identity as a charismatic seer; this became key to breaking the feeling of imposed silence that characterized his earlier life.
It was here that he was to find not only the woman who was to become his esoteric partner and second wife, Marie von Sievers (owner of the Berlin Theosophical headquarters), but the answer to the question asked in his Autobiography ‘…how can I find the way to express in terms understandable to my contemporaries what I inwardly perceive directly as the truth?’
Steiner took a leading role in the Theosophical Society’s section in Germany, becoming its secretary in 1902. During the years of his leadership, membership increased dramatically, from a few individuals to sixty-nine Lodges.
By 1907, a split between Steiner and the mainstream Theosophical Society had begun to become apparent. While the Society was oriented toward an Eastern and especially Indian approach, Steiner was trying to develop a path that embraced Christianity and natural science.
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.
By this time, Steiner had reached considerable stature as a spiritual teacher.
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 he felt would let anyone 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.
Second Goetheanum, seat of the Anthroposophical Society.
In 1912, the Anthroposophical Society was founded. After World War I, the Anthroposophical movement took on new directions. Projects such as schools, centers for those with special needs, organic farms and medical clinics were established, all inspired by anthroposophy. In 1923, faced with differences between older members focusing on inner development and younger members eager to become active in the social transformations of the time, Steiner refounded the Society in an inclusive manner and established a School for Spiritual Science. As a spiritual basis for the refounded movement, Steiner wrote the mantric poem Foundation Stone Meditation expressing the aspects of the human soul in relation to the outer and spiritual worlds. Steiner died just over a year later, in 1925.
The Second World War temporarily hindered the anthroposophical movement in most of Continental Europe, as the Anthroposophical Society and most of its daughter movements (e.g. Steiner/Waldorf education) were banned by the National Socialists (Nazis);] 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 *ανθρωποσοφία, from ἄνθρωπος “human”, and σοφία “wisdom”. It is listed by Nathan Bailey (1742) as meaning “the knowledge of the nature of man” (OED). Authors whose usage predates Steiner’s include occultist Agrippa von Nettesheim, alchemist Thomas Vaughn (Anthroposophia Theomagica), and philosophers Immanuel Hermann Fichte and Robert Zimmermann (Anthroposophie im Umriss); Steiner wrote his doctoral thesis on Fichte and attended Zimmermann’s classes at the University of Vienna.
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 θεοσοφία, 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 results of this form of spiritual research should be expressed in a way that can be understood and evaluated on the same basis as the results of natural science:
“The anthroposophical schooling of thinking leads to the development of a non-sensory, or so-called supersensory consciousness, whereby the spiritual researcher brings the experiences of this realm into ideas, concepts, and expressive language in a form which people can understand who do not yet have the capacity to achieve the supersensory experiences necessary for individual research.”
Steiner hoped to form a spiritual movement that would free the individual from any external authority: “The most important problem of all human thinking is this: to comprehend the human being as a personality grounded in him or herself.”
For Steiner, the human capacity for rational thought would allow individuals to comprehend spiritual research on their own and bypass the danger of dependency on an authority.
Steiner contrasted the anthroposophical approach with both conventional mysticism, which he considered lacking the clarity necessary for exact knowledge, and natural science, which he considered arbitrarily limited to investigating the outer world.
Nature of the human being
The Representative of Humanity, detail of a sculpture in wood by Rudolf Steiner and Edith Maryon.
Anthroposophical view of the human being
In Theosophy, Steiner suggested that human beings unite a physical body of a nature common to (and that ultimately returns to) the inorganic world; a life body (also called the etheric body), in common with all living creatures (including plants); a bearer of sentience or consciousness (also called the astral body), in common with all animals; and the ego, which anchors the faculty of self-awareness unique to human beings.
Anthroposophy describes a broad evolution of human consciousness. Early stages of human evolution possess an intuitive perception of reality, including a clairvoyant perception of spiritual realities. Humanity has progressively evolved an increasing reliance on intellectual faculties and a corresponding loss of intuitive or clairvoyant experiences, which have become atavistic.
The increasing intellectualization of consciousness, initially a progressive direction of evolution, has led to an excessive reliance on abstraction and a loss of contact with both natural and spiritual realities. However, to go further requires new capacities that combine the clarity of intellectual thought with the imagination, and beyond this with consciously achieved inspiration and intuitive insights.
Anthroposophy speaks of the reincarnation of the 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. 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 leads to a choice of parents, physical body, disposition, and capacities that provide the challenges and opportunities that further development requires, which includes karmically chosen tasks for the future life.
Steiner described some conditions that determine the interdependence of a person’s lives, or karma.
The anthroposophical view of evolution considers all animals to have evolved from an early, unspecialized form. As the least specialized animal, human beings have maintained the closest connection to the archetypal form; contrary to the Darwinian conception of human evolution, all other animals devolve from this archetype
The spiritual archetype originally created by spiritual beings was devoid of physical substance; only later did this descend into material existence on Earth.
“The evolution of man, Steiner said, has consisted in the gradual incarnation of a spiritual being into a material body. It has been a true “descent” of man from a spiritual world into a world of matter. The evolution of the animal kingdom did not precede, but rather accompanied the process of human incarnation. Man is thus not the end result of the evolution of the animals, but is rather in a certain sense their cause. In the succession of types which appears in the fossil record-the fishes, reptiles, mammals, and finally fossil remains of man himself — the stages of this process of incarnation are reflected.”
Christ between Lucifer and Ahriman
The anthroposophical view is that good is found in the balance between two polar, generally evil influences on world and human evolution. Two spiritual adversaries endeavor to tempt and corrupt humanity: Lucifer and his counterpart Ahriman. Steiner described both positive and negative aspects of both figures. Lucifer is the light spirit, which “plays on human pride and offers the delusion of divinity”, but also motivates creativity and spirituality; Ahriman is 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.
Each human being has the task to find a balance between these opposing influences, and each is helped in this task by the mediation of the Representative of Humanity, also known as the Christ being, a spiritual entity who stands between and harmonizes the two extremes.
Further information: Rudolf Steiner’s Breadth of activities
Applications of anthroposophy include
This is a pedagogical movement with over 1000 Steiner or Waldorf schools (the latter name stems from the first such school, founded in Stuttgart in 1919) located in some 60 countries; the great majority of these are independent (private) schools.
Sixteen of the schools have been affiliated with the United Nations’ UNESCO Associated Schools Project Network, which sponsors education projects that 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, Australia and in parts of the United States (as Waldorf method public or charter schools).
The schools are located in a wide variety of communities and cultures: from the impoverished favelas of São Paulo to the wealthy suburbs of New York City; in India, Egypt, Australia, Holland, Mexico and South Africa. Though most of the early Waldorf schools were teacher-founded, the schools today are usually initiated and later supported by an active parent community. Waldorf education is one of the most visible practical applications of an anthroposophical view and understanding of the human being and has been characterized as “the leader of the international movement for a New Education,”
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
Main article: Anthroposophical medicine
Steiner gave several series of lectures to physicians and medical students. Out of those grew a complementary medical movement, which now includes hundreds of M.D.s, chiefly in Europe and North America, and has its own clinics, hospitals, and medical schools.
One of the most studied applications has been the use of mistletoe extracts in cancer therapy.
The extracts are generally no longer used to reduce or inhibit tumor growth, for which verifiable results have been found in vitro and in animal studies but not in humans, but instead to improve the patients’ quality of life and to reduce tumor-induced symptoms and the side-effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
According to the National Cancer Institute, “Mistletoe extract has been shown to kill cancer cells in the laboratory and to affect the immune system. However, there is limited evidence that mistletoe’s effects on the immune system help the body fight cancer…. At present, the use of mistletoe cannot be recommended outside the context of well-designed clinical trials.”
Special needs education and services
Main article: Camphill Movement
In 1922, Ita Wegman founded an anthroposophical center for special needs education, the Sonnenhof, in Switzerland. In 1940, Karl König founded the Camphill Movement in Scotland. The latter in particular has spread widely, and there are now over a hundred Camphill communities and other anthroposophical homes for children and adults in need of special care in about 22 countries around the world.
The First Goetheanum, designed by Steiner in 1920, Dornach, Switzerland.
Steiner himself designed around thirteen buildings, many of them significant works in a unique, organic—expressionist architectural style.
Foremost among these are his designs for the two Goetheanum buildings in Dornach, Switzerland. Thousands of further buildings have been built by later generations 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 Walter Burley Griffin and Gregory Burgess in Australia.
One of the most famous contemporary buildings by an anthroposophical architect is ING House, an ING Bank building in Amsterdam, which has received several awards for its ecological design and approach to a self-sustaining ecology as an autonomous building and example of sustainable architecture.
Main article: Eurythmy
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
twelve ( 12) countries.
See also: Social finance
Around the world today are a number of banks, companies, charities, and schools for developing co-operative forms of business using 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, Netherlands and Spain, La Nef in France and RSF Social Finance in San Francisco.
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 counseling work have been developed on the basis of anthroposophy.
Speech and drama
There are also anthroposophical movements to renew speech and drama, the most important of which are based in the work of Marie Steiner-von Sivers (speech formation, also known as Creative Speech) and the Chekhov Method originated by Michael Chekhov (nephew of Anton Chekhov).
Other areas of anthroposophic work include:
John Wilkes’ fountain-like flowforms. These sculptural forms guide water into rhythmic movement and are used both in water-purification projects and as decorative fountains.
Phenomenological approaches to science,
New approaches to painting and sculpture.
For a period after World War I, Steiner was extremely active and well known in Germany, in part because he lectured widely proposing social reforms. Steiner was a sharp critic of nationalism, which he saw as outdated, and a proponent of achieving social solidarity through individual freedom.
A petition proposing a radical change in the German constitution and expressing his basic social ideas (signed by Herman Hesse, among others) was widely circulated.
His main book on social reform is Toward Social Renewal.
Anthroposophy continues to aim at reforming society through maintaining and strengthening the independence of the spheres of cultural life, human rights and the economy. It emphasizes a particular ideal in each of these three realms of society:
Freedom in cultural life
Equality of rights, the sphere of legislation and the judiciary
Fraternity in the economic sphere
Paths of spiritual development
According to Steiner, a real spiritual world exists, out of which the material one gradually condensed and evolved. Steiner held that the spiritual world can be researched in the right circumstances through direct experience, by persons practicing rigorous forms of ethical and cognitive self-discipline. Steiner described many exercises he said were suited to strengthening such self-discipline; the most complete exposition of these is found in his book How To Know Higher Worlds.
The aim of these exercises is to develop higher levels of consciousness through meditation and observation. Details about the spiritual world, Steiner suggested, could on such a basis be discovered and reported, though no more infallibly than the results of natural science.
Anthroposophy is a path of knowledge, to guide the spiritual in the human being to the spiritual in the universe…. Anthroposophists are those who experience, as an essential need of life, certain questions on the nature of the human being and the universe, just as one experiences hunger and thirst.
Steiner regarded his research reports as being important aids to others seeking to enter into spiritual experience. He suggested that a combination of spiritual exercises (for example, concentrating on an object such as a seed), moral development (control of thought, feelings and will combined with openness, tolerance and flexibility) and familiarity with other spiritual researchers’ results would best further an individual’s spiritual development. He consistently emphasized that any inner, spiritual practice should be undertaken in such a way as not to interfere with one’s responsibilities in outer life. In anthroposophy, artistic expression is also treated as a potentially valuable bridge between spiritual and material reality.
Prerequisites to and stages of inner development
A person seeking inner development must first of all make the attempt to give up certain formerly held inclinations. Then, new inclinations must be acquired by constantly holding the thought of such inclinations, virtues or characteristics in one’s mind. They must be so incorporated into one’s being that a person becomes enabled to alter his soul by his own will-power. This must be tried as objectively as a chemical might be tested in an experiment. A person who has never endeavored to change his soul, who has never made the initial decision to develop the qualities of endurance, steadfastness and calm logical thinking, or a person who has such decisions but has given up because he did not succeed in a week, a month, a year or a decade, will never conclude anything inwardly about these truths.
—Rudolf Steiner, “On the Inner Life”,
Steiner’s stated prerequisites to beginning on a spiritual path include 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
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.
By focusing on symbolic patterns, images, and poetic mantras, the meditant can achieve consciously directed Imaginations that 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, the meditant can achieve a further stage of inner independence from sensory experience, leading to direct contact, and even union, with spiritual beings (“Intuition”) without loss of individual awareness.
Main article: Rudolf Steiner’s exercises for spiritual development
Steiner described numerous exercises he believed would bring spiritual development; other anthroposophists have added many others. A central principle is that “for every step in spiritual perception, three steps are to be taken in moral development.” According to Anthroposophy, moral development reveals the extent to which one has achieved control over one’s inner life and can exercise it in harmony with the spiritual life of other people; it shows the real progress in spiritual development, the fruits of which are given in spiritual perception. It also guarantees the capacity to distinguish between false perceptions or illusions (which are possible in perceptions of both the outer world and the inner world) and true perceptions, or, better said, to distinguish in any perception between the influence of subjective elements (i.e., viewpoint) and the objective reality the perception points at.
Place in Western philosophy
Steiner built upon Goethe’s conception of an imaginative power capable of synthesizing the sense-perceptible form of a thing (an image of its outer appearance) and the concept we have of that thing (an image of its inner structure or nature). Steiner added to this the conception that a further step in the development of thinking is possible when the thinker observes his or her own thought processes. “The organ of observation and the observed thought process are then identical, so that the condition thus arrived at is simultaneously one of perception through thinking and one of thought through perception.”
Thus, in Steiner’s view, we can overcome the subject-object divide through inner activity, even though all human experience begins by being conditioned by it. In this connection, Steiner examines the step from thinking determined by outer impressions to what he calls sense-free thinking. He characterizes thoughts he considers without sensory content, such as mathematical or logical thoughts, as free deeds. Steiner believed he had thus located the origin of free will in our thinking, and in particular in sense-free thinking.
Some of the epistemic basis for Steiner’s later anthroposophical work is contained in the seminal work, Philosophy of Freedom. 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. Though not well known among philosophers, his philosophical work was taken up by Owen Barfield (and through him influenced the Inklings, an Oxford group of Christian writers that included J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis) and Richard Tarnas.
Christian and Jewish mystical thought have also influenced the development of Anthroposophy.
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
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.
He describes Christ and his mission on earth of bringing individuated consciousness as having a particularly important place in human evolution, whereby: Christianity has evolved out of previous religions;
The being which manifests in Christianity also manifests in all faiths and religions, and each religion is valid and true for the time and cultural context in which it was born;
All historical forms of Christianity need to be transformed considerably to meet the continuing evolution of humanity.
Spiritual science does not want to usurp the place of Christianity; on the contrary it would like to be instrumental in making Christianity understood. Thus it becomes clear to us through spiritual science that the being that we call Christ is to be recognized as the center of life on earth, that the Christian religion is the ultimate religion for the earth’s whole future. Spiritual science shows us particularly that the pre-Christian religions outgrow their one-sidedness and come together in the Christian faith. It is not the desire of spiritual science to set something else in the place of Christianity; rather it wants to contribute to a deeper, more heartfelt understanding of Christianity.
Thus, anthroposophy considers there to be a being who unifies all religions, and who is not represented by any particular religious faith. This being is, according to Steiner, not only the Redeemer of the Fall from Paradise, but also the unique pivot and meaning of earth’s evolutionary processes and of human history.
To describe this being, Steiner periodically used terms such as the “Representative of Humanity” or the “good spirit” rather than any denominational term.
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:
One central point of divergence is Steiner’s views on reincarnation and karma.
Steiner differentiated three contemporary paths by which he believed it possible to arrive at Christ:
Through heart-filled experiences of the Gospels; Steiner described this as the historically dominant path, but becoming less important in the future.
Through inner experiences of a spiritual reality; this Steiner regarded as increasingly the path of spiritual or religious seekers today.
Through initiatory experiences whereby the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection are experienced; Steiner believed this is the path people will increasingly take.
Steiner also believed that there were two different Jesus children involved in the Incarnation of the Christ: one child descended from Solomon, as described in the Gospel of Matthew, the other child from Nathan, as described in the Gospel of Luke.
(The genealogies given in the two gospels diverge some thirty generations before Jesus’ birth, and ‘Jesus’ was a common name in biblical times.)
His view of the second coming of Christ is also unusual; he suggested that this would not be a physical reappearance, but that the Christ being would become manifest in non-physical form, visible to spiritual vision and apparent in community life for increasing numbers of people beginning around the year 1933.
He emphasized his belief that in the future humanity would need to be able to recognize the Spirit of Love in all its genuine forms, regardless of what name would be used to describe this being. He also warned that the traditional name of the Christ might be misused, and the true essence of this being of love ignored.
Anthroposophy and Judaism
Rudolf Steiner wrote and lectured on Judaism and Jewish issues for much of his life. In the 1880s and 1890s, he took part in debates on anti-semitism and on assimilation. He was a fierce opponent of anti-semitism and supported the unconditional acceptance and integration of the Jews in Europe. He also supported Émile Zola’s position in the Dreyfus affair.
Rudolf Steiner emphasized Judaism’s central importance to the constitution of the modern era in the West: “Moses stood there as the founder of the modern intellectual worldview.” Jewish themes form a very central part of the curricula of Waldorf schools, in particular the history of Moses and the establishment of the Land of Israel. A number of early anthroposophists, such as Karl König, the founder of the Camphill movement, were Jewish.
In his later life, Steiner was accused by the Nazis of being a Jew, and Adolf Hitler labeled Anthroposophy “Jewish methods.” The anthroposophical institutions in Germany were banned during Nazi rule and several anthroposophists sent to concentration camps.
Jewish thinkers such as Martin Buber and Hugo Bergmann were also influenced by Anthroposophy. Hugo Bergmann viewed Steiner’s social ideas as a solution to the Arab–Jewish conflict. In Israel, there are several anthroposophical organisations, including the anthroposophical kibbutz Harduf. The Harduf Waldorf School includes both Jewish and Arab faculty and students, and has extensive contact with the surrounding Arab communities. In Hilf near Haifa, there is also a joint Arab-Jewish Waldorf kindergarten, the first joint Arab-Jewish kindergarten in Israel.
The Christian Community
Towards the end of Steiner’s life, a group of theology students (primarily Lutheran, with some Roman Catholic members) approached Steiner for help in reviving Christianity, in particular “to bridge the widening gulf between modern science and the world of spirit.” They approached a notable Lutheran pastor, Friedrich Rittelmeyer, who was already working with Steiner’s ideas, to join their efforts. Out of their co-operative endeavor, the Movement for Religious Renewal, now generally known as The Christian Community, was born. Steiner emphasized that he considered this movement, and his role in creating it, to be independent of his anthroposophical work, as he wished anthroposophy to be independent of any particular religion or religious denomination.
Reception of anthroposophy
Anthroposophy has had many prominent supporters outside of the movement. Among these have been many writers, artists and musicians; these include Pulitzer Prize-winning and Nobel Laureate Saul Bellow, Andrei Bely, Joseph Beuys, Owen Barfield, Wassily Kandinsky, Nobel Laureates Selma Lagerlöf and Albert Schweitzer, Andrei Tarkovsky Bruno Walter, and Alternative Nobel Prize winner Ibrahim Abouleish.
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 empirical sciences. In his mature work, when he did refer to science it was often to present phenomenological or Goethean science as an alternative to what he considered the materialistic science of his contemporaries.
His primary interest was in applying the methodology of science to realms of inner experience and the spiritual worlds (Steiner’s appreciation that the essence of science is its method of inquiry is unusual among esotericists), 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 that 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.
Whether this is a sufficient basis for anthroposophy to be considered a spiritual science has been a matter of controversy. 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.
Olav Hammer suggests that anthroposophy carries scientism “to lengths unparalleled in any other Esoteric position” due to its dependence upon claims of clairvoyant experience, its subsuming natural science under “spiritual science”, and its development of what Hammer calls “fringe” sciences such as anthroposophical medicine and biodynamic agriculture justified partly on the basis of the ethical and ecological values they promote, rather than purely on a scientific basis.
Though Steiner saw that spiritual vision itself is difficult 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 that would allow them directly to apply the methods he used eventually to achieve comparable results.
Some results of Steiner’s research have been investigated and supported by scientists working to further and extend scientific observation in directions suggested by an anthroposophical approach.
As an explicitly spiritual movement, anthroposophy has sometimes been called a religious philosophy.
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 this view; the case is under appeal. In 2000, a French court ruled that a government minister’s description of anthroposophy as a cult was defamatory.
Statements on race
Anthroposophical ideas have been criticized from both sides in the race debate; for their strong stance against racism:
From the mid-1930s on, National Socialist ideologues attacked the anthroposophical world-view as being opposed to Nazi racist and nationalistic principles; anthroposophy considered “Blood, Race and Folk” as primitive instincts that must be overcome as well as for rankings of races that have been perceived 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.
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.