Anthroposophy, a name that is used to describe the body of knowledge and the practical fruits of Rudolf Steiner’s extraordinarily varied activities and teachings in the first quarter of the 20th century, is an unfortunate word. It means something like “wisdom of the human being” but Steiner has said that “this does not accurately reflect the meaning of the word, which should rather be interpreted as ‘consciousness of our humanity.’ ”

Steiner also said that he would like to change the name every week but, unluckily for us, he stuck with it. It may work well in German, but for the English speaker, ‘anthroposophy’ is not only awkward to pronounce but it can also sound obscure and cult-like. Nor does it help that other terms used to describe Steiner’s work, such as ‘spiritual science,’ are just as bad. ‘Spiritual science’ appears to be a poor translation of the German term ‘geisteswissenschaft’, which might more accurately be called ‘the spiritualised humanities’ in English.

So if we are of the view, as I am, that Steiner has a huge contribution to make in helping us to understand the true nature of what it is to be a human being and how to live better lives, it’s a pity that we start off with a communications disadvantage. I started this blog in August 2014 not only to try to convey my sense of the importance of Steiner’s work for all of us, but also, through the process of writing about it, to deepen my own understanding.

With the help of readers of this blog, who have contributed their thoughts and comments, I’ve attempted a definition of anthroposophy here. Perhaps even better as a starting point is this pithy description from Tarjei Straume:

“Anthroposophy is nothing but a path to the Spirit available to everyone and basically compatible with any cultural or religious background, including secular humanism. As a matter of fact, humanism is the basis, the point of departure, for the epistemology that is the backdrop of anthroposophy and therefore also its backbone.”

Steiner’s own description is:

“Anthroposophy is a path of knowledge, to guide the Spiritual in the human being to the Spiritual in the universe. It arises in humans as a need of the heart, of the life of feeling; and it can be justified only inasmuch as it can satisfy this inner need.”

I hope that this blog will be helpful to others in their own journeys of discovery. Welcome to Anthropopper!


One response to “Welcome!

  1. The comment below was sent to me by Eduardo Odraude:

    ‘About Steiner’s statement that if it were possible he’d change the name of his teaching every month or week. The interesting thing about that is why. The why, I gather, is that “anthroposophy” is something alive that is always growing and changing. It is not a system or an “ism.” What this means is that, strictly speaking, there is no such thing as “anthroposophy” or “anthroposophists.” There is an individual being, Sophia in transformation. She is always new.

    About the meaning of “Geisteswissenschaft.” I think the issue is more complicated than you suggested in your introduction.

    We in the English-speaking world typically translate it as “humanities.” We tend to make an absolutely sharp division between the “hard” sciences and the “soft” ones, and thus we don’t use the word “science” for the “soft” ones. The division in Steiner’s time in German was not as sharp, it was a little more like different sides of the same pfennig, a situation reflected in the fact that both Naturwissenschaft and Geisteswissenschaft share “wissenschaft.” Today to my knowledge the two overlapping names are still used in Germany, but the division has I think nevertheless long since become as sharply understood there as in the English-speaking world. In any case, because of the division in our current experience of the two fields, “spiritual science” sounds like balderdash and a scam to our ears. But that is a problem with our “ears,” with the ears of the mind, and not with the term. It is not more accurate to refer to what Steiner was doing as “humanities.” Steiner, especially in his early works, claimed that his “spiritual science” was as rigorous as natural science. Yet he also knew that spiritual science was not quantitatively testable and that it had to be tested by others means. He knew, in other words, that “spiritual science” was in some respects a very different kind of “science.”

    Our problem is that what Steiner is doing is something of which very few people today have any personal experience, and for which consequently there is no good term to represent it. It is a hybrid between “science” and the “humanities,” i.e., a real “spiritual science.” The German Geisteswissenschaft used to contain an inkling of the possibility of a real spiritual science, though even in Steiner’s time the term was no doubt already turning into an equivalent of the English “humanities.” Now, for most Germans, “Geisteswissenschaft” seems to be equivalent to our “humanities”: a highly subjective enterprise that will always remain subjective and that, as valuable as it is, is not deemed by most people to be literally worthy of the name “science.” ‘


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