Animism refers to the belief that personalized, supernatural beings (or souls) inhabit ordinary objects and govern their existence.

Modern Neopagans often describe their belief system as animist. One example of this is the idea that the Goddess and God consist of everything that exists (although this is actually an example of animatism, rather than animism).

The term is also the name of a theory of religion, proposed by the anthropologist Sir E. B. Tylor in his 1871 book, Primitive Culture. Most anthropologists today consider the term "animism" useful for describing a set of specific beliefs, but reject Tylor's theories of "animism."

Tylor argued that non-Western societies relied on animism to explain why things happen. He further argued that animism is the earliest form of religion, and reveals that humans developed religions in order to explain things. At the time that Tylor wrote, this theory was politically radical because it made the claim that non-Western peoples (viz., non-Christian heathens) in fact do have religion. However, since the publication of Primitive Culture, Tylor's theories have come under criticism from three quarters. First, some have questioned whether the beliefs of diverse tribal peoples living in different parts of the world can be lumped together as one kind of religion. Second, some have questioned whether the basic function of religion really is to "explain" the universe (critics like Marrett and Durkheim argued that religious beliefs have emotional and social, rather than intellectual, functions). Finally, many now see Tylor's theories as ethnocentric. Not only was he imposing a contemporary and Western view of religion (that it explains the inexplicable) on non-Western cultures; he was also telling the story of a progression from religion (which provides poor explanations) to science (which provides good explanations) (see cultural evolution).

External Links

  • FAQ A database which includes many questions and answers regarding Animism—and which conflicts greatly with the definition above—on the website of Daniel Quinn, author of My Ishmael. Choose Animism from "Topic".