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Animism (not to be confused with Animalism) is the belief that all living things have a soul or spirit.[1] Some religions suggest that these spirits need placating or they will cause some kind of harm. Others like Shinto involve a great respect, even love, for Nature in all its forms, and suggest that the spirits of nature in fact watch over people.

Early forms of Panpsychism can be found in pre-modern animistic beliefs in religions such as Shinto, Taoism, Paganism and Shamanism. Many neo-pagans have adopted an animistic belief system.

Anthropological definition[edit]

Cultural evolutionist anthropologists who believed in the idea that religions "evolve" towards monotheism claim that this is a lower level of development, and cited examples from the Torah to show how earlier writings gave spirits to rocks, mountains and streams while later writers have accepted the idea of "one god." Edward B. Tylor, who coined the term "animism," placed purely animistic religions at the most basic level of a cultural evolutionary scheme.[2] Some of Tylor's ideas have been criticized on the grounds that they are historically deterministic and some societies lack concepts directly analogous to "natural/supernatural," "material/immaterial," and "animate/inanimate."[3] Tylor did, however, recognize that not all societies had concepts such as "supernatural."[2] Research in cognitive science and cognitive anthropology has demonstrated that knowledge of material objects may be constructed in an animistic fashion, i.e., as a result of anthropomorphism, essentialism, or personification.[4][5]

Teleology and a possible scientific explanation for animism[edit]

Several studies in child development have led to the suggestion that children assign all things in their environment with agency, and further define them as "good" or "bad" based on the likelihood of help or harm to the child. If these studies hold true, then it would suggest that some form of animism is a natural state for humans to interact with their world, and could be the seed of the concept of deity.[6]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. It is worth noting that the concept of "living" is not related to the scientific notion of life, and may include such things is rivers, waterfalls, volcanoes, and the celestial objects.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Tylorian Animism: Of Souls and Gods
  3. Nurit Bird-David. "Animism" Revisited. Current Anthropology Vol. 40, No. S1, Special Issue Culture—A Second Chance? (February 1999), pp. S67-S91
  4. Animism entry in the MIT Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science
  5. Faces in the Clouds by Stewart Guthrie