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Animism (not to be confused with Animalism) is the belief that all living things have a soul or spirit.[note 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.[1] 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."[2] Tylor did, however, recognize that not all societies had concepts such as "supernatural."[1] 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.[3][4]

Biblical Position on Animism[edit]

One of the best examples of Animistic beliefs from the Tanakh, once which cannot be said to be merely poetic, is Joshua chapter 24, verse 26-27. Here we read in the JPS Tanakh 1917-,

And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a great stone, and set it up there under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. And Joshua said unto all the people: 'Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us; for it hath heard all the words of the LORD which He spoke unto us; it shall be therefore a witness against you, lest ye deny your God.

And yet despite the Bible's all too obvious position on Animism, Answers in Genesis chooses to label Animism as, A big lie. [5] The article laughably brings up the African animistic practice of chopping off fingers, ignoring the frightening punishments carried out for any prohibition of Deuteronomy 20:19-20, during Talmudic times. Rabbi Chanina told of how his son died young as a punishment for his cutting a fig tree before its time. [6] [7] [8] While still claiming to go by the Bible, this particular article decidedly ignores a score of biblical texts. A few of these are Job 12:7, Numbers 22:21-39, Genesis 6:17 (animals have a nefesh [9]), Genesis 3:4, and Ecclesiastes 10:20. The last one states-

Curse not the king, no, not in thy thought, And curse not the rich in thy bedchamber; For a bird of the air shall carry the voice, And that which hath wings shall tell the matter.

Yep, that's right, don't screw with Big Brother or a bird will tattletale.

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.[10]

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.