Some thoughts about Anthroposophy

As Rudolf Steiner coined, “Anthroposophy is a path of knowledge aiming to guide the spiritual element in the human being to the spiritual in the universe.”[1]

Rudolf Steiner was an Austrian philosopher, social reformer, architect, and esotericist. Steiner gained initial recognition at the end of the nineteenth century as a literary critic and published philosophical works including The Philosophy of Freedom. He founded Anthroposophy at the beginning of the twentieth century, a spiritual movement, with roots in German idealist philosophy and theosophy. [2]

The word itself is derived from “anthropos” (man) and “sophia” (wisdom). Although some critics dismiss Anthroposophy as “a hodgepodge of 19thcentury romanticism, Christianity, Eastern mysticism and various perplexing notions” (McGrath), and others regard it as “a synthetic mixture, a surface barbarization of the Gospel by means of Indic, gnostic, and mystery elements” (Aulthaus), adherents suggest that Anthroposophy’s credibility should be tested by its results, and indeed, even the two critics mentioned here (McGrath and Aulthaus) admit that the results are impressive. [3]

There are three key points that should be understood. First, according to Steiner, intertwined with the visible world is a spiritual one. Steiner was arguing not only that a spiritual world exists, but that the spiritual world interpenetrates the sense world. All attempts to deny the existence of the spiritual world or to solve problems on a solely material level were doomed to fail. What was needed was the recognition of the larger spiritual reality that has an impact on the material world. Like Spinoza and Goethe, Steiner embraced what philosophers call “psychophysical double aspectism.” That is, the mind and body are inseparable: What affects the body is experienced in the mind, consciously or unconsciously, through emotions or thoughts.[4]

The second key point regards that human beings have the potential to perceive and enter into the spiritual world. Here, Steiner was arguing against Kantians who admit things-in themselves, but suggest that there are limits to knowledge. Within us, said Steiner, are latent organs of perception that can penetrate the spiritual world. In order to develop such organs, however, people must first develop themselves, a difficult and formidable challenge. In addition to numerous recommended meditation exercises cultivating one’s sense of the beautiful, sympathizing with fellow beings, thinking, and developing powers of observation are important preparatory stages. After years of patience and practice, one begins to develop spiritual organs that allow entry into the spiritual world. In each of three stages, which Steiner called Imagination, Inspiration, and Intuition, the individual develops a different aspect of himself and is permitted greater access to the spiritual. [5]

The third key principle behind Anthroposophy is that when spiritual investigators achieve the intuitive stage of apprehension they consciously enter into an objective spirit, the findings from which, to some degree, can be articulated and tested. By meditating in the way that he did, Steiner suggested that anyone could see what he saw. As a result of his spiritual research, Steiner offered comprehensive, complex, and spiritually based views of virtually every aspect of life. Several important results of his spiritual science influence Anthroposophical thoughts even today: Steiner’s cosmology, his understanding of humankind, and his ideas on child development. [6]

As a matter of fact, Anthroposophical ideas have been applied practically in many areas including Steiner/Waldorf education, special education (most prominently through the Camphill Movement), biodynamic agriculture, medicine, ethical banking, organizational development, and the arts. [7]

Regarding education, Steiner referred to three stages in the child development, each of approximately seven years duration. In each of these phases, important faculties are being developed, different growth forces are operating and the child learns in correspondingly different ways. To provide meaningful support for the child in the journey from infancy to adulthood, curriculum and methodology is based on a deep comprehension of these phases. The aim of Steiner education is to help young people develop lifelong attributes, skills, knowledge, values and characteristics to enable them to be free individuals with purpose and meaning in their lives. [8]

The first stage-the early childhood years (0-7) are characterised by children actively learning through imitation and their own creative experience. The child‘s imagination and sense of wonder is fostered, through stories, songs, creative play, interaction with nature and involvement in everyday human activity.

The second stage-the primary years are the optimal time for nurturing imagination. Steiner stated, “this vital picture-making capacity…gives life and insight to logical and conceptual thinking”. Curriculum content, cognitive development and skill building are approached through pictorial and imaginative presentation, embodying narrative, creative writing, visual arts, music, drama and movement.

The third stage (secondary years) focuses on Steiner`s statement that “adolescents have the longing to discover that the world is founded on truth.” Adolescence is the period of transition from childhood to adulthood, characterised by rigorous intellectual development. Students are ready to move into the adult domain where their conceptual capacity and ability for objective evaluation and judgment becomes more refined and sophisticated. The high school student is able to debate, question, observe, analyse and form conclusions from his/her own experience. “Those human beings who have not learnt to work in the ways of beauty and through beauty to capture truth, will never come to the full humanity needed to meet the challenges of life.” [9]

To conclude, Steiner`s concept of spiritual science proves that true knowledge is a way of engaging the world of our own inner experiences with as much clarity as we do to the outer world. Nevertheless, I quote Prof. Arthur Zajonc, (who is an American professor of physics at the University of Massachusetts) by saying that: “The so called limits to knowledge are really the limits of our horizon. If you stand on a mountain top you see further than if you`re down in the valley. But you got to get to the mountain top. So yes, you could say there are limits to knowledge if you`re in a particular location, but there`s nothing to keep you from developing yourself to a higher extent, like climbing the mountain and seeing further. There`s still be an horizon, so you`d still experience a limit, but the limit is a subjective limit, not an objective statement about the way the world is organised. So yes, you could say Steiner recognises that there are in the moment certain limits to knowledge, but that these are not part of our human nature, human nature is in some ways inexhaustible. Everything that can be known, can be known by the human being. We are in that sense the image on God, we are filled with the potential for the most profound and extraordinary way of knowing.”

 

[1] “Anthroposophy.” Anthroposophy. Accessed April 6, 2015. http://www.goetheanum.org/Anthroposophy.anthroposophie.0.html?L=1.

[2] “Rudolf Steiner.” Wikipedia. Accessed April 6, 2015. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolf_Steiner.

[3] Uhrmacher, P. Bruce. Uncommon Schooling: A Historical Look at Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposophy, and Waldorf Education. No. 4, ed. Vol. Vol. 25. Blackwell Publishing on Behalf of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto. 381-406.

[4] Uhrmacher, P. Bruce. Uncommon Schooling: A Historical Look at Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposophy, and Waldorf Education. No. 4, ed. Vol. Vol. 25. Blackwell Publishing on Behalf of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto. 381-406.

[5] Uhrmacher, P. Bruce. Uncommon Schooling: A Historical Look at Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposophy, and Waldorf Education. No. 4, ed. Vol. Vol. 25. Blackwell Publishing on Behalf of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto. 381-406.

[6] Uhrmacher, P. Bruce. Uncommon Schooling: A Historical Look at Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposophy, and Waldorf Education. No. 4, ed. Vol. Vol. 25. Blackwell Publishing on Behalf of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto. 381-406.

[7] “Anthroposophy.” Wikipedia. Accessed April 7, 2015. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthroposophy.

[8] “Steiner Education Australia.” Child Development -. Accessed April 7, 2015. http://steinereducation.edu.au/steiner-education/child-development.

[9] “Steiner Education Australia.” Child Development -. Accessed April 7, 2015. http://steinereducation.edu.au/steiner-education/child-development.

Written by Ana-Maria Gulin

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