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Anthroposophy is a "spiritual science" founded by Rudolf Steiner. It is an attempt to investigate and describe spiritual phenomena by means of "soul-observations using scientific methodology".[1] Anthroposophical research attempts to investigate and describe a spiritual world that, it seeks to show, resides behind the world of human senses and experience,[2] aiming thereby to attain precision and clarity approaching that of natural science's investigations and descriptions of the physical world.

Steiner's ideas have their roots in the flowering of Germanic culture that resulted in the transcendent philosophy of Hegel, Fichte and Schelling, on the one hand, and on the other, the poetic and scientific works of Goethe, upon whom Steiner draws heavily. Steiner was also profoundly influenced by two seminal philosophers of the existential school, Franz Brentano and Wilhelm Dilthey, upon whose works both Edmund Husserl and Ortega y Gasset built. Steiner's purely philosophical early work led him through the consciousness of thinking itself into an increasingly explicit treatment of spiritual experience:

"Anthroposophy is a path of knowledge to guide the Spirit of the human being to the Spiritual in the universe. It arises in man as a need of the heart, of the life of feeling: and it can be justified inasmuch as it can satisfy this inner need." Rudolf Steiner[3]

The word anthroposophy is derived from the Greek roots anthropo meaning human, and sophia meaning wisdom. The term was first used by philosopher Robert Zimmermann in his book Anthroposophy. Steiner borrowed this term when he founded his own process of spiritual study, Anthroposophy [4]. Anthroposophy should not be confused with anthropology, the empirical study of human cultures.

HistoryEdit

RSteiner

Rudolf Steiner.

In his early twenties, Steiner was asked to edit Goethe's scientific writings for a major publication of that writer's complete works. In the course of this work, Steiner began publishing various works that foreshadowed his later ideas, but were still set within the philosophical and scientific framework of his age: chiefly Goethe's Conception of the World and his commentaries on Goethe's scientific essays. His first work, Die Philosophie der Freiheit (translated variously as The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, The Philosophy of Freedom, or Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path), was published when he was in his early thirties. Steiner created a concept of free will that was strongly founded upon inner experiences, especially those that occur in independent thought, without any explicit references to the nature of these experiences. His first reference to 'anthroposophy' dates from this early period.

Steiner's development and studies led him further and further into explicitly spiritual and philosophical research. These studies were chiefly interesting to others who were already oriented towards spiritual ideas; chief amongst these, at least in Steiner's earlier phase of development, was the Theosophical Society. He was asked to lead the German section of this primarily Anglo-American group. His work was distinct from that of most other members of the Society (exceptions included Bertram Kingsley in England) and both he and the then president of the Theosophical Society appear to have 'agreed to disagree' in an at first harmonious way. By 1907, however, there was a growing split between the group around Steiner, who was trying to develop a path that embraced such cornerstones of Western civilizations as Christianity and natural science, and the mainstream Theosophical Society, which was oriented toward an Eastern, and especially Indian, approach.

The Anthroposophical Society was formed in 1912 after Steiner left the Theosophical Society Adyar over differences with its leader, Annie Besant. She intended to present to the world the child Jiddu Krishnamurti as Christ reincarnated. Steiner strongly objected, and considered any equation between Krishnamurti and Christ to be nonsense (as did Krishnamurti himself once he had reached adulthood). This and the philosophical differences mentioned above led Steiner to leave the Theosophical Society. He was followed by a large number of members of the Theosophical Society's German Section, of which he had been secretary. Members of other national chapters of the Theosophical Society followed.

By this time, Steiner had reached considerable stature as a spiritual teacher.[5] He claimed to have direct experiences of the Akashic Records (sometimes called the "Akasha Chronicle"), a spiritual chronicle of the history, pre-history and future of the world encoded in the etheric field of the earth. In a number of works — especially How to Attain Knowledge of Higher Worlds and Occult Science: An Outline —, Steiner described a path of inner development that would, he wrote, enable anyone to attain comparable spiritual experiences. Sound vision could be developed in part by practicing rigorous forms of ethical and cognitive self-discipline, concentration and meditation; in particular, a person's moral development must precede the development of spiritual faculties.

First Goetheanum

The First Goetheanum, 1920, Dornach, Switzerland.

By 1912, a flowering of artistic work inspired by Steiner and the anthroposophical movement was well underway. New directions in drama, painting, sculpture, artistic movement and architecture all came together in a grand performance center, the First Goetheanum, built in the years 1913-1920. To a significant extent this was built by volunteers from many countries and much of the work was accomplished during the First World War. The international community of workers, artists and scientists that came together around the project in neutral Switzerland existed in sharp contrast to the war-torn European nations around.

After World War I, the anthroposophical movement took on new directions. Practical projects such as schools, centers for the handicapped, organic farms and medical clinics were established, all inspired by anthroposophical research.

Steiner died in 1925, but anthroposophical work has continued in all of the areas established during his lifetime as well as in many new projects established since. Seminars, artistic trainings, and institutions such as schools, banks, farms and clinics exist throughout the world, all inspired by the idea that spiritual work can be systematically and methodically pursued in harmony with outer endeavors. The Goetheanum continues to be the world center of the anthroposophical movement; national, regional and local centers have grown up in many areas, however.

Possibility of a union of science and spiritEdit

Steiner believed in the possibility of uniting the clarity of modern scientific thinking with the awareness of a spiritual world that lives in all religious and mystical experience. Science focuses on theories which can be tested and verified. Steiner tried to create an approach to what he called the "inner life" that would use the careful, systematic methodology created by modern science, but turn its attention to the soul and spirit.

In anthroposophy, artistic expression is treated as a potentially valuable bridge between spiritual and material reality. The aim is to reach higher levels of consciousness through meditation and observation. Steiner developed and described numerous systematic exercises which he maintained would realize these goals; the most complete exposition of these is found in How to Know Higher Worlds : a modern path of initiation.

Conception of the human beingEdit

Anthroposophy suggests that human beings have inhabited earth since its creation, albeit in a spiritual form. This spiritual form then processed through a number of stages to reach its current form, stages which included emanations of lesser beings such as animals and plants, before the first physically incarnate humans appeared on earth. Thus every living thing has evolved from humankind in its purely spiritual form.

Steiner believed that any phenomena could be described from a variety of perspectives. His descriptions of the nature of the human being include a three-fold, four-fold, and seven-fold view (see below). He recommended viewing any question from a variety of perspectives, and explicated twelve different, equally valid world-views that could be applied in any situation[6] and world religions.[7]

In the three-fold view, the human being is composed of body, soul and spirit.

  • The body containing the physical self, the life processes and forces, and the framework of consciousness.
  • The soul passing into incarnation in a body, and out of this again into the spiritual existence.
  • The spirit connects the lives on earth together and with the spiritual world; this spirit is eternal and creative and humans are only beginning to become conscious of its activity within us.

In the fourfold view, which Steiner expands on very frequently and puts to practical uses in subjects such as medicine and child education, the human being includes:

The anthroposophic description of the human being as consisting of seven intimately connected parts, several of which are still in development, is similar to that found in Theosophy. Three stable organizations — physical body, life, and consciousness — the self or ego and three spiritual components — spirit consciousness, spirit life, and spirit self — make up the seven levels. This view is especially clearly articulated in his Theosophy, and An Outline of Occult Science.

Steiner changed from his early use of theosophical terms ("etheric body", "astral body") to a more descriptive terminology (life body or rhythmic organization, sentient body or organization of consciousness).

Physical bodyEdit

The physical body is the carrier of the human form, from which all animal forms are one-sided derivations.[8] It has three primary functional areas, each supporting a particular psychological activity:

  • the nerve/sense system, primarily centered in the nervous system, supporting thinking and perception
  • the rhythmic system, including the breathing and the circulatory system, supporting feeling
  • the digestive system, including the organs below the diaphragm, supporting willing

Elements of each functional system are found in areas primarily dedicated to other systems; for example, there are nerves found in the heart and lungs, and blood vessels in the sense organs. They thus interpenetrate throughout the human form, and the corresponding psychological activities also interpenetrate; all conscious perception and all directed thinking has an element of will or intention, all conscious feeling has an element of cognition, and so on.

In his mature work, Steiner identified twelve senses:

Only the first nine of these are presently recognized senses of empirical science.

Life or etheric bodyEdit

All that lives has, in addition to a physical body, a permeating life organization. Steiner cites as proof of this the physical identity of a dead and living organism; what is lacking in the former is the element of life itself. This life organization, or etheric body, supports a variety of functions, seven in all:[9]

  • breathing
  • warming
  • nourishing
  • secretion
  • maintaining the organism
  • growing
  • reproducing

The life organization is the carrier of biological rhythms and the habits. It is dependent upon its immediate environment in the earliest phase of childhood, when physical growth is most active. Approximately seven years after conception, an individual's life organization becomes independent of its environment; at this stage, it develops forces free of those directing the organism's growth and capable of being utilized for directed learning. (Previously, learning takes place imitatively, through the unconscious unity of these forces with their environment.) Directed learning that takes place before this independence thus redirects forces that would otherwise support physical growth and development.

With the independence of the life forces, the organism's life forces begin to transform the inherited physical body into a more individualized form. Steiner identifies the onset of the second dentition as an indication that the first stage of growth is complete and that this transformation has begun.

Organization of consciousness, or astral bodyEdit

Animal life adds an element of sentience to the living world of plants. Steiner points to sleep life, when the physical body and life organization are identical with waking life, yet sentience is withdrawn, as proof that sentience is not purely a function of the physical and life bodies. Our concepts (and prejudices), emotions and will (and willfullness) reside here; these are relatively fixed, in contrast with our more fluid and active soul life. There is an intimate connection between the soul and consciousness, however; the soul leaves an impression on the organization of consciousness, its thinking coming to fixed concepts, its feeling resulting in emotions and its volition forming our set will.

As the young child picks up concepts, emotional patterns and intentions from its environment, the organization of consciousness is not yet independent at this age. At around fourteen years after conception, an age often marked by puberty, this organization becomes independent; this is marked by a capacity for independent judgment and thinking, by a more volatile life of feeling and by volition directed towards more personalized goals. The free organization transforms the young person's personality into a more individual form at this time.

EgoEdit

Human existence includes an element distinct from animal consciousness, the ego. This supports self-awareness and self-reflection; Steiner points to the lack of a true biography, more particularly of autobiography in animal existence as an indication that the ego is particular to humans. The capacity for self-direction and full responsibility are connected to the ego, which only becomes independent around twenty-one years after conception. This event is generally recognized by modern societies granting adult responsibilities and rights at about this age.

Place in Western PhilosophyEdit

The epistemic basis for Anthroposophy is contained in the seminal work, The Philosophy of Freedom, as well as in Steiner's doctoral thesis, Truth and Science. These and several other early books by Steiner anticipated 20th century continental philosophy's gradual overcoming of Cartesian idealism and of Kantian subjectivism by linking on to Goethe's conception of the human being as a natural-supernatural entity: natural in that humanity is a product of nature, supernatural in that through our conceptual powers we extend nature's realm, allowing it to achieve a reflective capacity in us as philosophy, art and science.

Like Edmund Husserl and Ortega y Gasset, Steiner was profoundly influenced by the works of Franz Brentano, whose lectures he had heard as a student at the Technical University of Vienna, and read Wilhelm Dilthey in depth. Through Steiner's early epistemological and philosophical works, he became one of the first European philosophers to overcome the subject-object split that Descartes, classical physics, and various complex historical forces had impressed upon Western thought for several centuries. His philosophical work was taken up in the middle of the twentieth century by Owen Barfield, a philosopher of language from Oxford University and through him influenced the Inklings, a group that included such writers as J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. It was also taken up by the philosopher (and prolific author) Herbert Witzenmann. Steiner's philosophy has not found widespread recognition by academic philosophers outside of the anthroposophical movement, however; one exception is Richard Tarnas, author of The Passion of the Western Mind.

Steiner's philosophy begins with the division between our sensory experiences of the outer world and our soul experiences of an inner world consisting of thoughts, feelings and intentions (will impulses). He focused on how our thinking in particular complements what we experience through the senses; one facet of the world is its outer appearance, a second is its inner structure. Humans access the two separately but they are originally united in the objective world, and we have the capacity to reunite them through creating a relationship between our percepts and our concepts, between what we experience outwardly and inwardly. Steiner suggested that we only understand some part of the outer world when we find this connection between our sensory impressions of it and our concepts about it.

Thus, in his view, though all human experience begins being conditioned by the subject-object divide, through our own activity we can progressively overcome this divide. This lies in our free will, however; we are given the divide but not its overcoming.

Steiner also examines the step from thinking that is determined by outer impressions to what he calls sense-free thinking, characterizing thoughts without sensory content, such as mathematical or logical thoughts, as free deeds. He thus located the origin of the free will in our thinking, and in particular in sense-free thinking. Especially in his later work, Steiner points to the objective truths attainable through mathematics and logic as evidence of an objective non-sensory world - a world of spirit/mind[10] that is not determined by the subjective nature of our inner experiences.

Esoteric pathEdit

A person seeking inner development must first of all make the attempt to give up certain formerly held inclinations. Then, new inclinations must be acquired by constantly holding the thought of such inclinations, virtues or characteristics in one's mind. They must be so incorporated into one's being that a person becomes enabled to alter his soul by his own will-power. This must be tried as objectively as a chemical might be tested in an experiment. A person who has never endeavored to change his soul, who has never made the initial decision to develop the qualities of endurance, steadfastness and calm logical thinking, or a person who has such decisions but has given up because he did not succeed in a week, a month, a year or a decade, will never conclude anything inwardly about these truths.
 
— Rudolf Steiner, "On the Inner Life", [8]


Paths of spiritual developmentEdit

The goals of spiritual developement are two-fold. One branch focuses on the "inner activity" through which thoughts, feelings and intentions arise. Steiner suggested that for our modern consciousness it is most productive and leaves the esoteric student most free to start by focusing on thinking, which we today experience with more conscious clarity than feelings or will, – this is the path of spiritual science – but that it is in principle possible to achieve an esoteric training through a focus on feeling (mysticism) or the will life (ritual), as well. The latter cases may involve a sacrifice of clarity (on the mystic path) or freedom (on the path of ritual), however.

The second path of esoteric developement consists of revealing the normally hidden process by which the world's objective nature arises, and on subjective perceptions of it. This is the path of phenomenological science, also known as Goethean science. According to Steiner, this path leads to the perception of the spiritual beings that underlie world evolution, beginning with the elemental beings of nature.

The esoteric path of spiritual scienceEdit

The anthroposophic path of esoteric training can be articulated into three steps, which do not necessarily follow strictly sequentially in any single individual's spiritual progress. The first step in this esoteric training is to recollect and follow how thought processes proceed in a particular situation, contemplating their sequential progression. Usually we attend to the thoughts themselves, the content that arises through thinking, and ignore the process by which they arise. By attending to the latter, we are examining an aspect of our experience that is normally hidden to us by the content itself. Philosophy – especially epistemology –, logic, and aspects of mathematics contemplate the structure and origin of our experience in this way, and thus belong to this first stage of esoteric training. This stage can be called the philosophical state.

A second stage is reached when we no longer, as is usual in philosophy or logic, reflect on past thinking processes, but rather focus our attention on our immediate thinking, on the thinking taking place in the moment of my attention. The unity of contemplating or experiencing subject and the object of contemplation/experienced content is complete here; my attention now focuses on itself, the content of my thinking is my thinking, is itself. This corresponds to the meditative state, known in some spiritual traditions as samidha, yoga or simply union. My inner activity is now simultaneously subjective – I experience myself bringing it forth – and objective – I experience it given to me as the content of my experience.

A third stage of esoteric training transforms the direction of the will, which is normally directed by the ego, i.e. from within, to an intended result in the outer world. When I seek to accomplish, not a transformation of outer conditions, but a transformation of my inner nature and self, I experience my inner condition – first of all, perhaps, my momentary thoughts, feelings and intentions, but later, my whole character and nature – as subject to my own conscious control. My soul life, which seemed to arise "naturally" and without my conscious participation, is progressively the result of my own conscious activity; I become the creator of my own inner life. Just as advances in technology allow us to progressively transform, more and more completely, the outer, naturally given world, that at an early stage of culture seems to be a factor beyond all human control, so do developments in our inner, moral capacities allow us to progressively transform our inner being to an extent – we discover on this path – only limited by our progress in developing these capacities.[11]

Esoteric training thus consists of bringing this element of our experience – our character and inner nature – that usually plays into our experience without our conscious awareness of its contribution – into conscious focus and then control. The result of this path, according to Steiner, is the capacity to perceive the spiritual beings that underlie and generate inner experience, including those that direct our evolution from lifetime to lifetime and that influence our destiny. Steiner described this as a capacity to envision karma.

Practical exercisesEdit

Steiner described numerous exercises for spiritual development, and other anthroposophists have added many others. A central principle is that "for every step in spiritual perception, three steps are to be taken in moral development".[12] Moral development reveals the extent to which one has achieved control over one's inner life and exercises this in a direction in harmony with others' spiritual life. It shows the real progress in spiritual development, the fruits of which are given in spiritual perception. It also guarantees the capacity to distinguish between false perceptions or illusions (which are possible in perceptions of both the outer world and the inner world) and true perceptions, or, better said, to distinguish in any perception between the influence of subjective elements (i.e. viewpoint) and the objective reality the perception points to.

Essential requirementsEdit

In order for a spiritual training to bear healthy fruits, Steiner suggested, a person would have to attend to the following:[13]

  • Striving to live in a health-giving manner – to develop a healthy body and soul.
  • Feeling at one with all of life; to recognize oneself in everything, and everything in oneself; not to judge others without standing in their shoes.
  • Recognizing that one's thoughts and feelings have as significant influence as one's deeds, and that work on one's inner life is as important as work on one's outer life.
  • Recognizing that the true essence of a human being does not lie in the person's outer appearance, but rather in the inner nature, in the soul and spiritual existence of this person. Finding the genuine balance between having an open heart for the outer world's requirements and having inner strength and unshakeable endurance.
  • The ability to be true to a decision once made, even in the face of daunting adversity, as long as the decision is still valid (until one comes to the conclusion that it was or is made in error).
  • Developing thankfulness for everything that meets us, and that universal love that allows the world to reveal itself fully to me.
  • Ceaselessly to live as these guidelines indicate.

Supplementary exercisesEdit

Steiner suggested that a special group of general exercises should accompany all spiritual training as their influence on inner development would be beneficial whatever the spiritual path. These exercises are:[14]

  • Practicing ever better control of thinking. For example: for a period of time – normally a few minutes, not longer – contemplate any object and concentrate one's thoughts exclusively on this object. (A crystal or a paper clip might do.)
  • Development of initiative. For example, choose any free deed, i.e. one that nothing is influencing you to do, and choose a regular time of day or day of the week to practice this. (Watering a plant daily could be a freely chosen deed.)
  • Equanimity. Quiet reactive emotions. Discover how to express one's true feelings sensitively.
  • Positivity. See the positive aspects of everything, and make the best out of every situation.
  • Open-mindedness. Be open to new experiences, never letting expectations based upon the past close your mind to the lessons of the moment.
  • Harmony. Find a harmonious, balanced relationship between the above five qualities, be able to move dynamically between them.

Individual exercisesEdit

Some of the many exercises developed in anthroposophy include:

  • Review of the day. Each evening, go backwards through the day recalling its events, its sequential unfolding (experienced here reversed in time), the people one met, etc.
  • Experiencing the year's unfolding.
    • Drawing the same plant or tree or landscape over the course of a year.
    • Meditating the sequence of 52 mantric verses, the Calendar of the Soul, that Steiner wrote to deepen one's experience of the course of the seasons and the year and to bring the inner life of the soul into dialogue with nature.
  • Building up an imagination independent of all outer experience, and then dissolving this imagination. The creative activity of imagination itself — the creative activity of the human spirit — can thus be experienced directly, stripped of the particular content with which it was occupied.

Relationship to Natural ScienceEdit

Anthroposophy explicitly seeks to extend natural science's mandate, which is to study the world as external observers to explore human experience from within. Steiner postulated that, as we have learned over centuries and even millennia to treat our experience of the outer world in a clear and systematic way, we can also learn to do this for our experience of out inner life.

Steiner and many other anthroposophists have tried to show how the genuine and even scientific study of man, need not restrict itself to externally observable phenomena. If an equally objective description of human soul and spiritual life can be achieved, he believed, these too can be elevated to a science. Natural science thus sets the example and provides a methodological goal for anthroposophy; the potential content of observation is however extended to experiences beyond the purely sensory.

The discipline of science assumes that scientific reasoning is possible, i.e.in anthroposophical terms, that our soul experience of thinking can be as objective and verifiable as the sensory phenomena themselves. (See also Anthroposophy#Scientific basis)

Relationship to religionEdit

Multicultural emphasisEdit

Steiner was early in seeing the challenges of a multicultural society. He articulated the need for a spirituality that could respect and unite all religions and cultures. His line of thought can be summarized as follows:

Many people, especially those of Eastern cultures, see the need for a spiritual basis for a culture. Others, especially in the West, live in a materialistic framework that has achieved astonishing results, especially through the achievements of modern science, but has abandoned its spiritual roots. Steiner suggested that, without a reconciliation of these two, a clash of cultures would be inevitable. He suggested that the East (for Steiner, characteristically spiritually centered people and peoples) would only respect the West (characteristically people and peoples who focus on external reality and achievements) when a new spirituality arose in the West, a spirituality that united the achievements of both cultures.[15]

The Christ being as the center of earthly evolutionEdit

Steiner's writing, though appreciative of all religions and cultural developments, emphasizes recent Western (rather than older Hindu or Buddhist) esoteric thought as having evolved to meet contemporary needs. He describes Christ and his mission on earth as having a particularly important place in human evolution.

Steiner emphasized, however, that:

  • Christianity has evolved out of previous religions,
  • The being that manifests in Christianity also manifests in all faiths and religions,
  • Each religion is valid and true for the time and cultural context in which it was born,
  • The historical forms of Christianity need to be transformed considerably to meet the on-going evolution of humanity.[16]

It is the being that unifies all religions, and not a particular religious faith, that Steiner saw as the central force in human evolution. This "Christ Being" is for Steiner not only the Redeemer of the Fall from Paradise, but also the unique pivot and meaning of earth's "evolutionary" processes and of human history, manifesting in all religions and cultures.

Steiner's Christianity differs from that of the Gnostics who viewed the Christ phenomenon through the knowledge gained through earlier gnosticism, whereas for Steiner, Christ's incarnation was a historical reality and a pivotal and unique point in human history. In a lecture explaining the relationship between Anthroposophy and Christianity, Steiner explained: "Spiritual science does not want to usurp the place of Christianity; on the contrary it would like to be instrumental in making Christianity understood. Thus it becomes clear to us through spiritual science that the being whom we call Christ is to be recognized as the center of life on earth, that the Christian religion is the ultimate religion for the earth's whole future. Spiritual science shows us particularly that the pre-Christian religions outgrow their one-sidedness and come together in the Christian faith. It is not the desire of spiritual science to set something else in the place of Christianity; rather it wants to contribute to a deeper, more heartfelt understanding of Christianity."

Divergence from conventional Christian thoughtEdit

Steiner's views of Christianity diverge from conventional Christian thought in key places, and include gnostic elements. Only a very simplified account of those views can be given here, because though they only amount to about 4% of his total works, that 4% still amounts to about 15 volumes of books and lectures — and many of the other 335 or more volumes contain additional scattered comments on Christianity. One central point of divergency is Steiner's views on reincarnation and karma; these are explicated in the article on Anthroposophy (see sub-section titled "Anthroposophy in Brief/Reincarnation and Karma").

Steiner also claimed that there were two different Jesus children involved in the Incarnation of the Christ: one child descended from Solomon, as described in the Gospel of Matthew, the other child from Nathan, as described in the Gospel of Luke. (The genealogies given in the two gospels diverge some thirty generations before Jesus' birth, and 'Jesus' was a common name in biblical times.) In Steiner's descriptions, the divine "Christ Spirit", the Son-God of the Trinity, incarnated in the Nathan Jesus at the moment of the baptism by John; up until the moment of the baptism by John in the Jordan, the Nathan Jesus was a very great holy man, but not yet the divine Son of God.

His view of the second coming of Christ is also unusual; he suggested that this would not be a physical reappearance, but meant the Christ being would become manifest in non-physical form, in the "etheric realm"[17] — i.e. visible to spiritual vision and apparent in community life and — for increasing numbers of people beginning around the year 1933. He emphasized that the future would require humanity to recognize this Spirit of Love in all its genuine forms, regardless of how this is named. He also warned that the traditional name, "Christ", might be used yet the true essence of this being of love ignored.

The Christian CommunityEdit

Towards the end of Steiner's life, a group of theology students (Lutheran as well as Catholic) approached Steiner for help in reviving Christianity. They approached a notable Lutheran pastor, Friedrich Rittelmeyer already working with Steiner's insights to join their efforts. Out of their cooperative endeavor, the Movement for Religious Renewal, now generally known as The Christian Community, was born. Steiner emphasized that this help was given independently of his anthroposophical work, as he saw anthroposophy as independent of any particular religion or religious denomination.

Practical work arising out of anthroposophyEdit

Further information: Rudolf Steiner's Practical initiatives

Practical results of Anthroposophy include work in many fields. These include:[18]

Waldorf EducationEdit

Out of the anthroposophical movement have come nearly a thousand schools world-wide. These are often called Waldorf Schools, after the first such school, founded in 1919; they are also sometimes called Steiner Schools. Some have been supported by the United Nations. The schools receive full or partial governmental funding in some European nations and in parts of the United States (as Waldorf public or charter schools). They have been successful in an unusual range of circumstances and cultures: in the impoverished barrios of San Paulo and the wealthy suburbs of New York City, in India, Egypt, Australia, Holland and Mexico. Usually supported by a vibrant parent community, they are one of the most visible achievements of the anthroposophical movement. In addition, an increasing number of teachers are using 'Waldorf' principles within other school settings, including within state-run schools.

Biodynamic agricultureEdit

Main article: Biodynamic agriculture

Biodynamic agriculture began in the 1920s. Numerous bio-dynamic farms now exist in a great number of countries. Steiner must be counted as one of the two original founders of the modern organic farming movement (the other was Sir Albert Howard).[19][20] Steiner's Agriculture Course was the first published work on organic agriculture, appearing 16 years before Howard's An Agricultural Testament, and significant parts of the present-day organic movement, especially in Europe, can be traced back to people wholly or partially inspired by the biodynamic approach. Bio-dynamic agriculture emphasizes activating the life of the soil and treating each farm as a living organism that includes human beings, animals, plants and the soil.

Anthroposophical medicineEdit

Steiner gave several series of lectures to physicians, and out of this grew a medical movement that now includes hundreds of M.D.s, chiefly in Europe and North America, and that has its own clinics, hospitals and medical universities. Steiner wanted Anthroposophical medicine to be an extension of, not an alternative to, conventional medical approaches, and from its beginning a conventional medical training has been required to become an anthroposophical doctor. Anthroposophical medicine uses many kinds of remedies and therapies, including many developed on the basis of a revised homeopathy. Several medium-sized pharmaceutical firms (notably Weleda and Wala) specialize in anthroposophical remedies.

Other fields of work include an original cancer therapy based on mistletoe extracts developed by anthroposophical researchers. Though an accepted and widely used medical treatment in Germany and the European Union, this remains controversial in the United States.[21]

Centres for helping the mentally handicapped (including Camphill Villages)Edit

Early in the twentieth century, when proper care for the handicapped was sadly ignored in many countries, anthroposophical homes and communities were founded to give a worthy life-style to the needy. The first was the Sonnenhof in Switzerland, founded by Ita Wegman; slightly later, the Camphill Movement was founded by Karl König in Scotland. The latter in particular has spread widely, and there are now well over a hundred Camphill communities and other anthroposophical homes for both children and adults in more than twenty-two countries around the world.[22]

Organizational development and biography workEdit

Bernard Lievegoed founded a new study of individual and institutional development; this is represented by the NPI Institute for Organisational Development in Holland and sister organizations in many other countries. Clients of these institutions range from some of the world's largest industrial firms to ordinary people trying to understand their own lives. One of the more interesting areas of application has been in transforming impoverished people's lives by bringing them to recognize and begin to realize their own biographical goals. Social work with prisoners shares these goals and has had the effect of bringing new purpose into many lives.

BankingEdit

Anthroposophical banks were among the first to emphasize socially-responsible and community-based banking. Today around the world there are a number of innovative banks, companies, charitable institutions, and schools for developing new cooperative forms of business, all working partly out of Steiner’s social ideas. One example is The Rudolf Steiner Foundation, incorporated in 1984, and as of 2004 with estimated assets of $70 million. RSF provides "charitable innovative financial services". According to the independent organizations Co-op America and the Social Investment Forum Foundation, RSF is "one of the top 10 best organizations exemplifying the building of economic opportunity and hope for individuals through community investing." The first bank founded out of Steiner's ideas was the Gemeinschaftsbank für Leihen und Schenken in Bochum, Germany; it was started in 1974.

ArchitectureEdit

Steiner himself designed around thirteen buildings, many of them significant works in a unique, organic-expressionistic style.[23] Foremost among these are his two designs for the Goetheanum. Thousands of further buildings have been built by a later generation of anthroposophic architects.[24] Well-known architects who have been strongly influenced by the anthroposophic style include Imre Makovecz (HU), Hans Scharoun and Joachim Eble (DE), Erik Asmussen (SW), Kenji Imai (Japan), Thomas Rau, Anton Alberts and Max van Huut (NL), Christopher Day and Camphill Architects (UK), Thompson and Rose (USA), Denis Bowman (CA), and Gregory Burgess (Australia).[25]

One of the most famous contemporary buildings by an anthroposophical architect is the ING Bank in Amsterdam, which has been given many awards for its ecological design and approach to a self-sustaining ecology as an autonomous building.

EurythmyEdit

In the arts, Steiner's new art of eurythmy gained early renown, gaining a prize at a pre-World War II World Exposition in Paris. Eurythmy seeks to renew the spiritual foundations of dance, transforming speech and music into visible movement. There are now active stage groups and training centers, mostly of modest proportions, in many countries.

Speech and DramaEdit

There are also movements to renew speech and drama. The former go back to the work of Marie Steiner-von Sivers; among the better known of the latter is the approach founded by Michael Chekhov, the nephew of the playwright Anton Chekhov.

Other areasEdit

Other areas of anthroposophic work include:

Social Goals of AnthroposophyEdit

For a period after World War I, Steiner was extremely active and well-known in Germany in part because in many places he gave lectures on social questions. A petition expressing his basic social ideas (signed by Herman Hesse, among others) was very widely circulated. His main book on social questions, Die Kernpunkte der Sozialen Frage (available in English today as Toward Social Renewal) sold tens of thousands of copies.

Steiner's Outlook on Social HistoryEdit

In Steiner's various writings and lectures he held that there were three main spheres of power comprising human society: the cultural, the economic and the political. In ancient times, those who had political power were also generally those with the greatest cultural/religious power and the greatest economic power. Culture, State and Economy were fused (for example in ancient Egypt). With the emergence of classical Greece and Rome, the three spheres began to become more autonomous. This autonomy went on increasing over the centuries, and with the slow rise of egalitarianism and individualism, the failure adequately to separate economics, politics and culture was felt increasingly as a source of injustice.

Anthroposophy has its own concept of history: according to Steiner our present time falls into the post-Atlantean period, since in his view the disaster that he says hit Atlantis in 7227 BC was a significant turning point in the history of man. This post-Atlantean period is divided by him into seven epochs, the current one being the European-American Epoch, which Steiner said would last until about the year 3573.

Social ThreefoldingEdit

Main article: Social Threefolding

There are three kinds of social separations Steiner wanted strengthened. This is known as Social Threefolding ,

  1. Increased separation between the State and cultural life
  2. Increased separation between the economy and cultural life
  3. Increased separation between the State and the economy (stakeholder economics)

Anthroposophy in BriefEdit

Spiritual trainingEdit

According to Steiner, a real spiritual world exists out of which the material one gradually condensed, and evolved. The spiritual world, Steiner held, can in the right circumstances be researched through direct experience, by persons practicing rigorous forms of ethical and cognitive self-discipline. Steiner described many exercises he said were suited to strengthening such self-discipline. Details about the spiritual world, he said, could on such a basis be discovered and reported, not infallibly, but with approximate accuracy.

Steiner regarded his research reports as being important aids to others seeking to enter into spiritual experience. He suggested that a combination of spiritual exercises (for example, concentrating on an object such as a seed), moral development (control of thought, feelings and will combined with openness, tolerance and flexibility) and familiarity with other spiritual researchers' results would best further an individual's spiritual development. He consistently emphasized that any inner, spiritual practice should be undertaken in such a way as not to interfere with one's responsibilities in outer life.

Steiner often advised people avoid turning his work into a doctrine. He emphasized that any researcher, in any field, was able to make mistakes, and that both science and the world continued to evolve, making all results outdated after a certain time.

One of the central exercises of anthroposophy is to focus on a given content (this can be an outer object or a spiritual imagination) for a given time, and then to consciously eliminate the content from one's consciousness, allowing the process of attention to continue. We can become aware, thereby, of the activity of attention itself. A further step is then to dismiss this activity from one's consciousness. Behind the activity, Steiner suggested, would be found another level of spiritual reality. Steiner thus described a gradual experiential path from ordinary conceptual thinking into forms of thinking perceptive of living spiritual beings and mobile realities in the spiritual world.

Body, Soul and SpiritEdit

In his works Steiner described the human being as consisting of an eternal spirit, an evolving soul and a temporal body. Steiner also offered a detailed analysis of each of these three realms, however:

Spirit: though the spirit is eternal in anthroposophy teachings, it is becoming progressively more individualized and consciously experienced. In earthly life, the individuality or ego awakens to self-consciousness through its experience of its reflection in the deeds and suffering of a physical body. This is necessary for a human individuality to retain its self-awareness when not incarnated in the body. Thus, humanity is developing through experiences on earth, in bodily incarnation, to attain a spiritual life independent of bodily existence. This happens for all humanity as part of its natural evolution; spiritual exercises are necessary for those who seek to be pioneers in this respect to go beyond the natural spiritual development of a given age.

Soul: Steiner believed that the human soul passes between stages of existence, incarnating into an earthly body, living a life, leaving the body behind and entering into the spiritual worlds before returning to be born again into a new life on earth. As each human soul evolves through its experience, the earth itself and civilization as a whole also evolves; thus, new types of experience are available at each successive incarnation. The soul passes through stages of development; these larger stages are also recapitulated within every lifetime. Initially, the soul lives through sense experience; the outer world forms and determines the inner life. Gradually, the human being seeks to order, understand and express his or her experience; inner life thus becomes independent of immediate sense-experience. Finally, the soul can become self-reflective, exploring the nature and laws of its own existence.

Body: Steiner uses the term body to describe the aspects of human existence that endure for a single lifetime. The physical body is the most obvious of these. Permeating our physical existence are forces of life, growth and metamorphosis that maintain and develop the physical body; as it is an aspect of a lifetime that falls away after death, Steiner called this the life or etheric body. We also have a framework of consciousness that includes our set feelings, concepts and intentions; Steiner called this the body of consciousness or sentient body. All of these elements are particular to an individual lifetime; they contribute to soul and spiritual development but themselves fall away at the death that terminates a particular life on earth.

Reincarnation and KarmaEdit

In his books Steiner described human existence as a cycle of birth, life, death, spiritual existence and a return to earth. This cycle includes evolution and development, however; it is not an eternal sameness. The individuality born into any earthly life bears with her both abilities and wisdom attained through previous incarnations, and obligations that arise through previous deeds. Much of human life is determined by these factors, but there are also new abilities attained, wisdom achieved and deeds accomplished that are not determined, but free achievements. We may suffer due to something in a past life; we may also suffer to gain the strength for something in a future life; — our sufferings and achievements are not necessarily predetermined.

Steiner described human existence between death and a new birth in detail as, first, a series of stages of laying aside the physical form, life experiences, thoughts, relationships, and cultural context of the last life; then the entry into spiritual experience proper; the decision to return to earth; the passage back, during which the cultural context, relationships, ideas, life experiences and physical form are chosen; and finally the re-entry into physical existence through conception and birth.[26]

Reception of AnthroposophyEdit

Anthroposophy claims many prominent supporters outside of the movement. Among these have been many writers, artists and musicians; these include Nobel Laureate Saul Bellow, Andrej Belyj, Josef Beuys, Wassily Kandinsky, Swedish Nobel Laureate Selma Lagerlöf[9], Nobel Laureate Albert Schweitzer, Andrei Tarkovsky and Bruno Walter.

Scientific basisEdit

Though Rudolf Steiner studied natural science at the Vienna Technical University at the undergraduate level, his doctorate was in philosophy and very little of his work is directly concerned with the traditional realm of science, the natural world. His primary interest was in applying the methodology of science to realms of inner experience and the spiritual worlds:

"[Anthroposophy's] methodology is to employ a scientific way of thinking, but to apply this methodology, which normally excludes our inner experience from consideration, instead to the human being proper."[27]

The application of scientific methodology to other areas has a rich tradition in Germanic philosophy and culture. Steiner did not call his work natural science (in German what English speakers normally refer to as science would be called Naturwissenschaft, natural science), but Geisteswissenschaft, often translated as spiritual science. In the German language, Geisteswissenschaft is a common term generally referring to the humanities or "human sciences" — but which literally means the science of the objective world-spirit[28] — and includes fields such as philosophy, history, and literature; in Steiner's day, psychology and sociology were also included. Steiner thus identified his own work with fields such as history and philosophy rather than with the natural sciences.[29]

A serious question about his work — indeed about all the Geisteswissenschaften — is whether scientific methodology is able to be applied to these realms, i.e. whether such explorations are truly reproducible and intersubjective. If they are not, they are not scientifically verifiable in the sense of modern natural science. Steiner saw that the results of his spiritual vision were difficult or impossible for others to reproduce through his methodology. He suggested "open-mindedly" exploring and testing the results of his research as an alternative; he also urged others to follow a spiritual training that would allow them to directly apply the methods he used. His claim to have created a spiritual science, however, depends upon the reproducibility of his research methods themselves; this has not been achieved to any significant degree.

Many results of Steiner's research, however, have been investigated and supported by scientists working to further and extend scientific observation in directions Steiner pointed out. A few examples: Genetics and the Manipulation of Life, The Forgotten Factor of Context, by biologist Craig Holdrege; The Wholeness of Nature, Goethe's Way toward A Science of Conscious Participation in Nature, by physicist Henri Bortoft; Developmental Dynamics in Humans and Other Primates, by theoretical chemist Jos Verhulst.

There have been polemical criticisms of anthroposophy's claim to reproducibility and intersubjectivity (thus to a scientific foundation) by Sven Ove Hansson, main founder of the Swedish branch of the Sceptics organisation CSICOP, later professor at the Philosophy Unit of the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology.[30] Hansson's way of using quotes from different works by Rudolf Steiner has been criticized for seriously misrepresenting anthroposophy as developed separate from theosophy, and distorting the argumentation in the context from which quotes from works by Steiner are taken [31] .

Religious natureEdit

There have been criticisms that any spiritual movement, anthroposophy in particular, is necessarily religious in nature. In a 2005 court case brought in California by the anti-Waldorf and anti-anthroposophy activist group PLANS, the judge ruled that it had presented no legally admissible evidence that anthroposophy is a religion; this case is under appeal.

Related to this are criticisms that anthroposophy is a sect or cult. In 2000, a court case was brought in France against a government minister for making this claim publicly; the court decided that the minister's comments were defamatory.[32] In 1999 and 2006, Belgian courts decided for the Anthroposophical Society in a case where anthroposophy had been included in a list of dangerous sects; the group that had made the list was fined.[33]

Racial biasEdit

Accusations have been made of racial bias in Steiner's work, though not in anthroposophy in general. Steiner's views on race and ethnicity are examined and critiqued in Rudolf Steiner's views on race and ethnicity.

NotesEdit

  1. Steiner, Rudolf, Philosophy of Freedom, 1893 [1995]; Steiner said that "my Philosophy of Freedom is the epistemological basis for the anthroposophically oriented spiritual science that I advocate." (Riddles of the Soul, GA21, p. 62)
  2. Rudolf Steier - A Vision for the Millennium - p.10
  3. Steiner, Rudolf, Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts. London: Rudolf Steiner Press, (1924) 1998.
  4. Rudolf Steiner - The Anthroposophic Movement (lecture 2 - Dornach June 11, 1923 p.33
  5. Ahern, G. (1984): Sun at Midnight : the Rudolf Steiner movement and the Western esoteric tradition
  6. Rudolf Steiner, Human Thought and Cosmic Thought, lecture 3
  7. GA 130, p. 156
  8. Verhulst, Jos, Developmental Dynamics in Humans and Other Primates, ISBN 0-9322776-28-0
  9. Steiner, Anthroposophy: An Introduction
  10. (The German word Geist means both spirit and mind.)
  11. Stein, W. J., Die moderne naturwissenschaftliche Vorstellungsart und die Weltanschauung Goethes, wie sie Rudolf Steiner vertritt, reprinted in Meyer, Thomas, W.J. Stein / Rudolf Steiner, pp. 267-75.
  12. Steiner, Knowledge of Higher Worlds
  13. Steiner, How to Attain Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, "Requirements for esoteric training"
  14. Steiner, An Outline of Esoteric Science, "Knowledge of Higher Worlds"
  15. Steiner, Rudolf, The East in the Light of the West.
  16. This was a common theme for Steiner; see especially:
    • Rudolf Steiner, Christus zur Zeit des Mysteriums von Golgotha und Christus im zwanzigsten Jahrhundert, as well as
    • Rudolf Steiner, GA130 and GA342, all Rudolf Steiner Verlag, various dates.
  17. (Steiner was not referring to the hypothetical ether of 19th century physicists, and on several occasions carefully distinguished his own use of the term from their use of it.)
  18. See:
    • Steiner, Rudolf. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. <http://search.eb.com/eb/article-9069553>.
    • Shepherd, A. P., A Scientist of the Invisible. and
    • Barnes, Henry, A Life for the Spirit : Rudolf Steiner in the Crosscurrents of Our Time
  19. Publications on organic agriculture
  20. History of Organic Agriculture
  21. Mistletoe studies:[1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], for background
  22. Clay, Bob, Shaping the Flame, Association of Camphill Communities, 2000., List of Camphill communities
  23. Sharp, Dennis, Rudolf Steiner and the Way to a New Style in Architecture, Architectural Association Journal, June 1963
  24. Raab and Klingborg, Waldorfschule baut, Verlag Freies Geistesleben, 2002.
  25. *Raab, Klingborg and Fant, Eloquent Concrete, London: 1979.
    • Pearson, David, New Organic Architecture. University of California Press, 2001.
  26. For an overview of Steiner's general approach to reincarnation, see his Theosophy: An Introduction to the Spiritual Processes in Human Life and in the Cosmos, Steiner Press, 1904/1994. ISBN 0-88010-373-6. For more detail, see:
  27. W. J. Stein, Die moderne naturwissenschaftliche Vorstellungsart und die Weltanschauung Goethes, wie sie Rudolf Steiner vertritt, 1921/1985. P. 256-7.
  28. de:Geisteswissenschaft
  29. Historically, the German term Geisteswissenschaft comes from a translation of the English moral sciences (John Stuart Mill). (See de:Geisteswissenschaft.) Dilthey and Husserl also defended the traditional Geisteswissenschaften in this sense: rational and thus scientific, yet not based upon empirical studies of the physical world. Dilthey in particular rejected the application of the empiricist criteria of natural science to critical studies of society and the human mind (cf. Dilthey's Einleitungen in die Geisteswissenschaften). Steiner refers explicitly to Dilthey's parallel ideas in Riddles of the Soul, p. 149ff in the German original text.
  30. Sven Ove Hansson Is Anthroposophy Science? Conceptus XXV (1991), No. 64, pp. 37-49.
  31. Sune Nordwall Is Anthroposophy Science? - Some comments
  32. Guyard Guilty of Defamation. Cesnur. URL accessed on [[2006-11-13]].
  33. Das Goetheanum, 2006/18, p. 20

BibliographyEdit

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External linksEdit

Anthroposophical SocietiesEdit

Book and Web-linksEdit

Relevant articlesEdit

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