(noun) The belief that all things animate and inanimate have an individual soul or are inhabited by a spirit.

Example: Shinto, a traditional religion in Japan, believes in spirits of nature or kami.

Audio Pronunciation: (an·i·mism)

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Usage Notes:

  • Popularized by Edward Tylor (1832–1917) in Primitive Culture (1871). Tylor contended that animism was the most basic (essential) form of religion.
  • According to many animistic traditions, all things have souls or a spirits inside them and they can interact with humans in positive and negative ways.
  • Animatism, coined by Robert Marrett (1866–1943) in The Threshold of Religion (1909) was a criticism of Tylor’s theory. Marret contended that animatism is the earliest form of religion and a precursor to animism in a cultural developmental context.
  • Marret developed the concept of animatism based on Robert Henry Codrington’s (1830–1922) The Melanesians: Studies in their Anthropology and Folk-Lore (1891). Codrington’s ethnography began anthropology’s fascination with the topic of mana or an essential and impersonal, supernatural power that resides in all people, places, and things (objects). In addition to the The Threshold of Religion (1900), Marret continued to explore mana in Anthropology (1912), and Psychology and Folklore (1920). Émile Durkheim (1858–1917) in Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912) would later contend that totemism was the most basic expression of religion, therefore disagreeing with both Tylor and Marrett.
  • Animism is often confused with animatism, the distinction between the two is animatism contends that everything has the same force and animism contends everything has a unique spirit, not a shared one.
  • Derived from the Latin word for soul: anima.
  • A person that believes in animism is an (noun) animist and has an (adjective) animistic belief system.

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