Definition of Animism
(noun) The belief that all things animate and inanimate have an individual soul or are inhabited by a spirit.
Example of Animism
- American English – /An-uh-miz-uhm/
- British English – /An-uh-miz-uhm/
International Phonetic Alphabet
- American English – /ˈænəˌmɪzəm/
- British English – /ˈanᵻmɪz(ə)m/
- Plural: animisms
- 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 a soul or spirit inside them and they can interact with humans in positive and negative ways.
- Animatism, coined by Robert Marett (1866–1943) in The Threshold of Religion (1909) was a criticism of Tylor’s theory. Marett contended that animatism is the earliest form of religion and a precursor to animism in a cultural developmental context.
- Marett 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 Threshold of Religion (1909), Marett 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 Marett.
- Animism is often confused with animatism. However, in animatism, everything shares the same force, and in animism, everything has a unique spirit.
- A type of cosmogony.
- An individual that believes in animism is an (noun) animist and has an (adjective) animistic belief system.
- “Additionally, in animism, as with mana, supernatural power is often harnessed through rituals that compel a spirit to act in a desired way” (Hughes and Kroehler 2011:350).
- Religion Resources – Books, Journals, and Helpful Links
- Word origin of “animism” – Online Etymology Dictionary: etymonline.com
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Cite the Definition of Animism
ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)
Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “animism.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved June 5, 2023 (https://sociologydictionary.org/animism/).
APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)
animism. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/animism/
Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)
Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “animism.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed June 5, 2023. https://sociologydictionary.org/animism/.
MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)
“animism.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 5 Jun. 2023. <https://sociologydictionary.org/animism/>.