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animism

Animism is the doctrine that things, even inanimate things, have souls. (Animus is the Latin word for soul.) It is an ancient belief that may have been offered as an explanation for the difference between a thing that is alive and that thing when it is dead. It may have been offered also as an explanation for appearances of people in hallucinations or dreams. Animus, spirit, or energy exists independently of the thing, whether that thing be dead or alive.

Some people believe that the souls of humans exist before or after the body dies. Some believe that the souls of animals and plants are never extinguished. Some think that inanimate objects have souls.

In modern times, animism is popular with New Age folks. It is especially popular with people who find solace in traditions like shamanism, perhaps because they are attracted to the notion of altered states  of consciousness.

The term was coined by Edward Burnett Tylor in Primitive Culture (1871). Child psychologist Jean Piaget held that animism is one of the tendencies in the thought of the pre-rational child (Zusne and Jones 1989: 27). Animism is evident in many fairy tales, most cartoons, and in some  television commercials, where even toilet paper might speak with a conscience.


See also dualism, magical thinking, and vitalism.

further reading

Tylor, Edward Burnett. (1871/1974). Primitive culture: researches into the development of mythology, philosophy, religion, art, and custom. Gordon Press.

Zusne,  Leonard and Warren Jones. Anomalistic Psychology: A Study of Magical Thinking. 2nd edition. (Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc. 1989).

Last updated 21-May-2012

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