Is belief in God superstitious

Religion or superstition?


Following the diagnoses of the religious scholar Klaus Hock, this article examines positions on the genesis of animism in the 19th century. Central is the assertion put forward by Edward B. Tylor that all known people have religions whose origin lies in so-called animism, which Tylor defines as belief in spiritual beings. Animism is mainly introduced by Tylor to install a front line against contemporary spiritualism, which is an extreme variant of the general belief in spiritual beings.

This concept was taken up in German research by Adolf Bastian and Ernst Haeckel. Both took over Tylor's position against spiritism, but now defined animism as primitive superstitions that have only survived in modern civilization as spiritism. While Tylor claimed to have found the origins of religion, Haeckel and Bastian took the view that animism particularly denotes the origin of superstition.

It is noticeable here that both authors refer negatively to Kant's moral teaching to describe modern superstition. In this context, this appears as a prerequisite for spiritism (Haeckel) or as coming from an occult tradition (Bastian).

Contrary to the assumption that animism is a neutral description of non-European religion, the development of the term in a European scientific discourse should be described and the front positions that accompanied the genesis of animism should be analyzed.


Following the diagnoses of the religious scholar Klaus Hock, this study examines different positions relating to the genesis of animism in the nineteenth century. Crucial to this is the proposal made by Edward B. Tylor that religion is a general human condition with roots in so-called animism, which is defined by Tylor as belief in spiritual beings. But Tylor introduces “animism” primarily to install a frontline against contemporary spiritism, which represents an extreme variant of the general belief in spiritual beings.

This concept was adopted by German researchers Adolf Bastian and Ernst Haeckel. Both accepted Tylor’s front against spiritualism but now defined animism as superstition coming from primitives, which has only survived in modern civilization as spiritism. While Tylor claimed that he had found the origins of religion, Haeckel and Bastian were of the opinion that animism particularly indicated the origin of superstition.

What is striking here is that both authors refer to Kantʼs moral doctrine in a negative manner to describe modern superstition. In this context, animism appears to be a prerequisite for spiritism (Haeckel) or as coming from an occult tradition (Bastian).

Contrary to the assumption that animism is a neutral description of non-European religion, the emergence of the term shall be described in a European scientific debate and the front lines that accompanied the genesis of animism shall be analyzed.

Prologue: Soul and Enlightenment

The term soul is “more present than ever”! At least that is what the religious scholar Klaus Hock (2017, p. 264) stated in an edition of the Berlin theological journal. But what does one talk about when one speaks of the soul?

Only recently, Stengel (2017, pp. 105f.) Made the diagnosis that the question of the nature of the soul also played an important role in the enlightenment debates of the 18th century. The much-read Lutheran theologian Valentin Ernst Löscher (1673–1749), for example, described the immortality of the soul as the “reason for our fear of God”, which should be defended against representatives of soul sleep or soul death. According to Stengel, the immortality of the soul was a core element of Lutheran orthodoxy in the 18th century. With his positions, Löscher was completely on the line of an enlightening rationalism, for example in the Psychologia rationalis Christian Wolffs (1679–1754) or the Metaphysica Alexander Gottlieb Baumgartens (1714–1762; Stengel 2017, p. 106). Baumgarten's text in particular was one of the standard textbooks of the time (Stark 2015, p. 8) and was the model for the metaphysics lectures by Immanuel Kant (1724–1804; Schwaiger 2011, p. 35). In the Leibniz-Wolffian manner, the soul in Baumgarten is immortal, unexpanded, "immaterial substance" and in an explicit demarcation from "Thnetopsychiten" [friends of soul death], "Hypnopsychiten" [soul sleepers] and "Psychopannychites" [doctrine of the eternal night of the soul ] pre- and post-mortem existent (Baumgarten 2011, p. 403, p. 407, p. 417, p. 423). The debate about the nature of the soul was apparently part of what one could say was part of the standard Enlightenment repertoire.

In an interview in Deutschlandfunk In 2014, the philosopher Michael Pauen took the view that the term soul had become obsolete in the late 19th century due to new scientific discoveries. Crucial human characteristics could now be explained biologically; Pauen thinks primarily of the neurosciences. But on the other hand there is still unconsciously "in almost every culture [...] something that can be compared with the soul, that is, an authority, an object that is primarily responsible for the identity of the person". Apparently Pauen suggests a kind of dichotomy of the term soul. The concept of the soul, which has become obsolete in the natural sciences, should be transformed into a concept of cultural history. Although the former has already been overcome for Pauen, it can still be used in the latter context, namely as a transcultural category for describing mythological ideas (Heise 2014).

Hock, on the other hand, describes the concept of the soul as a segment that has a history in the context of colonialism and Christian mission. Especially the function of the concept of the soul as a neutral descriptive category proposed by Pauen was "transferred from the European-Christian context to non-European contexts", "analogous to the concept of God or religion", especially by European missionaries. The use of the soul is therefore tied to hegemonic theological and philosophical determinations. Finally, during the colonial era, the word soul was linked to another term: animism. This has now served to identify something like a primitive origin of European religion in non-European ideas. The concept of soul and animism, created hegemonicly by the suppression of competing models (and thus always constitutively precarious), like the concept of religion, has been reified “in the encounter with non-European phenomena” as a “terminological instrument” for the violent categorization of the exotic other (Hock 2017, p. 267f.).

But which contexts actually play a role here when the other is defined hegemonic? For Hock, soul and animism are closely related constructions: Animism is, so to speak, a mission-historical transformation of the earlier concept of soul into a description of non-European phenomena. Pauen, in turn, names the scientific discourses in the 19th century as a milestone, where the concept of the soul was freed from its earlier scientific implications, as it were as a prerequisite for its use as a cultural-historical category. Michael Bergunder (2011, p. 43) pointed out the historicity of the concept of religion years ago and, above all, called for a genealogical investigation of the concepts that we as historians deal with today. Analogous to this, the question of its historical genesis in the discourse arises with the concept of animism. In my contribution, I will examine the extent to which the emergence of animism as a scientist fighting term with colonialist undertones was embedded in a debate about spiritualism on the one hand and the “correct” interpretation of Immanuel Kant's philosophy on the other.

The origin of religion or: who is the primitive other?

Only recently was the debate about animism as a construction of European sciences re-fueled in the 19th century, with the participation of well-known researchers such as Bruno Latour, Heinz Schott (Albers and Franke 2019) and Kocku von Stuckradt (2019). In particular, the thesis that animism describes religious ideas in “genealogical societies” as a scientific category (Zinser 2009, p. 71) is sharply criticized in the context of these discussions.

As the eminent ethnologist Edward B. Tylor (1832-1917) in his text Primitive culture From 1871, which appeared in German as early as 1873, wanted to examine the “deeply rooted doctrine of spiritual beings” as a “yardstick of 'religion'” (Hock 2017, p. 272) and to use the term animism for this purpose, he felt compelled to do so first of all to clearly delimit this term. For Tylor, as is well known, animistic concepts consist of “surviving” primitive customs in today's world “as evidence and examples of an earlier state of culture” (Tylor 1873, p. 16). At first glance, Tylor seems to be alluding particularly to so-called primitive peoples, as was often the case in contemporary ethnology. But Tylor's examples are first and foremost European phenomena that would hardly differ a hand's breadth from those of a “Negro from Central Africa [...]: ghost stories, tales of bewitched houses, etc., which would prove that humanity is“ homogeneous by nature “Is,“ even if standing at different stages of civilization ”(Tylor 1873, p. 8). This homogeneity of humanity is the starting point for Tylor to take action against positions that claimed that there are people, e.g. B. in Australia, who lack any religion (Tylor 1873, p. 412). On the contrary, “wild peoples” also have not only a belief in “souls, demons and deities”, but also an idea of ​​immortality (Tylor 1873, p. 413). Tylor's front line aims here at authors who put forward the thesis that the origin of mankind lay in atheism and that religious ideas were only added in the course of development (Tylor 1873, p. 414). In order to recognize the origin of religion, however, a “minimal definition” of religion as “belief in spiritual beings”, so to speak as a European-scientific advance achievement, is necessary. In the following, therefore, Tylor proposes the thesis that “the belief in spiritual beings is found in all lower races with which we have become intimately familiar” and continues: “I mean here under the name of animism the deeply rooted doctrine of spiritual beings to investigate which is the basic idea of ​​spiritualism versus materialistic philosophy ”(Tylor 1873, p. 419).

At this point Tylor expresses his first position against materialism. But precisely in connection with spiritualism, the second delimitation in his concept, Tylor has a problem in mind, which is apparently the reason why he now uses the word animism at the point where, according to Tylor, it should actually be about spiritualism. The word spiritualism is rightly the expression for a “general doctrine of spiritual beings” - religion, animism and spiritualism are apparently identical - but the word has the “fault” that it has meanwhile appropriated a “single modern sect” , "Which, however, harbors extreme spiritualistic views" and which therefore cannot be described as typical representatives of spiritualism. Therefore it is better to use the word animism as a category to distinguish it from this sect (Tylor 1873, p. 420).

It should be emphasized at this point that Tylor now uses the word animism explicitly “for tribes of very low rank, considering [sic!] Of civilization” (Tylor 1873, p. 420), that is, for primitive peoples, and that he is concerned with this Make a demarcation from what he called ghost beliefs at the beginning of the book. The belief in ghosts occurs with the English as with all other known peoples and indicates what Tylor calls "belief in spiritual beings", "spiritualism" or "religion". Animism in this context is the primitive origin of religion. But this anthropological spiritualism has been misused by a modern sect to designate an extreme variant of spiritualism and, so to speak, illegally return to the primitive origin of the religion. But besides that there are also “survivors” of the animism of lower peoples in today's “philosophies and doctrines of Christianity” (Tylor 1873, p. 421).

If, according to Tylor, remnants of animism are to be found in today's Christianity, what is the matter with the sect, which apparently also refers to animism, but does so in an extreme way and thus illegally? What sect might be meant here and what is Tylor's use of the word animism directed against?

A clue can be found in a publication by the physicist William Crookes (1832-1919) from July 1870 in which he co-edited Quarterly Journal of Science with the eye-catching title Spiritualism viewed by the Light of Modern Science. In this contribution, Crookes (1870) demands nothing less than an investigation of spiritistic phenomena based on physical experiments. Tylor positioned his description of the “Beginnings of Culture”, the German title of his text, in a contemporary front position. He seems to have precisely this 'improper' spiritualism in mind, which does not deal with the anthropologically given Believe gives satisfaction to spiritual beings, but wants to make them appear empirical through séances. The front position refers to a European phenomenon against which the true primitive origin of religion is demarcated.

Spiritist practices - ghostly apparitions, séances with media, table-backing, somnambulism, etc. - were a widespread phenomenon at this time in the "center of the scientific, social and religious controversy of the 19th century" in Europe (Sawicki 2015, p. 10), the Around 1900 "a wide variety of beliefs and practices" (Treitel 2004, p. 7) included and described by several contemporary authors as a real "intellectual epidemic" (Büchner 1893, p. 219; Achelis 1900, p. 228; Bastian 1886, P. 2f.), In which the belief of primitive peoples is spreading in modern civilization. But what does it mean that a description of primitive religion is paralleled with a current European front?

In Germany, after the experiments of the Leipzig astrophysicist Karl Friedrich Zöllner (1834–1882) with the supposed clairvoyant Henry Slade (1836–1905) at the latest, spiritualism occupied academic research. Zöllner (1878a, 1878b, 1879) had published the experiments with Slade and referred to the philosophy of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) as the authority for the apparitions allegedly occurring at the séances. Outraged reactions followed, such as von Stumpf (1878)Footnote 1, but also by Wilhelm Wundt (1832–1920), the founder of experimental psychology. Wundt had taken part in the séances himself (Treitel 2004, p. 12) and published a brochure in 1879 in which he described Zöllner's spiritism as "a sign of materialism and the cultural barbarism of our time" (Wundt 1879, p. 30) .

It was in precisely this context that the debate about Tylor's animism was received in Germany. Adolf Bastian (1826–1905), Leopoldina member and widely known as the first director of the Museum für Völkerkunde (today the Ethnological Museum) in Berlin, also dealt with Tylor's concept, about whose reception it was finally used by Wundt in his Ethnic Psychology was used (Hock 2017, p. 269). Bastian wrote, at least 13 years after the German translation of Primitive culture, a conspicuous text with the title "In the matter of Spiritism and a scientific psychology", in which he gave an outline of the history of ideas since antiquity and presented this as a kind of spiritual anamnesis. The entire history of mankind is "a psychological epidemic series" in which there have always been psychological epidemics, earlier belief in witches, today spiritualism. These epidemics would not have stopped even at the most famous actors of the European past (Bastian 1886, pp. 2–3). Francis Bacon (1561–1626) believed in a spirit as the basis of nature, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1771) told things from the spirit world “like a naive child”; like Jeanne d’Arc (around 1412–1431), he was said to have been mentally insane.Mohammed, on the other hand, was an epiletic, like the shamans of primitive peoples and those treated according to Franz Anton Mesmer's (1734–1815) animal magnetism (Bastian 1886, pp. 4–17). But Bastian does not stop at Immanuel Kant either: Kant has his Critique of Practical Reason "Donated under esoteric secrecy, since it is only accessible to the elect", and therefore has to be in the tradition of someone Occulta Philosophia by Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486–1535) (Bastian 1886, p. 24). Kant had already fallen for Swedenborg's stories from the world of spirits earlier (Bastian 1886, p. 7).

The latest “fashion aberrations” of spiritism are therefore only possible because, according to Bastian, referring to the psychiatrist Jacques-Joseph Moreau (1804–1884), the “supra-nervous mental constitution” of the “geniuses” and the “idiots” is practical it is the same and also “historically continuing spiritual deeds” like the Kantians “touch with spiritualistic ones”, namely in “pathological aberrations” (Bastian 1886, p. 69). Spiritism is based, and at this point Bastian now refers to Tylor, on the "eternally old and eternally new forms of such elements", which distorted themselves "from pious belief at the primary stage, in later to superstitious survivors" (Bastian 1886, p . 70). Spiritist literature is a "crime against common sense" and the Kantian criticism of reason that it transcends “the blackest belief in charcoal burners” of savages and barbarians, whereas “even the monster of an ape man could claim temporary excuse”. On the other hand, a scientific psychology must be introduced “on the basis of ethnic facts”, which proceeds on the basis of mathematics and supported by statistics (Bastian 1886, p. 80). Again with obvious reference to Tylor, Bastian sums up: “The modern achievement of Spiritism summarizes the soul in its crassest form as material (or immaterial) soul substance, as is common and existent among savages in the lowest stages of unculture, and accordingly in the corresponding Spooky layers of popular superstition ”(Bastian 1886, p. 83).

Pauen had taken the view that the term soul had been replaced by scientific knowledge in the late 19th century. With Adolf Bastian, an author could now be identified to whom this view seems to apply: However, Bastian is not concerned with overcoming the concept of soul in general, but with refuting two specific topics: Spiritism and Darwinism.

Apart from the mantra-like evocation of a history of epileptic seizures, which is reflected in ethnic facts, two fronts should be pointed out here: (1) that Bastian paradoxically invokes Kant's criticism of reason as a means against spiritualism, but at the same time Kant attests that he himself occult inclinations than he would have pursued Critique of Practical Reason wrote; (2) that Bastian describes spiritism as a worse offense than the belief in ape-men and compares both with the so-called savages.

Kant as a mystic - materialism and the interpretation of Kant around 1900

These positions refer to two central figures in the discourse of the 19th century. As early as 1865, several years before Tylor's text, the Neo-Kantian Otto Liebmann (1840–1912) had demanded that Immanuel Kant should be the normative author of all modern science in his time and poured this demand into the well-known formulation: “So we have to go back to Kant become ”(Liebmann 1865, p. 215). Liebmann was concerned with resolving a general confusion of thought, the cause of which he established in contemporary materialism (Liebmann 1865, pp. 5ff.), Which the doctor Ludwig Büchner (1824–1899) had prominently represented only a few years before Liebmann's book. But the result of Liebmann's appeal was not a standardization of the debate, but Kant appeared in the most varied of debates as an informant and already brought the Kiel high school teacher and employee at the academy edition of Kant's Collected Works, Erich Adickes (1866–1928), on the statement, "All of them think that they have only brought Kant's life's work to a close and boast that they are his rightful successors" (Adickes 1904, p. 3). As shown above, Bastian had also offered a reading of Kant's work that explicitly opposed the second criticism while the unreasonableness of spiritism runs counter to the Kantian project of reason. Apparently Bastian distinguishes the actual Kantian project from his moral teaching, which ultimately stems from an occult tradition in which spiritualism is also rooted.

A few years later, of all people, the author, against whom Bastian is apparently directed with the “monkey man's belief in charcoal”: who was already known as the “German Darwin” during his lifetime (Schmidt 1900, p. 3) designated zoologist Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) had in his Natural creation story describes the descent of man from the ape as a deductive conclusion, which must be drawn from the theory of development using “inexorable logic” (Haeckel 1879, p. 7). This was repeated in the unchanged new edition of the text from 1889. In 1892 Haeckel gave a lecture in Altenburg in which he put forward the thesis that Kant had come to completely “untenable metaphysical views” through his speech on the postulates “God, freedom and immortality”, although he had come to one in his younger years monistic knowledge of nature won through (Haeckel 1892, 16 note). According to Haeckel, there are mystical ideas of an immortal soul “among primitive peoples”, but also “in the systems of dualistic philosophers today” (Haeckel 1892, 23 note) due to Kant's reception. In his book published in 1899 The world riddle Haeckel tightened his thesis again and now spoke of the fact that Kant's doctrine of postulates and their transmission through the "school of the Neo-Kantians" is the main reason for this "superstition", which is that of the aged Kant in the Critique of Practical Reason represented "three great powers of mysticism - God, freedom and immortality" make it socially acceptable again, although these had already appeared to the young, truly critical Kant as untenable "in the light of pure reason" (Haeckel 1899, p. 108f.). Not only did Haeckel put his own monistic interpretation of Darwin's teaching in line with Luther's posting of the theses (Haeckel 1899, p. 369), he repeatedly expressed his interpretation of Kant, according to which the young Kant was the first criticism a critically thinking naturalist, old Kant the second criticism on the other hand was a superstitious mystic (Haeckel 1906, p. 179). This view, so Haeckel confidently, is even identical to the position of the relevant modern Kant research itself (Haeckel 1903, p. 157). In 1914 he still complained about the "mysticism" of the second criticism, the "ideas of the supernatural, miracles and ghosts [...] of the lower primitive peoples" speak the word (Haeckel 1914, p. 22).

Haeckel's texts were regularly bestsellers; The world riddle achieved six-digit sales. His polemical Kant interpretations were extremely lively discussed in Kant research and mostly rejected just as polemically (Paulsen 1900; Hönigswald 1900; Loofs 1906).

Despite Bastian's sharp rejection of the ape-man belief, with which he apparently had Haeckel in mind, he shared with Haeckel not only an opponent, modern spiritualism, but also an interpretation of the Kantian doctrine. Both also see a parallel between the spiritualism and the belief of primitive peoples, which Bastian recognizes in Tylor, especially in the thesis that the spiritual belief of primitive peoples was still religiously motivated, in contrast to its now superstitious "survivors" in modern times Culture. It is noticeable that Haeckel expressly describes spiritism as a consequence of the neo-Kantian philosophy that referred to Kant. Through Kant the primitive belief of indigenous peoples was made socially acceptable. Bastian also points out in his texts that belief in ghosts is a characteristic of primitive peoples that has been preserved in modern society through a philosophical debate.

The barbarization of the opponent - The barbarization of the other

Tylor used animism to construct the origin of religion in "lesser peoples" and its "survivors" in modern society. Tylor sees the hallmark of religion and animism in the belief in spiritual beings, which is to be found in all known people. With his definitions he referred to a current debate in the sciences at the time. He was explicitly directed against the spiritualism of Crookes ’, which he called a sect which, instead of just representing this belief, wanted to prove it empirically and thus represent an extreme form of an over-historical, anthropological phenomenon that would otherwise be called spiritualism.

Bastian and subsequently Haeckel no longer see a description of religion and belief in spiritual beings in animism, which occurs in every human being, but they assume that belief in spiritual beings is in itself superstitious and only occurs in people who either still do are at a lower cultural level or pathological disease states such as madness and epilepsy are at the mercy, a thesis which Freud (1913, p. 94) also advocates, but refers to Tylor of all people. If in Tylor's concept the origin of religion is to be sought (and also to be found) in the “savages”, in Bastian and Haeckel “primitive peoples” are the origin of superstition, the remainder of which has only survived in today's spiritualism. It is precisely in this context that a momentous reinterpretation of Tylor's “survivors” takes place.

Tylor was about recognizing the still preserved remains of the original religious beliefs of the "savages" in modern Christianity and thus classifying Christianity as a true religion. The spiritualism of Crookes' appears here as a deviation from the "survivors" that comes expressly from "civilization" and that wants to put empiricism in place of faith. With Bastian and Haeckel, superstition now occupies the place of a "survivor" in the modern world, which emerges in spiritism, which Tylor wants to fend off with his concept of animism, as well as in Christianity and shows the unreasonableness of every religion and philosophy that supports the Propagate belief in spiritual beings.

In this context, the concept of animism not only serves to describe and classify non-European ethnic groups, from which one can read off the religious origins of humanity, but also to describe what makes Tylor highly problematic in his own academic landscape: namely, spiritualism. Animism is used, so to speak, to barbarize a scientific opponent with reference to an attitude that deviates from the norm with regard to the anthropological constant of man, namely only to believe in spirits and not to summon them empirically. The Eurocentric classification of the non-European other occupies the function in the discourse that the “savages” are created as signifiers under the keyword animism in order to “empirically” represent the religious normality of mankind and thereby show the deviations within the European context. The “savages” are Tylor's guarantee of the true origin of religion, from which spiritism deviated willfully. The ethnic groups concerned do not appear in the discourse as self-evident, but only as confirmation or refutation of (religious) scientific theories (keyword: the English believe in ghosts).

Bastian and Haeckel now put the concept of animism in the context of the debate about the interpretation of Kant Critique of Practical Reason. In this context, Kant was assumed by Haeckel and Bastian to have a tendency towards the mystical or even to epileptic seizures, which he had at the time of writing the second criticism supposed to have had and who are responsible for the superstitious content of this text. Anyone who did not read Kant correctly - and that means: the second criticism took too seriously - and consequently believed in ghosts, d. H. Haeckel and Bastian's verdict still adhered to primitive animism, was actually still a descendant of wild indigenous peoples who adhered to a religious superstition in spiritual beings that could only be overcome by modern science. This barbarization of the opponent then ensured the scientific nature of the respective project qua exclusion: Anyone who read Kant correctly and therefore did not believe in ghosts was engaged in objective and, above all, German science. Spiritist and indigenous practices were compared or parallelized and then attributed to the respective opponent: in Haeckel the neo-Kantian philosophy, in Bastian Haeckel and a non-empirically proceeding ethnology and psychology. The fact that the "savages" were created in the discourse to ensure the objectivity of science, which ascribes the power to interpret all cultural processes on earth, can also be seen from the fact that Bastian himself considers Haeckel's ape descent thesis to be a superstition that Haeckel like Bastian but also share the front against “primitive” superstition. Simultaneously with the scientific opponents, however, the indigenous actors are also barbarized and presented as the origin or prehistory of what is characterized today as religion or modernity or superstition. The history of the other takes place in this context or can only be understood under the premise of modern Europe, which is the result of cultural development; that is the punch line that connects the concepts of Tylor, Bastian and Haeckel and stages them as a sign of true science. With Tylor, Christianity transferred the animistic content to modernity, with Haeckel and Bastian, spiritualism.

The empirical travel reports of this time, such as von Haeckel (1884, 1901), were accordingly not unbiased descriptions of what was there, but rather an interpretation of what was found there, shaped by scientific prejudices. The researchers' empiricism was determined by the terminology that structured research in Europe. The description of the other served to classify or classify and, moreover, to safeguard European science. The wild created by researchers confirmed the objectivity of their own research project.

The equation of primitive ideas with certain positions and objects in the scientific discourse served to exclude an opponent from this very discourse and primarily had nothing to do with indigenous peoples. On the contrary: Through this debate about animism, the image of an animistically thinking “savage” was constructed, which could be transferred to the scientific opponent and was consequently transferred. The development theories cited at this time, regardless of whether they were Darwinian or psychiatric, served to locate the primitive in the contemporary context within Europe and to empirically confirm it with a view to outside Europe; with Klaus Hock in a certain way the genesis of the conception of the soul as Eurocentrism. When we as researchers try to analyze the religion, religiosity or belief of others with certain terms such as animism or soul, we work with terms that pre-structure the supposedly purely empirical diagnoses. Because the terms are not simply categories of analysis, but rather, as outlined in this text, they have a history that is deeply interwoven with the colonial, missionary and scientific history of Europe and that precedes empirical research. The view of the other is therefore always already organized - religion is not recognized where it is, but where it is rediscovered - and shapes the others according to the terms. In this context in particular, it is worth taking a critical look at the genealogy of today's terms.

In my contribution it was shown that the term animism emerges as a category for describing the origin of religion in a concrete historical debate: on the one hand as a demarcation against spiritualism, which is presented as a deviation from the history of religion, on the other hand against the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant, whose dissemination by neo-Kantian authors speaks for spiritism. Animism arises in a historical place in 19th century discourse where the essence of science is at stake.The description of the other as animism served to secure a certain image of science, which (1) decidedly non-spiritual and (2) against the second Kantian criticism must be directed in order to be scientific. Animism therefore serves as a hegemonic description of a position in the scientific discourse of the 19th century.


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  1. Theological Faculty, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Franckeplatz 1, House 30, 06110, Halle (Saale), Germany

    Hauke ​​Heidenreich

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Hauke ​​Heidenreich.