Developed in the early 20th century by educator and spiritual leader Rudolph Steiner, anthroposophy aims to apply the clarity of scientific thought to the realm of the soul.
"Whether one accepts anthroposophy as a science depends upon whether one accepts Steiner's interpretation of a science that extends the consciousness and capacity of human beings to experience their inner spiritual world." ―Freda Easton.
Many people have heard of anthroposophy through its application in Waldorf education. First founded in 1919, the currently-held Waldorf educational curriculum adheres to many of the tenets of anthroposophy in its education of children.
Anthroposophy has been called a spiritual philosophy or the 'spiritual science', after its founder Rudolph Steiner described it as the application of clear, objective, controlled thought to the spirit or soul realm.
Born in 1861, Steiner grew up in Vienna, studied mathematics, philosophy during his university years and earned a doctorate in philosophy. After graduation, he became the scientific editor for the works by Goethe. He got interested in the ideas of Goethe, and expanded on the philosopher's assertion that thought was just another sense organ like eyes or ears.
Steiner was a methodical, practical man who nonetheless was profoundly interested in the spiritual experience of the human soul.
He felt that by carefully practicing meditation, and by becoming morally and ethically disciplined, one could achieve a higher level of spiritual existence.
Steiner's paradoxical view was that the mind could be trained as a tool of transformation―instead of transcending the conscious mind and leaving it behind to experience spiritual elevation, one could use it to get there. Once enlightened this way, one could become an elevated being, more in touch with creativity, imagination, and compelled in life by love.
Though the term anthroposophy has as its Greek roots the word anthropos, or human, and sophia, wisdom, Steiner himself referred to it as Geisteswissenschaft, which translates roughly to 'the spiritual science'.
Steiner believed that the material world had condensed from a spiritual realm, but that human beings could still access the original spirit world through mental discipline. He also felt that artistic expression could be a connector between the two worlds.
This belief is evidenced today in the Waldorf curriculum's emphasis on the arts. Application of anthroposophy in Waldorf education can be explained simply as need to unite the sciences, arts, and spirituality of the individual. It is the desire to develop and improve life of the soul in the human, and extend it to life of the soul in the community.
Anthroposophy posits that humans evolved from spiritual, perceptive beings, who gradually became more reliant on cognitive functions, and therefore, lost touch with the spiritual world. In order to progress further as people, there must be a connection between that intellectual focus and intuition.
The 'spiritual science' also claims a case for reincarnation. Each soul incarnates into a body on earth, lives that life, and then enters the spirit world when it ends. The previous earth life is examined, and felt in terms of how each action impacted other beings, before a new life and body is chosen for the next stage in the soul's development.
Though his philosophy of a spiritual science might be seen by some as a bit dry and methodical, the aim of Steiner's work was to show others how 'the spiritual element in the human being unites with the spiritual element of the universe'.