Steiner, Rudolf

views updated May 29 2018

Rudolf Steiner

Austrian philosopher and educational reformer Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925) remains perhaps best known for the educational methods he pioneered in his Waldorf schools, which have spread slowly but steadily around the world since his death.

The philosophy underlying those schools grew out of a lifetime of innovative thinking that encompassed fields as diverse as traditional philosophy, spiritualism, color theory, art, agriculture, medicine, music, and architecture. A trained philosopher and at the same time a mystic, Steiner believed that spiritual insights could be gained through systematic thought. He founded the spiritual belief system called Anthroposophy, an offshoot of Theosophy, and disseminated his ideas through an energetic campaign that included years of lectures and a group of writings that ran to some 350 volumes when collected. Influential in the worlds of education, occult studies, organic farming, and even interior design (he was fascinated by color and its relationship to personality), Steiner remains an imperfectly understood and often controversial figure.

Moved Often During Childhood

Rudolf Steiner was born February 27, 1861, in Donji Kraljevec (Lower Kraljevec), a town that was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (it is now in northern Croatia). His father was a telegraph operator who worked for the Southern Austria railway. Steiner's childhood, noted Gary Lachman of the Fortean Times, "had an equal measure of both natural beauty and modern technology"—the Kraljevec area boasted gorgeous Alpine scenery, and the railroad and the telegraph were both new technologies in the 1860s. Steiner's railroad company family moved several times, however, and he spent time in Neudörfl in southern Austria and then attended high school in Wiener-Neustadt near Vienna. An introverted youngster, Steiner enjoyed mathematics and later spoke of several episodes in which he seemed to display unusual psychic abilities.

Steiner's family was not wealthy, and as he continued his schooling he often made ends meet as a private tutor (sometimes to his own classmates) of mathematics and science. In 1879 Steiner enrolled at the Technische Hochschule (Technical University) of Vienna, taking math and science classes but also immersing himself in German philosophy and literature. The writings of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) made an immediate and lifelong impression on Steiner when he was an undergraduate student. Goethe, though best known outside German-speaking countries for his play Faust, was a prolific writer on science and metaphysics who attempted to construct an overarching, holistic philosophy of human perception and belief. Another influence on the young Steiner was a man named Felix Koguzki who gathered and sold herbs for a living but also had a rich life of spiritual and mystical experiences.

One of Steiner's professors noted his enthusiasm for Goethe and his systematic mind, and recommended him for a position as editor of a series of Goethe's scientific writings for a scholarly Deutsche National Literatur (German National Literature) publication project. He began work even before his graduation in 1883. For much of the first part of his life, Steiner made a living as an editor and archivist, working on a complete edition of Goethe's writings in the 1880s and moving to Weimar in eastern Germany in 1890 to take a position at the Schiller-Goethe Archives there. On the side, Steiner took more classes and received a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Rostock in 1891. His dissertation was published as a book, Wahrheit und Wissenschaft (Truth and Science).

During this part of his life Steiner was primarily a philosopher, and one who espoused the concept of idealism—the belief that experience is located in the mind—rather than materialism, which holds that the world, including mental processes, is ultimately reducible to matter and its interactions. Philosophie der Freiheit (Philosophy of Freedom, 1894) was his most important work of these years. Steiner studied the tradition of nineteenth-century German philosophy going back to Hegel and to the radical idealism of Johann Fichte. He continued to make a living as an editor of several different magazines, moving to the German capital of Berlin in 1897. In one article in the Magazine for Literature, Steiner rejected anti-semitic ideas. His positions on the relationship of Germanic peoples to those of other cultures would later prove controversial, however. Steiner married Anna Eunike in 1899, but the marriage later ended in divorce.

Taught at Workers' School

Gradually, Steiner's interests broadened beyond philosophy (and if they had not, his name would likely be little known today). He began teaching two evenings a week at the Arbeiterbildungsschule (School for the Education of Workers) in Berlin, a progressive institution where he could discuss ideas of universal education and freedom as they related to the working class. Steiner also joined the Berlin Theosophic Society, a branch of the international theosophy movement. Theosophists held that existing religions were paths, often equally valid, to a higher spiritual truth. By 1902 Steiner had given numerous lectures on theosophy and became the German Theosophic Society's general secretary. To describe his system of "spiritual science," he began to use the word "anthroposophy," derived from Greek roots meaning human wisdom. Among the many books Steiner devoted to Anthroposophy were Outline of Occult Science (1909) and Outline of Esoteric Science (1910).

It was clear that Steiner had found his calling. He became what would now be called a full-time motivational speaker for the last quarter-century of his life, giving some 6,000 lectures that ranged over numerous topics related to the nature of human spiritual life. Steiner lectured on Christian themes, on history, drama, science, agriculture, and virtually any other area of human endeavor that he saw as related to the spiritual quest. He saw the human being as consisting of body, soul, and an eternal spirit that manifested itself anew—he believed in reincarnation. Among the spiritual beings who oversaw human development were the Archangel Michael and a negative Antichrist-like figure he called Ahriman, who sought to prevent human spiritual evolution. One of his favorite themes was that of the Threefold Social Order (or Social Threefolding—the German term is Soziale Dreigliederung: he advocated the separation in human society of the cultural (including educational), political, and economic realms. After his first marriage dissolved, he met anthroposophy devotee Marie von Sivers, an actress from the Baltic region, and the two were married in 1914.

It was around that time that Steiner's relationship with Theosophy dissolved. It had been under strain for some time due to religious disagreements. Steiner remained a Christian, but avoided affiliation with either Catholicism or Protestantism and instead forged his own mystical version of the Christian religion, shaped partly by the beliefs of the Rosicrucian Order. In the early 1910s English-born Theosophy society head Annie Besant, who lived in India, had contended that Jiddu Krishnamurti, a spiritually gifted boy she encountered on a beach, was the Second Coming of Christ. Steiner rejected the idea and led 55 of 65 German chapters of the theosophical movement in a breakaway plan to form a new Anthroposophical Society. The new group grew rapidly under Steiner's charismatic leadership, and Steiner began work on designing a temple-like headquarters building called the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland. Even during World War I, workers from around Europe, including citizens of warring countries, cooperated without incident in its construction.

Steiner argued that World War I showed the need for a new social order that entailed peaceful methods of conflict resolution. In 1919 he explored these themes in a lecture he gave to workers at the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany. After Steiner's speech, factory owner Emil Molt suggested that he set up a school for children of the factory workers, modeled on the ideas he had expressed. Steiner agreed, and the result was the first Waldorf school, named for the factory itself. He stipulated that the school should be run cooperatively by its teachers, and Waldorf schools since that time have all featured cooperative management schemes. Despite his considerable fame, Steiner shunned personal adulation and once remarked that if he could have changed the name of Anthroposophy to something new every day, he would have done so in order to emphasize the need for his followers to think for themselves.

Favored Natural Farming Methods

The Waldorf schools were not Steiner's only forward-looking innovation. He also anticipated the growth of organic farming in his opposition to chemical fertilizers. In Steiner's view, a farm should be a self-contained ecological entity. He devised a unique compost recipe that included a stag's bladder; a cow's gut; the head of a cow, goat, sheep, or pig, filled with oak bark; stinging nettles wrapped in peat moss; a cow's intestine filled with chamomile flowers; and crushed valerian flowers. As with others among Steiner's ideas, his followers have discarded some of the more exotic specifics in his writings while maintaining the general ideas. Most controversial among his writings were his racial theories, which assigned specific traits to individual races. In Germany especially, Steiner's devotees came under attack as a result of this aspect of his philosophy.

In the early 1920s Steiner began to encounter heavy criticism. Some of it came from members of the Nazi party angered because Steiner backed independence for the con-tested German province of Upper Silesia (now part of Poland). But Steiner was also attacked by the Catholic and Protestant churches, Marxists, and rival spiritual leaders. On December 31, 1922, the Goetheanum burned to the ground shortly after its completion. The Nazis were generally blamed for the fire, although its cause remained uncertain. Steiner announced plans for a second Goetheanum, built of concrete; it still stands in Switzerland, and both buildings are considered architectural landmarks of the twentieth century.

The attacks, including one in an article by Adolf Hitler himself, took their toll on Steiner, who redoubled his lecture schedule even as he fell into poor health. Toward the end of his life he emphasized his natural farming methods and a new anthroposophic system of medicine that he developed, and in which he began to train physicians. In the fall of 1924 he had to give up his speaking activities due to illness. Steiner suffered from an unknown stomach ailment, and some rumors spread among his followers that he had been poisoned. Steiner, however, discouraged such speculation before his death in Dornach on March 30, 1925.

The Waldorf concept grew slowly as Anthroposophy devotees set up new institutions. By 1939 there were schools in Switzerland, England, Hungary, Norway, and the United States, in addition to seven in Germany. The German schools were shuttered by the National Socialist government but reopened after World War II, at which time Waldorf education began a steady spread around the world. By the year 2000 more than 700 Waldorf schools worldwide featured classrooms painted in the colors Steiner had specified as appropriate for each stage of human development, and focused on learning through direct experience of materials (reading was often delayed until the third or fourth grade), engaging in the structured system of exercise and dance Steiner called Eurythmy, and reciting Steiner's poems about the natural world. Public schools in the United States and Britain were impressed by data showing Waldorf education's ability to reach students who had previously proven disruptive in conventional classroom settings. A large network of educational institutions around the world devoted itself to training Waldorf teachers and to the study of other aspects of Anthroposophy and of Steiner's thought.


Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology, 5th ed., Gale Group, 2001.

Hemleben, Johannes, and Leo Twyman, Rudolf Steiner: An Illustrated Biography, Rudolf Steiner Press, 2001.

McDermott, Robert, The Essential Steiner, Harper Press, 1984.

Religious Leaders of America, 2nd ed., Gale Group, 1999.

Tummer, Lia, and Horacio Lato, Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophy for Beginners, Writers & Readers Publishing, 2001.


Atlantic Monthly, September 1999.

Independent (London, England), November 1, 1997; January 24, 2007.

Instructor, November 1999.


"Rudolf Steiner: Chronological Biography," (February 3, 2007).

"Rudolf Steiner: Dweller on the Threshold," Fortean Times, (February 3, 2007).

"Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925)," Skylark Books, (February 3, 2007).

Steiner, Rudolf, The Story of My Life, Rudolf Steiner Archive, (January 3, 2007).

Steiner, Rudolf (1861–1925)

views updated May 08 2018

STEINER, RUDOLF (18611925)

Educator, philosopher, artist, and scientist, Rudolf Steiner founded the Freie Waldorfschule (Independent Waldorf School) in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1919; its establishment led to the Waldorf educational movement with more than 800 schools worldwide in the early twenty-first century. Steiner's spiritualscientific research is known as anthroposophy.

Rudolf Steiner was born in Kraljevec, Austria-Hungary (now Croatia). His father was stationmaster on the Southern Austrian Railroad. Rudolf Steiner first attended the Volksschule, then the scientific Realschule in Wiener Neustadt, and graduated from the Technical University in Vienna in 1884. In 1882 he was offered the editorship of Goethe's natural scientific writings for the Kürschner edition of German national literature. Steiner was called to Weimar, Germany, as collaborator at the Goethe-Schiller Archives in 1890, and remained there until 1897. His principal publications during the Weimar period were Wahrheit und Wissenschaft (Truth and science) in 1892; Philosophie der Freiheit (Philosophy of freedom) in 1894; and Goethes Welt-anschauung (Goethe's world conception) in 1897. Moving to Berlin in 1897, Steiner became the editor of the weekly Magazin für Literatur. He taught history at the Berlin Workers' School from 1899 to 1905.

In 1900 he was asked by leaders of the Theosophical Society to speak on his own spiritualscientific research. This led, in 1902, to his being asked to head the newly established German section of the International Theosophical Society. By 1912 it had become clear that the insights derived from Steiner's spiritualscientific research led in a different direction than those represented by the Theosophical Society. Early in 1913, those members who wished to follow the path described by Rudolf Steiner established the Anthroposophical Society. Steiner served as the new society's adviser and mentor. His principal publications during this period were Theosophie (Theosophy) in 1904; Wie erlangt man Erkenntnisse der höheren Welten (How to attain knowledge of higher worlds) in 1904/1905; and Die Geheimwissenschaft im Umriss (An outline of occult science) in 1909.

During the years from 1910 to 1913, Steiner wrote and directed four dramas portraying the destinies of a community of spiritually seeking individuals. Plans developed for a festival center in Munich that, in fact, led to construction of a festival and study/research/teaching center in Dornach, Switzerland. The original building, designed by Steiner, came to be known as the Goetheanum. Under construction from 1913 to 1920; the Goetheanum burned to the ground on New Year's Eve 1922/1923. It was replaced by the present building of reinforced concrete, according to Steiner's sculptured model, created in 1924.

In 1917 Steiner completed thirty years of research on the threefold nature of the human being. These findings became the basis for his later work in education, medicine, social science, and the arts and sciences. Rudolf Steiner died in Dornach, Switzerland. His written and published works total more than thirty volumes and some 6,000 lectures, many published in book form.

Steiner's Pedagogical Approach

The distinguishing feature in Steiner's educational philosophy is that it is based on a perception of the human being as threefold, comprising body, soul, and spirit. In Steiner's view, the human bodily organism, in the mature adult, is built up of four interactive members, of which only the physical/mineral body is directly perceptible to the physical senses. The three supersensible members manifest in and through the physical organism and are directly perceptible to spiritual perception and cognition. Sustaining the life and growth of the physical body is the human "etheric" or "life" body, a characteristic held in common with the plant kingdom. Penetrating the physical and etheric bodies is the "astral" body, instrument of consciousness and emotion, which is shared with the animal kingdom. Penetrating physical, etheric, and astral organisms is the human ego, unique to the human species. The human soul, which mediates between the human spirit and the bodily organism, is endowed with the capacities of thinking, feeling, and will. It is the task of education, from birth to adulthood, to exercise and nurture the human bodily instruments and the soul, to become as responsive, as flexible, and as readily available to the individual human ego as possible. The true fruits of education in childhood come to full expression in the later years of human life.

The developmental process underlying Steiner's education is the result of the unfolding of the three supersensible members from birth to the "coming of age" at twenty-one. This process proceeds in three stages of approximately seven years each. During the first phase, from birth to about the seventh year, the etheric or life body gradually penetrates the physical organism, culminating in the change of teeth. The astral, or "soul" body, penetrates the physical/etheric organism approximately from seven to fourteen years, culminating in the reproductive, sexual changes at puberty. And the ego gradually penetrates the physical, etheric, and astral organisms at about twenty-one. Psychologically, this latter culmination manifests in the individual's ability, not only to know, but to know that she/he knows. Consciousness is transformed into self-consciousness.

The educational insights arising through this developmental process are characterized in Steiner's pedagogy in the following way: During the first phase (07) the child's basic cognitive faculty is imitation. With the change of teeth, a significant portion of the etheric-formative forces that have shaped the child's organism are released and become available to the child as the awakening faculty of imagination. With the physical changes at puberty, a significant portion of the astral forces is freed from the organism and is now available as intellectual cognition and emotional response. During adolescence, the "personality" gradually yields to the "individuality." Language reflects this. Per-sonare means to "sound through." As in Greek drama, in which the god speaks through the mask, personality is the "mask" through which the individual sounds. The individuality is that in the human being which cannot be further divided, is "indivisible."

This developmental picture gives rise to Steiner's pedagogical approach in practice. The key to preschool education is imitation, not intellectualization. In these years it is primarily through the imitative will that education occurs. The key to elementary education is learning through imaginationthrough story, myth, art, narrative, and biographyand doing. In these years, human feeling is the primary focus. And the time to exercise and challenge the intellectual intelligence, human thinking, is primarily in adolescence.

The original Waldorf School in Stuttgart began with 253 children in eight grades. It soon grew to be the largest private school in Germany, with more than 1,000 students, through high school. When Hitler came to power in 1933, there were seven Waldorf Schools in Germany, all of which were closed by the National-Socialist government. The Stuttgart school reopened in 1945 under the auspices of the American Occupation Forces in southern Germany. In the early twenty-first century, there are more than 180 Waldorf schools in Germany. The first school in the English-speaking world opened in England in 1925. In 1928, the Rudolf Steiner School opened in New York City. There are 152 Waldorf schools in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, and there are 11 Waldorf teacher training centers. They are represented by the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA).

See also: International Education; Philosophy of Education.


Barnes, Henry. 1980."Waldorf Education: An Introduction." Teachers College Record 81 (3):323336.

Barnes, Henry. 1991. "Learning That Grows with the Learner." Educational Leadership: Journal of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development 49 (2):5254.

Barnes, Henry. 1997. A Life for the Spirit: Rudolf Steiner in the Crosscurrents of Our Time. New York: Anthroposophic Press.

Harwood, A. Cecil. 1982. The Recovery of Man in Childhood. New York: Anthroposophic Press.

Steiner, Rudolf. 1971. Human Values in Education. London: Rudolf Steiner.

Steiner, Rudolf. 1986. Soul Economy and Waldorf Education. New York: Anthroposophic Press.

Steiner, Rudolf. 1988a. Kingdom of Childhood. New York: Anthroposophic Press.

Steiner, Rudolf. 1988b. The Child's Changing Consciousness and Waldorf Education. New York: Anthroposophic Press.

Henry Barnes

Steiner, Rudolf

views updated May 18 2018


STEINER, RUDOLF (18611925), who wrote more than 350 volumes on philosophy, science, and the arts, was the originator of an esoteric form of spiritual teaching called anthroposophy, which he defined as meaning both "knowledge of the human being" and "human knowledge." Steiner was born in Kraljevec on Murr Island, Hungary, on February 25, 1861. He was educated in Austria, lived in Germany in his middle years, and lived in Dornach, Switzerland, during the last twelve years of his life. From 1900 to 1924, in virtually every major city in Europe, he delivered over six thousand lectures, some to an audience of a dozen and others to several thousands.

From an early age, Steiner experienced access to spiritual realities, including experiences of the dead; the inner, or "etheric," forces of the plant world; and the living power of symbolic forms. At age twenty-two he was appointed editor of the natural scientific writings of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, which were published in five volumes (18831897).

Beginning in 1900, at the age of thirty-nine, Steiner began to teach a Western Christian-Rosicrucian esotericism. He served as the head of the Berlin branch of the Theosophical Society from 1902 to 1911. He continued to speak about H. P. Blavatsky (18311891), the founder of the society, with great respect, but in contrast to the primarily Hindu-Buddhist orientation of the Theosophical Society, Steiner emphasized both the central role of Christ in the evolution of consciousness and the importance of thinking for the karma of the West. Steiner's doctoral dissertation, published as Truth and Knowledge (1892), in combination with The Philosophy of Freedom (1894), prepared the way for the theory of cognition that characterizes his later thought. In 1904 Steiner published two of his foundational esoteric works: How to Know Higher Worlds and Theosophy. The third foundational text from that period was An Outline of Esoteric Science (1909). Collectively, these three works present Steiner's fourfold theory of human nature (physical, etheric, astral, and Ego), his detailed account of the evolution of earth and humanity, guidance on the path of initiation, and his description of the workings of karma and rebirth. Some of the ideas in these basic anthroposophical texts can be found in Hindu and Buddhist scriptures and in the esoteric teachings of Blavatsky, but Steiner sought to establish them in the Western, specifically Christian, tradition.

In response to requests from his followers for guidance, Steiner delivered more than six thousand lectures on disparate topics in the sciences, the social sciences, the arts, education, and on many of the founders and leaders of different religious traditions. In the tradition of Goethe, Steiner showed how imaginative seeing can illuminate the natural world, especially plants and the world of color. He generated myriad insights into the inner dynamics of the natural world, including metals, crystals, plants, soil, and particularly the human body. He described in detail the effects of spiritual, astral, and etheric forces on planetary bodies, the earth, and human beings.

Steiner bequeathed a host of insights concerning color theory, painting, sculpture, and architecture. Many of his contributions in these areas are exemplified in the two Goetheanum buildings in Dornach that he designed. The first Goetheanum, for which construction began in 1913, was nearly finished when it was destroyed by fire in 1922. The second Goetheanum serves as the spiritual center for the General Anthroposophical Society. In the years 19101914 Steiner taught several courses on speech formation that were based on his esoteric knowledge of the human larynx, and he wrote and directed four dramas in which he attempted to use those innovations in speech to express the inner realities of human and spiritual beings. In 1912 Steiner began teaching a series of lessons for a discipline of his own invention called eurythmy. Using his knowledge of language and sound, he showed how the human body, particularly the limbs, can express in visible form the varied meanings of consonants, vowels, and musical notes.

Steiner posited three principal divisions of society: the economic, the political, and the spiritual-cultural. He argued that these three realms should be regarded as separate but related and of equal importance. This social theory has profound implications for Steiner's approach to education, which he placed in the spiritual-cultural sphere, essentially removed from economic and political (including governmental) influence. Steiner's attempt to develop an approach to education that would be modern, spiritual, and centered on the needs of the child dates to his lecture series of 1907, The Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy, and it finds full expression in the Waldorf approach to education.

Waldorf Schools (named after the school in Stuttgart that Steiner founded in 1919 for the children of workers in the Waldorf-Astoria tobacco factory) employ a curriculum based on what Steiner saw as the seven-year cycles through which a child develops and on the cultivation of the child's scientific and artistic imagination. On Steiner's recommendation, Waldorf teachers strive to "receive the child in reverence, educate the child in love, and send the child forth in freedom."

Steiner delivered more than a dozen lecture series on the spiritual and esoteric revelations that he gleaned from the events depicted in the Christian scriptures. Although he emphasized that the primary spiritual path for modern humanity ought to be spiritual science, or anthroposophy, in 1922, in response to an appeal for help from German and Swiss pastors and theology students, Steiner provided the spiritual foundation for a church called the Christian Community. During Christmas week in 1923, Steiner reorganized the Anthroposophical Society with the Goetheanum as its spiritual and physical center. He died at the Goetheanum on March 30,1925.

See Also

Anthroposophy; Blavatsky, H. P.; Rosicrucians; Theosophical Society.


More than two hundred volumes by Steiner and an equal number concerning anthroposophy by other authors, including Christopher Bamford, Owen Barfield, Sergei Prokofieff, M. C. Richards, and Valentin Tomberg, are available from Anthroposophic Press/Steiner Books at The following books are published by Anthroposophical Press/Steiner Books, Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

Bamford, Christopher, ed. Spiritualism, Madame Blavatsky, and Theosophy. Great Barrington, Mass., 2001.

Barnes, Henry. A Life for the Spirit: Rudolf Steiner in the Crosscurrents of Our Time. Hudson, N.Y., 1997.

Prokofieff, Sergei. Rudolf Steiner and the Founding of the New Mysteries. East Sussex, U.K., 1986.

Steiner, Rudolf. An AutobiographyChapters in the Course of My Life: 18611907. Translated by Rita Stebbing, Herndon, Va., 1999.

Robert A. McDermott (1987 and 2005)

Steiner, Rudolf (1861–1925)

views updated May 23 2018

Steiner, Rudolf (18611925)

Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner was born in Kraljevic, Austria-Hungary, in 1861. He was educated in Wiener Neustadt and graduated from the Technical University in Vienna in 1884. Rudolf Steiner's view of life is called anthroposophy : wisdom of men. It stresses the unity of body, mind, and soul, in the sense not of a personal but of a cosmic unity. According to this philosophy, there are three worlds, the physical, the soulish, and the spiritual. Humans are part of all three worlds through the seven forms of their whole existence on earth. They are "rooted" in the physical world with their physical, ethereal, and soulish bodies, and "blossomed" into the spiritual world with their spiritual selves, their spirit of life and spiritual existence.

Anthroposophy is intended to be a counterproject to Western scientific culture, one that includes the doctrines of cosmic fate and reincarnation. When this purely occult philosophy is applied to education, the child is considered to be the "human in being" whose "substance" is known only when the "hidden" or "secret" nature of man is revealed. Education then is part of the Geheimwissenschaft : that is not publicly known but revealed only to its believers. This view is in opposition to all that constitutes modern education since the Enlightenment.

For Steiner and his followers, the basis of education is neither teaching nor learning, but development. Development, however, refers not to nature, as Rousseau had stated, nor to mind, as Jean Piaget proposed. Steiner spoke of the "three births of men" that succeeded one after the other in a sequence of seven years. Up to the age of seven the child is woven within the ethereal and astral cover. After the child's second dentition, the ethereal body is born; at the age of fourteen the astral body, or the body of sensation, is revealed; and at the age of twenty-one the "body of I" is set into spiritual life. The means of education during the first period are imitation and modelling, during the second period succession and authority, and in the third period the road to the "higher soul of men" is opened.

Teaching in the first periods, Steiner believed, should not take place in an "abstract" manner, but in a concrete way, with "lively, vivid pictures" representing true spirituality for the understanding of the child. The educator should be "sensitive, warm and imbued with empathy" as a result of his or her studies of the sources of spiritual science. In the end the educator should represent the "true knowing of spritual science" and this would be at the heart of all true education. Until the child reaches sexual maturity, teaching relates to the memory of the child, Steiner argued, and after that it relates to reason. Working with concepts is necessary only after sexual maturity. Teaching has one central principle, namely that memory comes first and only then comes comprehension. The better the memory, the better the understanding will be, so all first schooling should be based upon memorizing.

In February 1919, Steiner delivered four public lectures in Zurich. These lectures were published soon after as "the key points of the social question." Steiner developed his later famous principles of the "trinominal organization of society," namely economy, law, and spiritual life. Education and schooling are part of the spiritual life, or the geistige Kultur, which can only work when it is completely free. Thus schooling should be completely free, too. The Waldorf Schools, following this principle, are nonstate enterprises and call themselves Free Schools because they operate independently from the curricula of the state.

The grounding principle of the schools is "rhythm," not lecturing: the rhythm of the day, of the week, and of the year. The curriculum is constructed around a seven-year cycle, with special forms of teaching, such as epoch-instruction or the learning of eurythmics. The schools are nonselective and use neither grades nor rankings. The pupils are not divided into classes but remain together as a group with one teacher as long as one cycle lasts. The schools are coeducational and have an independent administration and a close connection between teachers and parents. They attempt to avoid putting pressure on children and allow them to work according to their own personal potential.

See also: Child Development, History of the Concept of; Child Psychology; Neill, A. S.; Progressive Education.


Lindenberg, C. 1997 Rudolf Steiner. Eine Biographie. Stuttgart, Germany: Verlag Freies Geistesieben.

Steiner, Rudolf. 1919. Die Kernpunkte der Sozialen Frage in den Lebensnotwendigkeiten der Gegenwart und Zukunft. Stuttgart, Germany: Greiffer and Pfeiffer.

Steiner, Rudolf. 1948 [1907]. Die Erziehung des Kindes vom Gesichtspunkte der Geisteswissenschaft. Stuttgart, Germany: Verlag Freies Geistesleben.

Steiner, Rudolf. 1982 [1925]. Mein Lebensgang. Eine nicht vollendete Autobiographie. Ed. M. von Sievers. Dornach, Switzerland: Rudolf Steiner Verlag.

Steiner, Rudolf. 1994 [1904]. Theosophy: An Introduction to the Super-sensible Knowledge of the World and the Destination of Man. London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1973.

Wilkinson, Roy, ed. 1993. Rudolf Steiner on Education: A Compendium. Stroud, UK: Hawthorn.

JÜrgen Oelkers

Steiner, Rudolf (1861-1925)

views updated May 23 2018

Steiner, Rudolf (1861-1925)

Founder of the Anthroposophical Society. He was born on February 27, 1861, at Kraljevic, Austria, but a year later his parents moved to Vienna. He grew up a Roman Catholic and attended a technical college in Vienna. While in college he attended lectures at the university, where he was attracted to the great German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He did intense study in Goethe's writings, in which he developed an expertise. Because of his technical background and his competence in the subject, he was invited to edit a critical edition of Goethe's scientific writings. Eventually he was offered a position at the Goethe Archives in Weimar.

As a young man Steiner became interested in the occult. He was a member of the OTO (Ordo Templi Orientis) for a brief period and in the late 1890s moved to Berlin, where he became affiliated with the Theosophical Society. He soon rose to leadership of the German section of the society.

Almost from the beginning Steiner had opposed what he considered a downplaying of Christ in Theosophical teachings. Theosophy considers Christ but one member of the vast spiritual hierarchy. His differences were brought to the fore, however, in 1910, with the announcement by international president Annie Besant that a young Indian boy was to be the new world savior. To Steiner, and many others who identified themselves as Theosophists, the emergence of Jiddu Krishnamurti and the formation of the Order of the Star of the East was very clearly an un-Christian statement. Steiner moved to oppose Besant and Krishnamurti by declaring that membership in the German section of the Theosophical Society and the Order of the Star were incompatible. Besant revoked the charter of the German section.

With 55 of the 65 chapters with him, Steiner in 1913 reorganized the membership as the Anthroposophical Society. The name of the organization was taken from a alchemical work by Thomas Vaughn, Anthroposophia Theomagica. He created a Gnostic-like theology and during the remaining years of his life wrote voluminously, developing his perspective in every area of life, especially art, education, natural farming, and religion. In 1922 he introduced the Christian Community as a related church structure for those members who wanted more traditional worship.

Steiner died on March 30, 1925, at Dornach, in German-speaking Switzerland. From there the movement was later able to survive the destruction of occultism in Germany by the Nazi regime. His movement began to spread internationally in the 1920s and is now represented across Europe and North America.


Easton, Stewart. Rudolf Steiner: Herald of a New Epoch. Spring Valley, N.Y.: Anthroposophical Press, 1980.

Rittelmeyer, Friedrich. Rudolf Steiner Enters My Life. London: George Roberts, 1929.

Steiner, Rudolf. Christianity as Mystical Fact. West Nyack, N.Y.: Rudolf Steiner Publications, 1961.

. Cosmic Memory. West Nyack, N.Y.: Rudolf Steiner Publications, 1959.

. The Course of My Life. New York: Anthroposophical Press, 1951.

Wachmuth, Guenther. The Life and Work of Rudolf Steiner. New York: Whittier Books, 1955.

Steiner, Rudolf

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Founder of anthroposophy; b. Kraljević, Austria, Feb. 27, 1861; d. Dornach, near Basel, Switzerland, March 30, 1925. His formal schooling in natural science at the University of Vienna was supplemented by extensive reading, notably in goethe, whose complete works he edited (188996). For a time he was coeditor of Magazin für Literatur. His bent for occultism led him from Catholicism into theosophy. In 1902 he became head of a German section of the Theosophical Society, although he reacted against its dominantly Oriental associations. In 1912 he organized the Anthroposophical Society as an autonomous branch of theosophy and built the Gotheanum as international headquarters at Dornach, where the center of the Anthroposophical Society remains. Steiner's extensive lectures were later published in book form. Die Philosophie der Freiheit (1894; Eng. tr. 1916) was his most important book. His other best-known works were Das Christenthum als mystische Tatsache (1902), Die Geheimwissenschaft (1910), Vom Meschenrätsel (1916), and Von Seelenrätseln (1917). His autobiography, Story of My Life (1925; Eng. tr. 1928), gives the clearest insight into his complex character. Steiner claimed to have discovered the secret of man's search for the divine by his theory of spirit cognition, innate in everyone. According to him, most people are blinded by attention to material phenomena and are liberated from this materialism through contact with the reality of a spiritual world. His system differs from the more familiar Eastern philosophies in that he admits the existence of things less than spirit. He further postulates that not only the whole cosmos but all history and culture verify the same levels of existence that the human spirit can penetrate through its native intuition without books, teachers, or other external aids. Steiner inspired numerous activities and movements, such as the Waldorf school program, homes and schools for impaired children, the biodynamic method of farming, centers for science research, and academies for the fine arts. Most of these projects have no direct connection with anthroposophy. The Anthroposophical Society has published several of Steiner's books in English translation.

Bibliography: a. p. shepherd, A Scientist of the Invisible (London 1954). g. wachsmuth, The Life and Work of Rudolf Steiner, tr. o. d. wannamaker and r. e. raab (2d ed. New York 1955).

[j. a. hardon]

Steiner, Rudolf

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Steiner, Rudolf (1861–1925). Austro-Hungarian philosopher, artist, scientist, founder of Anthroposophy (knowledge produced by the Higher Self in Man), and architect. Much influenced by the writings of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), he began designing objects in 1907, guided by ideas of empathy, natural philosophy, Expressionism, and Symbolism. He believed that spiritual laws and values could be expressed in architecture, and designed seven columns to be set up in sequence within the assembly-hall of the Theosophical Congress, Munich (1907): these represented the seven ancient planetary spheres of influence believed to regulate human development. In 1910 he designed an underground chamber for the Theosophical Society in Stuttgart, a windowless elliptical space with two rows of columns supporting arches and vaults bearing astral and Zodiac signs with a polyhedral glass centrepiece. In 1912 he began to plan a domed auditorium and theatre in which all the forms would relate harmoniously to each other and have a mnemonic content. This was realized eventually at the Goetheanum, Dornach, Switzerland (1913–20), a domed structure that was the epitome of Expressionism with a strong Symbolist and Jugendstil flavour. This somewhat sinister ‘temple of spiritual wisdom’ burned down in 1922, and was replaced by his second Goetheanum (1924, completed 1964), a remarkable Expressionist structure of reinforced concrete.


AAJ, lxxix/873 (June 1963), 371–83;
Bayes (1994);
Biesantz et al. (1980);
Blaser (2002a);
Fant et al. (1969);
Kemper (1966);
Messina (1996);
Pehnt (1991);
Placzek (ed.) (1982);
Sharp (1967);
Jane Turner (1996);
Zimmer (1971)

Steiner, Rudolf

views updated May 29 2018

Steiner, Rudolf (1861–1925) Austrian philosopher and educator who helped to found the German theosophy movement. He later developed a philosophy of his own, called anthroposophy, which sought to explain the world in terms of people's spiritual nature or thinking independent of the senses.

Steiner, Rudolf

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Steiner, Rudolf (founder): see ANTHROPOSOPHICAL SOCIETY.

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