animism, belief in personalized, supernatural beings (or souls) that often inhabit ordinary animals and objects, governing their existence. British anthropologist Sir Edward Burnett Tylor argued in Primitive Culture (1871) that this belief was the most primitive and essential form of religion, and that it derived from people's self-conscious experience of the intangible, such as one's reflected image or dreams. He has been criticized for deducing that the chief function of religion is to explain various phenomena. Robert Marett studied among the Melanesians of the South Seas, noting the concept of mana, or supernatural power independent of any soul. He described the belief in such a force as animatism. People may also use mana; for example, a weapon that has killed many animals may be thought to have mana, and charms believed to have mana may be placed to protect gardens. French sociologist Emile Durkheim, in his Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912, tr. 1965), argued that the roots of religion lay in totemism (see totem), where certain objects or animals are treated as sacred objects. Although these early conceptions of animism, animitism, and totemism have been contested and revised, the terms are still used by some anthropologists to describe certain religious beliefs and rituals. See fetish; taboo; amulet; idol; shaman; ancestor worship.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Rethinking Animism: Thoughts from the Infancy of Our Discipline
Stringer, Martin D.
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 5, No. 4, December 1999
Totemism, Animism and North Asian Indigenous Ontologies
Pedersen, Morten A.
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 7, No. 3, September 2001
Totem and Taboo: Some Points of Agreement between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics
Sigmund Freud.
Routledge, 2001
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Animism, Magic and the Omnipotence of Thought"
Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of Religion
Stewart Elliott Guthrie.
Oxford University Press, 1993
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Animism, Perception, and the Effort after Meaning"
Religion and the Hermeneutics of Contemplation
D. Z. Phillips.
Cambridge University Press, 2001
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Tylor and Frazer: Are Religious Beliefs Mistaken Hypotheses?"
African Literature, Animism and Politics
Caroline Rooney.
Routledge, 2000
Making Magic: Religion, Magic, and Science in the Modern World
Randall Styers.
Oxford University Press, 2004
Librarian’s tip: "Animism" begins on p. 75
The Child's Conception of the World
Jean Piaget; Joan Tomlinson; Andrew Tomlinson.
Littlefield, Adams, 1960
Librarian’s tip: Part II "Animism"
The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life
Emile Durkheim; Joseph Ward Swain.
Free Press, 1965
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of animism begins on p. 64
Paradox and Nirvana: A Study of Religious Ultimates with Special Reference to Burmese Buddhism
Robert Lawson Slater.
University of Chicago Press, 1951
Librarian’s tip: Chap. II "Buddhism and Animism in Burma"
Mind & Matter
Unknown, 1931
Librarian’s tip: Book One "The Animism of Common Sense"
Animism: Respecting the Living World
Graham Harvey.
Columbia University Press, 2006
Temporarily FREE! Eight Theories of Religion
Daniel L. Pals.
Oxford University Press, 2006 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 1 "Animism and Magic: E. B. Tylor and J. G. Frazer"
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