Anthroposophy: A Philosophy of Freedom

Synthesizing the spiritual and the material.



(Rido /

Freedom. Spirituality. Science. Humanism. Art. Anthroposophy is the philosophy that seeks to incorporate all these values and needs. Dennis Hambeukers explains in a Medium article that this outlook was invented by German Ruldolf Steiner, around the turn of the 20th century with the goal of broadening humanity’s spiritual horizons and achieving freedom of thought and action. 

Steiner’s philosophical forays gave birth to the Waldorf system of education, a developmental and play-based approach to schooling, with a focus on nature and discovery. Today, according to the New York Times, there are more than 3,000 Waldorf schools globally. What is this unique philosophical and educational movement and what are its benefits?

Hambeukers writes, in his publication Real Talk, that  anthroposophy was developed by Steiner, anthroposophy as an attempt to synthesize science and the spiritual world by applying the scientific method to the non-material. 

Steiner believed that there was a world beyond what could be perceived by human senses, and that by studying and investigating the spiritual, human beings could connect with their essences and natures and achieve freedom. Freedom is a major component of Steiner’s works, and he titled one of his books, Philosophy of Freedom.

Steiner wrote, “If we want to be free, we must work through our own inner activity to overcome unconscious urges and habitual thinking,” describing how releasing one’s mind from the trappings of the material worlds could open up people’s abilities to use both their spiritual and material senses to guide thought and action.

The NYT quotes Beverly Amico, the executive director of advancement for North American, anthroposophy-inspired Waldorf schools. Amico describes anthroposophy as “developing reverence for goodness, in the other and in the world around us … which brings with it purpose and meaning to life.” 

However, as NYT reports, anthroposophy isn’t without its controversies. Mixing the spiritual and scientific world led Steiner to some strange theories about medicine and science, including a belief that “astral bodies” were what caused diseases. Steiner also had some controversial racially-based theories. 

Followers of Steiner’s anthroposophy have extended and built upon Steiner’s ideas, both the controversial and non-controversial ones, growing the movement to incorporate applied anthroposophy in the forms of biodynamic farming, anthroposophical curative education, anthroposophical medicine, and, probably the most well-known applied anthroposophy, the Waldorf education system, according to the Waldorf Answers.

Biodynamic farming
According to the  Biodynamics association, biodynamic farming is a holistic, naturalistic approach to cultivating the land. Biodynamic farming sees the land and everything growing on it as an integrated system, and farmers try to preserve the harmony of this system and create and equilibrium among everything on the land.

These goals are accomplished in a variety of ways, and no two farms are identical, but they can include planting diverse crops, including annuals, perennials, herbs, flowers, fruits, vegetables, grains, and other plant varieties. Biodynamic farms often have just as diverse a cast of farm animals, and create a natural equilibrium between the plants and animals by using natural manure and compost to grow their crops. 

Crop rotation is another method used to keep the soil productive, as the philosophy looks negatively on synthetic fertilizers. Pesticides are also frowned on, with farmers encouraged to plant specific crop combinations and create space for pests away from the main crops to prevent insect infestation. 

In all, biodynamic farming tries to be a method of crop cultivation that works in harmony with nature and with the plants and animals on the land. There are about 5,000 biodynamic farms operating globally.

Waldorf schools
The Waldorf schools are another manifestation of applied anthroposophy. The first Waldorf school, NYT shares, was opened in Stuttgart, Germany by Emil Molt, an industrialist inspired by Steiner’s ideas, in 1919. In 1928, the first American Waldorf school opened in New York City. Today, there are 3,000 Waldorf schools operating worldwide.

Waldorf education tends to focus on nature and natural development. Students may learn in “forest schools,” have a lot of nature-centric objects in the classroom, and technology is strictly discouraged.

Often, Waldorf schools will feature mixed age classes, and there is little pressure for students to meet academic goals according to their grade level timeline before they are developmentally ready. For example, formal literacy learning only begins after age seven. Instead of being drilled, quizzed, and given tests, children are given lots of opportunity for movement, exploration, and play, a practice very much in line with Steiner’s “philosophy of freedom.”

One Waldorf parent, Nancy Hoose, tells NYT that her daughter had a bad experience in a public preschool where she was subject to long periods of frontal teaching where she had to sit still and listen. By contrast, Hoose shared, her daughter’s Waldorf school was a “ bucolic setting” that prioritized what was, “natural, beautiful and healthy for the child.”

Jason Child, a music teacher at a North Carolina-based Waldorf school agreed. “It’s not about meeting goals society feels would make the child a more productive member of society. It’s about developing a complete human being” he says.

At its core, anthroposophy is a philosophy of freedom that seeks to free human from the constraints of the world around them to develop a sense of their own spirituality, personal growth and purpose. And, the Waldorf approach to education accomplishes this by freeing children from the constraints society imposes and uncompromising age-based academic goals. 

Anthroposophy serves as a powerful reminder that by embracing one’s spiritual nature and integrating it with knowledge of the material world, you can cultivate a deeper connection with the world and yourself. Through its various applications, Anthroposophy encourages personal growth, holistic development, and a sense of freedom and purpose, ultimately enriching lives and contributing to a more harmonious global community.

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