- a very misleading term often used to characterize African and other non-literate religious systems. The term was first introduced by Sir Edward B. TYLOR as a "minimum definition" of RELIGION. He argued that from sleep experiences, such as dreams etc., "primitive man" developed the idea of "anima" or the spiritual principle which animates material objects. Thus rivers, trees, stones, the sun, moon, and SACRED objects such as masks, were said to possess spiritual power caused by the indwelling of SPIRIT BEINGS. These ideas, Tylor argued, produced fear which led to WORSHIP and the development of religion. Today the term animism has fallen into disuse among serious scholars of religion although it is still retained by some MISSIOLOGISTS. The reason most academics have rejected this term is because it fails to recognize the highly complex NATURE of many non-literate religions which do not rely on simplistic notions of the spiritual world. The idea behind animism is in fact a racist one which assumes that non-literate peoples lack the INTELLECTUAL ability to develop complex religions and PHILOSOPHIES. It is therefore best abandoned to allow for the recognition of the complexity of religious systems. The British anthropologist E. E. EVANS-PRITCHARD did more than anyone else to dispel simplistic notions about "primitive religion" in books such as Witchcraft Oracles and Magic Among the Azande (1936) and Nuer Religion (1956).
Concise dictionary of Religion. 2012.