Rudolph Steiner (1861-1925)
Rudolph Steiner was born in Austria, and spent his life contributing to the fields of agriculture,
education medicine, art, and spirituality. He began his career studying mathematics, science and
philosophy in Vienna. He spent the majority of his life involved with the philosophical organization of
Theosophy, personally focused on European occultism, mysticism and Christianity. Although, Rudolph
Steiner claims his philosophies support spiritual development in any religion, there is clear Christian
background and European/Anglo basis to his work.
Rudolph Steiner published 40 books and gave thousands of lectures on occultism, esotericism,
education, music, art, agriculture, economics, architecture, religion, and medicine. Among his
published works was The Philosophy of Freedom, published in 1894, which he felt to be his most
important work. In this work, among many others, he attempted to explain spirituality through science.
Many other philosophers of his time found his work to be largely unsupported, based solely on his self
proclaimed clairvoyant ability.
In 1913, Rudolph Steiner broke away from Theosophy, founding his own organization called
Anthroposophy. His philosophies centered around the human relationship with the spiritual world.
Anthroposophy provides philosophical guidance in medicine, agriculture, education, art, economics,
social models, and spiritual development. He theorized that all human beings possess an inner wisdom
that provides guidance in the connectedness of all beings. The personal revelations described by
Anthroposophy must be discovered through the openness of the spirit and connectedness with the
world as a whole. All parts of the human being must be in harmony within the self and in harmony
with the surrounding world, to facilitate discovery of truth in the world. Anthroposophy is a method of
research in the answering of deep spiritual questions. He strived to bridge the gaps between science,
art, and religion through a philosophy that he believed would nurture the soul as a part of a larger
In 1919, Rudolph Steiner was asked to develop a school based on his philosophies at the Waldorf-
Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany. He wrote the essay, An introduction to Waldorf
Education, in which he explained the philosophies behind the education in Waldorf schools. In this he
wrote, “Idealism must work in the spirit of its curriculum and methodology; but it must be an idealism
that has the power to awaken in young, growing human beings the forces and faculties they will need in
later life to be equipped for work in modern society and to obtain for themselves an adequate living.”
He identified the guiding principles behind Waldorf education as rooted in a freedom, specifically in
later choices in life to find their own individual path.
Central to Waldorf education, is the appreciation for the surrounding world, regardless of background
or membership in any subgroup, only as world citizens. This includes responsibility and reverence for
the world. Anthroposophy believes that the world is a inherently good place, people are inherently
good and that through a Waldorf education, they can develop the body, spirit, and soul. Waldorf
education attempts to develop the “whole child” and strictly adheres to stages of development, closely
aligned to Piaget's stages of development. Waldorf education has a strong focus on art and beauty,
harmony of spirit and the science that can develop understanding of truths. The role of the teacher in
Waldorf education is to provide guidance and nurturing of the spirit in order for children to make their
own discoveries and realize their own truth and path in the world. The role of a teacher as a facilitator
of discovery can also be seen in Montessori methods.
Critics of Rudolph Steiner, and there are many, view his teachings as based in the occult, his claim to
be able to see into the past to see cosmic creation. He took the Gospel at face value, but still tried to
blend theories found in occultism, Goethe (German author of magnum opus) and his interpretations of
Christianity. Currently, Waldorf education and The Anthroposophical Society provide rigid adherence
to the teachings of Rudolph Steiner regardless of the changes in the world since his works were
For further readings on Rudolph Steiner:
Steiner, R. (1919) An Introduction to Waldorf Education.
Steiner, R. (1986) Soul Economy and Waldorf Education