Youth Section

How does one become an anthroposophist?

I wondered this when I first started to look into Steiner, and guessed that most people came to anthroposophy through a Steiner Waldorf education. Such an obscure belief system would hardly be high on most people’s agenda otherwise, and anthroposophists do not go knocking on doors to recruit. On the contrary, they seem to hide from public view.

In his book Sun at Midnight Geoffrey Ahern selected 18 anthroposophists back in the 1970s, and examined how they came to identify with the movement. Some were lonely individuals “searching for something”, dissatisfied with society as they perceived it, some attracted in by aquaintances who led similar lifestyles, perhaps beginning by borrowing some of Steiner’s books to read.

A fascinating appendix at the end of Ahern’s book examines what makes people stick with anthroposophy once they find it. A predisposition to join spiritual movements is thought likely – many adherents had already tried out other “cultic and esoteric identities” and Ahern also speculates that the presence of Rudolf Steiner himself as a father figure appeals to some; nearly all the original 18 had “reacted against their fathers”.

40 years later the movement still has young followers and these are not all in the area of London where most of Ahern’s group were based. There is evidence that many of these have been through Steiner education, or sometimes they have grown up in a Camphill Community where their parents lived and worked.

One website We Strive, is aimed at young people, and labelled “Youth section Goetheanum”. Nothing has appeared on it for some time, and I understand the group now has a new name, but about 4 years ago someone did a survey on how young anthroposophists view the future of the Anthroposophical Society in Britain; “the AS in GB”.

The answers are available here and make quite interesting reading.

 I think it is worth mentioning this issue, as surely parents considering a Steiner education here in Stroud should be aware of how their child might progress in anthroposophical belief after leaving school.

Many of the respondents, unsurprisingly, have been through Steiner education. They have entered the movement almost unconsciously, it seems, and as a natural progression from school.

The numbers of Steiner school leavers who become anthroposophists must be small since the AS is small in the UK anyway. It seems likely the membership of the Youth Section will swell as a result of Steiner Free schools appearing here in England.

The respondents to the survey often refer to the evils (as they see them) of modern society, and say how grateful they are for having been introduced via their school to what they see as a superior lifestyle.

One respondent said she had learned not to mention Anthroposophy or Steiner in a social situation as people “look at me oddly and think I belong to a cult”

Another survey undertaken in the States asked people how they had benefited from Steiner education. Some responses are quite sad, with one detailing how those on the outside of the movement do not react favourably to some of the qualities he or she has acquired as a result of a Steiner education;

“I have a lot of self-esteem and dignity from school time, sometimes too much, so it comes out as arrogance, I believe I am talented at life, and sometimes I am a bit too confident, could be called cocky. I have learnt to believe that thinking freely will not give me many friends but I would rather be free and close to the truth but alone than belong to a lying mass of communal illusion liars.”

This belief that much of what is encountered in people and in society in general that contrasts with the Steiner lifestyle must be inferior is a common theme, which I touched on earlier.

It results in a distorted view of the world, one where Steiner’s teachings (although not always recognised as Steiner’s by the students) are gospel, and views which challenge those must be false. An isolated outlook, and one that many Steiner students are incapable of recognising as such, and therefore escaping.

It is ironic that those who have had a Steiner education believe they have open, questioning minds, and the ability to think creatively. In fact the opposite is true; they have been taught Steinerian perceptions, and their unwillingness to accept mainstream science and the “materialism” they so despise, leads to an inability to relate to the realities of the modern world.

Yes, there are some Steiner science graduates to whom proponents proudly point, but these are few.

Reading the answers to these surveys reveals some of the challenges Steiner-educated individuals experience if or when they leave their Steiner community.

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3 comments

  1. alicia hamberg

    ‘It is ironic that those who have had a Steiner education believe they have open, questioning minds, and the ability to think creatively.’

    They have been told, time and time again, for much of their upbringing, that this is what Steiner education is giving them. It sounds attractive, and of course they tend to believe it — especially, perhaps, if they’ve had little exposure to other kinds of education or an other way of life. Another thing that makes this so powerful is that at the same time waldorf/steiner students often have a feeling of, or suspcition of, inferiority — they know that the rest of the world looks rather negatively on some aspects of steiner education (usually the more direct and visible aspects, like eurythmy and the kids not learning normal subjects, or less and different versions of those subjects). As a waldorf student you know not to talk about the school you attend with people on the outside — not because you have been told not to talk, no, not at all, but you know they don’t understand, and much of it (euythmy, e g) is frankly embarrassing. I can vividly imagine that those who stay for their entire education in waldorf/steiner choose to buy those ‘explanations’ of superiority, open minds, creativity, freedom, et c. Because anything else would be psychologically untenable on a personal level.

    (Some pupils will go on to become anthroposophists or to work within the movement. Some because they want it, some because that’s what they get or end up with — it offers a career path — and some because they don’t feel they fit in anywhere else. It shouldn’t be surprising, but I do suspect that many who end up with this life path come from anthroposophical families as well. Or at least they have parents who wouldn’t be scared by the prospect — otherwise, if they had been, steiner school would have been ruled out! Or I hope that’s the case…)

  2. Helen

    Steiner thinking is not “thinking outside the box” in any useful sense In most situations, it is more a way of justifying the unusual, sometimes bizarre ideas introduced at the schools because of anthroposophy; the so-called open-mindedness is a way of saying that anything, for example the idea that “the heart is not a pump”, is acceptable.

    An inferiority complex from going to such a school could present as being cocky as mentioned above, in some instances, I should think.

    • alicia hamberg

      ‘Steiner thinking is not “thinking outside the box” in any useful sense In most situations …’

      In my experience, they’re often thinking inside the Steiner box. Of course, the Steiner box is a bit apart from other boxes, but it’s still a box. And it’s no use pretending it isn’t there — which they try to do, or at least try to tell other people.

      ‘An inferiority complex from going to such a school could present as being cocky …’

      Yes. I suspect it’s ambivalent for the students. There’s some kind of imbalance. Superiority — sometimes, or often even, superfical and fragile — and inferiority, but a lack of realistic self-perception.

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