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anthropomorphism (ănˌthrəpōmôrˈfĭzəm) [Gr.,=having human form], in religion, conception of divinity as being in human form or having human characteristics. Anthropomorphism also applies to the ascription of human forms or characteristics to the divine spirits of things such as the winds and the rivers, events such as war and death, and abstractions such as love, beauty, strife, and hate. As used by students of religion and anthropology the term is applied to certain systems of religious belief, usually polytheistic. Although some degree of anthropomorphism is characteristic of nearly all polytheistic religions, it is perhaps most widely associated with the Homeric gods and later Greek religion. Anthropomorphic thought is said to have developed from three primary sources: animism, legend, and the need for visual presentation of the gods.
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the attribution of human form or characteristics to natural phenomena, animals, deities, spirits, etc. Anthropomorphism is a central feature of many systems of religion and cosmology which frequently assert a relationship between human affairs and the natural and supernatural realms.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Religions are typically expressed in anthropomorphic ways. The term comes from the Greek anthropos ("man") and morphe ("form") and refers to the human tendency to visualize nonhuman concepts in human form. We say the waters of a placid lake "lie still." A fire "rages" within a forest. Gods, spirits, and abominable snowmen take on human attributes.

This concept is summarized by Kurtis Schaeffer of the University of Alabama in a review of Stewart Guthrie's book Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of Religion:

Our tendency to find human characteristics in the non-human world stems from a deep-seated perceptual strategy: in the face of pervasive (if mostly unconscious) uncertainty about what we see, we bet on the most meaningful interpretation we can. If we are in the woods and see a dark shape that might be a bear or a boulder, for example, it is good policy to think it is a bear. If we are mistaken, we lose little, and if we are right, we gain much. So in scanning the world we always look for what most concerns us—living things, and especially human ones. Even animals watch for human attributes, as when birds avoid scarecrows. In short, we follow the principle, better safe than sorry.

Genesis teaches that humans were created in the image of God (although the television character Archie Bunker of All in the Family fame would later remark, "I won't say you can't tell us apart"). Some posit that, in art and literature, humans have recreated God in our image, both "Father God" and "Mother Earth."

Although all religions, even pantheistic ones, tend to see God or gods in human form, anthropomorphic expression of the divine found full expression in the Greek pantheon. Gods were, quite literally, made in the image of men. This tendency, however, was predated by biblical descriptions of God as a being with human form (Exodus 15:3)—with feet (Genesis 3:8), hands (Exodus 24:11), a mouth (Numbers 12:8), and heart (Hosea 11:8)—while at the same time displaying human emotions (Exodus 20:5). To be sure, when God is described as "a consuming fire," natural forces as well have been called upon to conceptualize the divine.

Much later, the Qur'an attributes noble human emotions to Allah, calling him "most merciful" and reminding us that "Allah heareth and knoweth all things."

Biblical writers must have been aware of this tendency, because they grappled with the problem of reducing spirit to human language. In the Greek Septuagint version of the Hebrew Bible, Alexandrian Jewish scholars felt the need to freely translate a few texts. Because the Israelites "saw no form" at Mount Sinai on the occasion of the delivery of the Ten Commandments, resulting in the instructions to make no images or idols of the divine, the translators felt free to add a descriptive word or two from time to time. Where Numbers 12:8 says, "I will speak with Him mouth to mouth," the Greek version reads, "I will speak to Him mouth to mouth apparently."

Perhaps it was the problem of anthropomorphism that caused early Hindu writers to insist that Brahman, the ultimate, universal creative principle, could not be "soiled by the tongue." The Upanishads describe Brahman as "Him the eye does not see, nor the tongue express, nor the mind grasp." Although there are said to be thirtythree million gods in India, ultimately all are faces of the inexpressible Brahman.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a resemblance to man; the attribution of human psychological characteristics to objects and phenomena of inanimate nature, celestial bodies, animals, and mythical beings.

Naive, dogmatic anthropomorphism is a primitive ideology which is expressed in the endowment of inanimate objects with the ability to act, live, die, have experiences, and so forth. (For example, the land sleeps, or the sky frowns.) Such an anthropomorphism was the prevailing world view during the early stages of development in human society. Echoes of such a conception of the world exist even in the languages of modern cultures—for example, numerous impersonal verbs such as morosit (it is drizzling), svetaet (it is dawning), and others. They exist also in the arts, especially poetry. As a way of thinking, however, such a type of anthropomorphism is today characteristic only of a child’s psychology; among adults it is usually a symptom of infantilism. Naive, dogmatic anthropomorphism developed into religious anthropomorphism; the image and characteristics of human beings were transferred to fantastic objects. This transference is inherent in religious conceptions of gods and other supernatural beings. The gods of the so-called higher religions are also anthropomorphic, although this is denied in theology.

Elements of anthropomorphism have even penetrated into scientific consciousness. For example, such terms as rabota (work) and napriazhenie (voltage) are anthropomorphic in their derivation, although their real meanings long ago lost any connection with their derivation. With the development of science, anthropomorphism has been replaced by the scientific world view, although in certain branches of knowledge anthropomorphic concepts remain ex tremely strong—for example, in animalpsychology: Some researchers have ascribed human thoughts, feelings, and even ethics to animals. In modern scientific, technical, and especially cybernetic literature, there are uses of anthropomorphic concepts (the “prolonged life” of particles, the concept that the machine “remembers” and “solves problems,” and so forth). Such usages are based upon the objective similarity between the functions and results of human actions and the functions and results of machine actions. They are fully justified, if essential, differences between human and machine processes are taken into account.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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The paradox of Schelling's approach to nature is that he avoids both Spinoza's 'denialism' of nature's mutability and Fichte's 'economic' view, not through a further separation of nature from man, but through nature's increasing anthropomorphization. I shall thus conclude by extracting two environmentally ethical principles that Schelling's anthropomorphization of nature entails.
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(26) It may seem an unwonted anthropomorphization to speak of rites as 'remembering'; one might expect me to say rather that they cause the participants to remember.
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