Rudolf Steiner

When Rudolf Steiner died in 1924, he was a teacher and speaker known widely throughout western Europe. In the decades since his death, Steiner’s contributions to our culture have not been eclipsed by the passage of time but, rather, have slowly gained a wider audience. His work has endured and may be more influen­tial now than at any other time since his death.

Rudolf Steiner helped to invent and define eurythmy, a form of artistic movement that integrates spoken poetry and dance. He articulated a practice of bio-dynamic gardening, a sustainable method of agriculture based on harmony with the natural systems and cycles of the biosphere rather than an attempt to gain techno­logical domination over them. He organized the Anthroposophical Society, which continues as a center for spiritual   study   in   western Europe, the United States, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. He wrote about architecture, particularly the relation­ship between the structures people build and the lives they lead within them, and designed buildings that incorporated both sa­cred and secular space.

Steiner’s most important contribution probably lies in the field of human development and education. For fifteen years Rudolf Steiner wrote and lectured about his vision of human becoming, particularly from birth through age twenty-one. He articulated a theory that is both profound and complex, that anticipated and still incorporates the work of developmental psychologists, such as Piaget, Erikson, and the many neo-Piagetians and that extends into realms of human ex­perience beyond cognitive and ego psychologies into the emotional and transpersonal realms.

Steiner also articulated a theory and practice of education based on his vision of human becoming. In 1919 he founded a school, and he organized and supervised it until his death five years later. This school, called the Waldorf School because it originally served the children of employees in the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany, provided the vehicle through which Steiner translated his educational theory into prac­tice. It also became the model for what has grown into a world­wide network of more than 1000 Waldorf schools in 60 nations as well as a number of teacher training institutes.

Rudolf Steiner was born in 1861 in a small town on the border of Austria and Hungary. He studied mathematics and science at the Technical College in Vienna and, in 1891, received his doctor­ate from Rostock University. As a result of his work as a student, he was invited to serve as the editor of a portion of Johan Wolfgang von Goethe’s sci­entific works. Although Steiner devoted much energy to this pro­ject both before and after earning his doctorate, he also wrote and published his own philosophical works and served as a teacher for many years.

From the age of seven, Steiner had experienced supersensible or spiritual realities beyond the material world as concrete and real. In his youth and early adulthood, he explored these planes of being and learned about their nature and meanings. By 1900 he had gained a good deal of control over his presence in these supersen­sible or spiritual realities. In that year Steiner first lectured publicly about his knowledge of supersensible realities, often focusing on the need for scientific research into the nature of these soul-spiritual planes. His lectures were well received, and he began to attract a following that viewed him as an enlightened spiritual teacher.

During his first decade of lecturing, Steiner was connected with the larger Theosophical movement of the time, which had a pres­ence not only in western Europe but also in North America and India. From 1902 to 1912 Steiner headed the German section of the Theosophical Society and was an important voice within that movement. However, during the later years of this period, his dis­agreements with English leaders of the Society, particularly Annie Besant, led to a growing estrangement between him and the Theosophical movement. In 1913 Steiner broke with that move­ment and began to call his work not Theosophy but Anthroposophy, from the Greek anthropos, meaning man, and sophia, meaning wisdom. He also formed the Anthroposophical Society, centered in Dornach, near Basle, Switzerland.

Throughout the remaining decade of his life, Steiner continued to study supersensible realities through what he called “the sci­ence of the spirit” and to lecture about his learnings. He attracted thousands of interested listeners as well as many who were hostile and violent toward his ideas. Despite increasing ill health, Steiner continued to give lectures and direct the original Waldorf School nearly to the time of his death.