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anthropomorphism

anthropomorphism

[an-thruh-puh-mawr-fiz-uhm]
anthropomorphism [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.

Anthropomorphism is the attribution of uniquely human characteristics to non-human creatures and beings, natural and supernatural phenomena, material states and objects or abstract concepts. Subjects for anthropomorphism commonly include animals and plants depicted as creatures with human motivation able to reason and converse, forces of nature such as winds or the sun, components in games, unseen or unknown sources of chance, etc. Almost anything can be subject to anthropomorphism. The term derives from a combination of Greek ἄνθρωπος (anthrōpos), human and μορφή (morphē), shape or form.

Humans seem to have an innate capacity to project human characteristics in this way. Evidence from art and artifacts suggests it is a long-held propensity that can be dated back to earliest times. It is strongly associated with the art of storytelling where it also appears to have ancient roots. Most cultures possess a long-standing fable tradition with anthropomorphised animals as characters that can stand as commonly recognised types of human behaviour. The use of such literature to draw moral conclusions can be highly complex.

Within these terms, humans have more recently been identified as having an equivalent opposite propensity to deny common traits with other species - most particularly apes - as part of a feeling that humans are unique and special. This tendency has been referred to as Anthropodenial by primatologist Frans de Waal.

In religions and mythologies

In religion and mythology, anthropomorphism refers to the perception of a divine being or beings in human form, or the recognition of human qualities in these beings. Many mythologies are almost entirely concerned with anthropomorphic deities who express human characteristics such as jealousy, hatred, or love. The Greek gods, such as Zeus and Apollo, were often depicted in human form exhibiting both commendable and despicable human traits. Anthropomorphism in this case is sometimes referred to as Anthropotheism.

Anthropomorphites

Numerous sects throughout history have been called anthropomorphites attributing such things as hands and eyes to God, including a sect in Egypt in the 4th century, and a heretical, 10th-century sect, who literally interpreted Book of Genesis chapter 1, verse 27: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." Among modern adherents of this view are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints or the Mormons, followers of Joseph Smith.

Opposition to anthropomorphism

Many religions and philosophies have condemned anthropomorphism for various reasons. Some Ancient Greek philosophers did not approve of, and were often hostile to their people's mythology. These philosophers often developed monotheistic views. Plato's (427–347 BC) Demiurge (craftsman) in the Timaeus and Aristotle's (384–322 BC) prime mover in his Physics are notable examples. The Greek philosopher Xenophanes (570–480 BC) said that "the greatest god" resembles man "neither in form nor in mind." (Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies V xiv 109.1-3). The similarity of these philosophers' concepts of god to the concepts found in the Bible facilitated the incorporation of much pre-Christian Greek philosophy into the Medieval Christian world view by the Scholastics, most notably Thomas Aquinas. Anthropomorphism of God is rejected by Islam, as God in Islam is beyond human limits of physical comprehension and is unlike the Creation. This conception is also championed by the doctrinal view of Nirguna Brahman and by Judaism.

From the perspective of adherents of religions in which the deity or deities have human characteristics, it may be more accurate to describe the phenomenon as theomorphism, or the giving of divine qualities to humans, rather than anthropomorphism, the giving of human qualities to the divine. According to their beliefs, the deity or deities usually existed before humans, therefore humans were created in the form of the divine. However, for those who do not believe in the doctrine of the religion, the phenomenon can be considered anthropomorphism. In his book Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of Religion (1993), Stewart Elliott Guthrie theorizes that all religions are anthropomorphisms that originate due to the brain's tendency to detect the presence or vestiges of other humans in natural phenomena.

On rare occasions the literary use of anthropomorphism has been opposed on non-religious or political grounds. Lewis Carroll's novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was banned in China's Hunan province in 1931 because "animals should not use human language" and it "put animals and human beings on the same level. Later in the twentieth century George Orwell's novella Animal Farm used anthropomorphism to satirize Communism, as voiced by a pig in the famous passage "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others".

In literature

Anthropomorphism is a well-established device in literature from early times. Aesop's Fables, a collection of short tales written or recorded by the ancient Greek citizen Aesop, make extensive use of anthropomorphism, in which animals and weather illustrate simple moral lessons. One poet who made high art of the literary device was the northern renaissance poet Robert Henryson in his Morall Fabillis, where the blend of human and animal characteristics is especially subtle and ambiguous. The Indian books Panchatantra (The Five principles) and The Jataka tales employ anthropomorphized animals to illustrate various principles of life.

Other examples include: Winnie-the-pooh, Beatrix Potter, Brian Jacques's Redwall series, ...

See also

References

  • Shipley, Orby. ed. A glossary of ecclesiastical terms. 1872.

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