What Concerns Us

What do Steiner Waldorf education, Triodos Bank, Camphill Movement, Biodynamic agriculture, Anthroposophical Medicine, Weleda, the Movement for Religious Renewal (also known as The Christian Community) and Eurythmy all have in common?

All of the above have their roots in Anthroposophy, a belief system and movement founded by Rudolf Steiner. The Steiner schools, Camphills and so on represent the practical application and outcome of Anthroposophical core beliefs. These beliefs derive from the clairvoyant visions of Rudolf Steiner, obtained via the meditation technique he invented and dubbed ‘Spiritual Science’. As a generality we can say that Anthroposophists tend to promote the technique of ‘Spiritual Science’ whereas Steiner followers tend to put the ideas and beliefs that Steiner derived from his clairvoyance into practice.

For 150 active UK Anthroposophical and Steiner projects and businesses studied their estimated combined income is 138Million GBP. [1]Their estimated annual assets exceed 245Million GBP. The movement is integrated and well organised. Projects support one another in terms of finances and human resources. Within the Anthroposophy movement this support goes across charitable and business boundaries and across and between the types of application. In lending support to any Anthroposophical project or business there is, then, the chance of that support being diverted in full or in part to a project that an individual or an agency doesn’t intend to support or might have reservations about. Beyond the UK there is a central headquarters in Dornach, Switzerland, serving the global movement. Currently there are 50 countries with national Anthroposophical Societies or groups, our country has its own national society.

Parents, statutory agencies, civil servants and civic administrators, politicians, the media and the public generally are largely unaware of Steiner and Anthroposophy or hazy about the details if they are aware.

An informational gap exists because Steiner wrote in German and we rely for information on translations into English provided by Anthroposophists. In the words of the only UK academic to research in depth the Anthroposophical belief system (Dr Geoffrey Ahern) these translations of Steiner’s original texts can give an effect “not short of conceptual Jabberwocky”.[2] This is in part due to difficulties in finding English equivalents for the actuality or vision of the spiritual domain Steiner reported on, his reports being complex and containing nuances that can become lost in translation.

However, it cannot help that English translations of his original works have been divested of Steiner’s more overtly racist remarks. Readers of Steiner might thus be dealing with disjointed texts attempting to convey his other more complicated concepts. Examples of sanitised texts published by the UK Anthroposophy movement can be found in an article available on this website. These UK versions were published within the last decade but sanitisation has a much longer history than that.

Steiner racism is real. Dutch Anthroposophists holding an internal inquiry (an inquiry within the Dutch Anthroposophy movement, a sort of Anthroposophic Committee of inquiry) into Steiner racism came to the conclusion that Steiner texts contain racist comments. Anthroposophical research and discussion of racism is cited in a recent UK government report (the ‘Woods Report’) into Steiner education. In that report[3], a summary of one paper, produced by Anthroposophists, says that it

“reports disagreement between Waldorf fundamentalists and those favouring adapting philosophy to new circumstances.”

and cites the same paper as linking potential for racism to Steiner’s version of evolution which is described as

“a naive version of the evolution of consciousness…which sometimes places one race below another on an evolutionary scale” [4]

Clearly there is a problem of racism with Steiner but it is unclear as to how or even if the Anthroposophy community in this country either acknowledges it or deals with it. Sanitisation of texts suggests an awareness of a problem with the texts but how can sanitisation of texts in our country cope with the fact that many Anthroposophical practitioners arrive here in the UK having been trained in countries where the intact versions of Steiner are published?

CHASE aims to have the situation clarified to the benefit of both Anthroposophists and the general community.

Problems with Steiner extend beyond that of racism. Steiner held and presented his highly unorthodox and controversial views on such emotive and personally sensitive matters as religion, karma, reincarnation, evolution, the economy, science, medicine and health, human relationships the arts – he even went so far as to champion a belief in the existence of gnomes and Atlantis. Given that an informational gap exists, the British public is poorly served in having to cope with conceptual Jabberwocky and sanitised texts before engaging with the issues surrounding Steiner and his beliefs or before studying the man and his beliefs for the first time.

People engaging with Anthroposophy, e.g. by placing kids or loved ones with a Steiner school, medical facility or other institution, expect and deserve to be fully informed of the beliefs of its practitioners when, as with Anthroposophic/Steiner beliefs, those beliefs are so different from the mainstream as to be considered alternative, radical, progressive, codswallop, New Age, avant-garde, brilliant or whatever else way they might be described. As a result of the informational gap people can end up giving support to organisations they would not ethically, intellectually or morally support. The possibility of unintended support happening exists because Anthroposophy consists of a community of mutually supportive projects and organisations.

It is a central aim of CHASE to provide information and narrow the existing informational gap and so allow people to make better informed decisions with regard to their intended or actual involvement with Anthroposophy. To achieve this aim the CHASE website will carry articles and information about Steiner and Anthroposophy.

CHASE is not accusing the Anthroposophy movement of institutional racism but how Anthroposophists individually or as organisations relate to demonstrable Steiner racism is in urgent need of clarification.

Currently, the University of Plymouth offers teacher training to graduate level in Steiner education. Anthroposophy lobbyists want this expanded, want the Steiner qualification transferable to the mainstream sector, want state funding of Steiner schools. Until and unless Anthroposophists and Steiner followers publicly and satisfactorily address the racism within and underpinning Steiner beliefs, a teaching pedagogy based on Anthroposophy and Steiner beliefs is not acceptable for our state schools.

We consider it a matter of urgency that the Anthroposophy movement and its practitioners address the racist content within Steiner. This would clarify the movement’s position in regard to Steiner’s proven racism and we would all of us benefit as a result.

Rather than addressing the racism issue internally, as was the case in Holland, we suggest Anthroposophists include interested parties from outside the movement in helping to clarify the situation as regards Steiner racism. Such an inclusive approach is within the spirit of equality and avoids the potential an internal inquiry has of being deemed a cover-up or whitewash. Also, both the movement and the other participants will learn from the experience – Anthroposophists about concerns of the wider community, the interested parties about the beliefs of Steiner and Anthroposophists.

We further suggest that an agreeable conclusion to the process of addressing the racism within Steiner would be the production of a document that unequivocally distances the Anthroposophy movement and its practitioners from Steiner’s racism. Such a document could serve as a standard statement for individual Anthroposophical organisations to agree to and abide by. It would provide a ready means of assuring the public and individual enquirers alike that the movement or an individual organisation within the movement is not a racist one or that it subscribes to or endorses racist views. CHASE is in dialogue with the Commission for Racial Equality and Trades Union as potential partners with Anthroposophists in helping broker a mutually agreeable document of the sort discussed above – it is not enough for Anthroposophists alone to define for themselves what racism is and how Steiner’s racism should be interpreted.

We have spent a lot of effort on the topic of Steiner racism here on this page of the CHASE website because it is one issue that unites us and will be of obvious and immediate concern to the overwhelming majority of the British public. There are other issues that concern CHASE either as individuals or collectively and these are spoken of elsewhere on the website.

CHASE is open to anybody sympathising with our aims and views and you can find out more about us via the menu link on the left. At the bottom of this page will be a link to other sections of the website. The articles section contains a range of articles exploring and making clear Steiner belief. If you would like to comment on any article or contribute one then please get in touch!

Notes

[1] See the study “Anthroposophy UK – a Preliminary Report” in the CHASE website articles section.

[2] Ahern, Geoffrey, Sun at Midnight:The Rudolf Steiner Movement and the Western Esoteric Tradition (Aquarian Press, 1984).

Scholarly work (Ahern is now a Professor) undertaken from a comparative religion perspective. The text unravels the sheer complexity of Steiner’s belief system. It also provides biographical detail on Steiner, outlines the various applications of Anthroposophy and gives some detail about the movement itself.

[3] Woods P, Ashley M, Woods G: Steiner Schools in England. Department for Education and Skills and University of the West of England, Research Report RR645, June 2005. Brief and full copies of the DfES report are available for download at http://www.dfes.gov.uk/research/programmeofresearch/projectinformation.cfm?projectId=14301&type=0&resultspage=41

[4] McDermott, R. (1996) Racism and Waldorf Education, Research Bulletin, 1 (2): 3-8

The McDermott paper is an invaluable source document for those requiring proof of the problematic nature of Steiner belief as regards its racist content and basis. It was written as a consequence of McDermott’s own observations in course of research undertaken at a Steiner school at which he participated in “a racially charged discussion brought to the school by visiting representatives of the international Waldorf community.”

McDermott’s paper initiated an internal debate within Steiner educationalists about the problematic racist content of Steiner beliefs. The debate was short-lived and internal to Anthroposophists and remains unresolved. The Woods Report in consideration of the debate concluded that

“The research question is whether Steiner schools in practice, through their ethos, curriculum and/or pedagogy, help towards overcoming unjust social distinctions and cultural hierarchies, or whether (perhaps unconsciously) they reinforce or exacerbate them.”

This avoids completely the more important need for an evaluation of the already known and documented racist content of some Steiner texts and a consideration of how or if the racist content within Steiner informs Steiner pedagogy. It is insufficient to accept at face value, as appears to be the case here, an evaluation of these matters by a tiny clique of Anthroposophical educators conducting a debate in an obscure Anthroposophical journal.

Since the Woods report the English government has continued to actively support the initiation of state funding of Steiner education when the research question Woods poses and the deeper one of Steiner racism and its relationship to Steiner pedagogy remains unresolved.

The McDermott paper is available online at http://www.waldorflibrary.org/Journal_Articles/RB1201.pdf (last accessed 01/08/2007)

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