If you are just beginning to explore this site and the work of Rudolf Steiner, you may have some questions.
Where to Begin?
With twenty-seven books and thousands of lectures to choose from, it can be daunting to dive into this material. There are many ways to begin, but we recommend the following approach:
- Start with Theosophy and Knowledge of Higher Worlds.
- Look through the many lectures for topics that pique your interest. Lectures numbered 95-125 are good ones with which to start.
- Once you have got your bearings be sure to read Steiner's other seminal books: Occult (Esoteric) Science, Cosmic Memory, The Philosophy of Freedom and Christianity as a Mystical Fact.
Who was Rudolf Steiner?
Dr. Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925) was an Austrian philosopher, social reformer, architect, and Christ-centered esotericist. Receiving his doctorate at the University of Rostock in 1891, Steiner initially gained recognition as a philosopher and expert on Goethe's scientific writings. His dissertation, published as Truth and Knowledge (1892), served as the precursor to his seminal philosophical work, The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity (1894). In it, he proposes an epistemology which breaks free of Kant's limits to knowledge by positing thinking itself as a tool that can be used to objectively understand the world. He further posits a bold form of ethical individualism whereby humans become free spiritual beings to the extent that they chart their own course concerning their own ethical choices. This challenging book sets the philosophical groundwork for everything Steiner would later develop as Anthroposophy (from anthropo-, human, and sophia, wisdom).
Anthroposophy contains a context and spiritual exercises tools whereby individuals may develop themselves as instruments to objectively explore non-sensible realms in using the same rigor involved in studying the sensible world. Dr. Steiner referred to the discipline as Geheimwissenschaft, meaning spiritual, esoteric, occult, hidden or secret science. With Spiritual Science, Dr. Steiner applied the clarity of thinking of modern science to spiritual questions, differentiating this approach from pure religious belief and mysticism. 1See Chapter 1 of An Outline of Occult Science for a detailed discussion of Spiritual Science." He based his epistemology on Johann Wolfgang Goethe's world view, in which:
“Thinking… is no more and no less an organ of perception than the eye or ear. Just as the eye perceives colours and the ear sounds, so thinking perceives ideas.” 2Steiner, Rudolf (1883), Goethean Science, GA1.
Dr. Steiner provides new insights into biblical teachings and the Christ-Being. He teaches that historical forms of Christianity must be transformed in our times in order to meet the requirements of human evolution. In Steiner's esoteric cosmology, the spiritual development of humanity is interwoven in and inseparable from the cosmological development of the universe. By continuing the evolution that led to humanity being born out of the natural world, the Christ brings an impulse enabling human consciousness to use the forces that act creatively, but unconsciously, in nature. 3See An Outline of Esoteric Science
Beginning around 1907, Dr. Steiner began working collaboratively in a variety of artistic media, including drama, the movement arts (developing a new artistic form, eurythmy) and architecture. Producing some of the most significant works of modern architecture, his work culminated in the building of the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland, intended to house theater spaces as well as a school for Spiritual Science. During World War I, Dr. Steiner became a well-known and controversial public figure. In response to the catastrophic situation in post-war Germany, he proposed extensive social reforms through the establishment of a Threefold Social Order in which the cultural, political and economic realms would be largely independent. After World War I, Steiner founded many applications of his philosophy, including Waldorf education, biodynamic agriculture,and anthroposophical medicine.
From 1923 on, Dr. Steiner showed signs of increasing frailness and illness. He nonetheless continued to lecture widely, and even to travel; especially towards the end of this time, he was often giving two, three or even four lectures daily for courses taking place concurrently. Increasingly ill, he held his last lecture in late September, 1924. He continued work on his autobiography during the last months of his life; he died on 30 March 1925.
Why is Steiner's work so challenging?As Dr. Steiner explained in 1915:
“How often does the demand arise, again and again: ‘Why are the books written in a way so difficult to understand? Could they not be written in a simpler fashion?’ And someone or another makes suggestions as to how these books could be written for the people and made popular. One must really beware of gaining such popularity, for it only enhances egotism. If it were made so easy to enter Spiritual Science then each one could enter without overcoming his egotism. But in the work accomplished spiritually by the efforts we have to make, we get rid of a little of our egotism; we enter what we wish to acquire through Spiritual Science in a more hallowed frame of mind if we have had to take trouble over it, than if it had been presented to us in quite an easy and popular form.
For example, a person has come home and said: ‘There are so many people who have to work all day long. If these people have to sit down in the evening to read these difficult books, they do not get on very well. For such as these there ought to be books quite easy to read.’
To this I had to answer – and quite correctly: ‘Why should one prevent these people from applying even the little time at their disposal to reading such books as are purposely written with full regard to spiritual conditions? Why should they occupy the little time they have in reading books which may be more convenient, but which trivialise the matter even textually?’ For it is just because these books do not place the soul in the right attitude, that they drag down into the trivial life that which should lead one away from it, even as regards the nature of the experience connected with another sphere.
It will become of special importance in Spiritual Science that we should bear in mind not only the ‘What’ (the matter) but the ‘How’ (the manner): that we should really bestir ourselves gradually to acquire ideas of a world quite different from the ordinary physical world, and thus gradually to accustom ourselves to form conceptions different from those we can build so comfortably in the physical world.” 4Rudolf Steiner, The Forming of Destiny and Life after Death, Lecture 4: The Connection Between The Spiritual And The Physical Worlds, And How They Are Experienced After Death, GA 157a, Berlin, December 7, 1915.