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A very moral minority: an investigation of the influence of Rudolf Steiner's esoteric Weltanschauung (worldview) on the purpose and principles of Waldorf education

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posted on 2022-03-28, 03:13 authored by Sheila Kathleen Curson
Waldorf or Steiner Schooling is recognised worldwide as the brainchild of Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), noted as one of Germany's leading twentieth century spiritual researchers and mystics. The doctrine and meditative discipline of Anthroposophy or Anthroposophical Spiritual Science, carefully crafted by Steiner from ancient Christian beliefs and the teachings of Rosicrucianism have been acknowledged as forming the basis of the work carried out in the Waldorf School (Freie Waldorfschule) opened in the German township of Stuttgart in 1919. Prior to this study there had been no attempt to enter the so-called "enchanted wood" (Ahern, 1984, p. 101) of Steiner's esoteric worldview and synthesize it in a way that would make it possible to define the linkages between it and Waldorf education. The research therefore set out to draw together the complex strands of Steiner's particular form of esoteric scholarship and identify its linkages with the purpose of education and the key principles relating to the methodological praxis and teaching content he devised for the original school. -- The initial focus of the research was to establish the broad parameters of Steiner's theories using original sources as far as practicable. This was followed by an exploration of the nexus between what transpired to be a radically different perspective on reality, the social system he believed would counter the rise of socialism in the post-war years and the educational practices he devised to bring his ideas to fruition. In order to establish the persistence of Steiner's ideological groundwork and its application in the Waldorf school classroom the research investigated contemporary practices through reviewing the literature in relationship to selected aspects of the curriculum and pedagogy. The study placed particular emphasis on the primary years of schooling. -- Steiner's epistemology and theories dedicated to unveiling the spirit in human consciousness were shown to "fit" the currently accepted model of esotericism as defined by Faivre (1994). They were also demonstrated to provide the foundation for Steiner's educational philosophy. The principal objective of education as Steiner perceived it was to prepare the child's bodily "temple" for possession by the spirit which would lead to a lifetime of moral thought and action in the image of the Christ archetype. As such, Steiner saw education as a "salvation" and current teachers in Waldorf schools have referred to their task as preparing the child to become a vessel of the Solar Christ. The methodological practices Steiner devised for the Waldorf School were found to be based on the techniques fundamental to the meditative discipline of Anthroposophy and teaching content incorporated esoteric "truths" via an "inner" or "occult" curriculum intended to create a worldview commensurate with Steiner's teachings. -- The research further shed light on the relationship between Steiner's desires to bring about the social renewal of the dysfunctional German State following World War I. It confirmed that Waldorf education was "a child of the Threefold Commonwealth" (Strawe, 1998, p. 43), a new spiritualised social order in which Steiner envisaged Waldorf graduates would come to play a leading role. -- Analysis of the textual content of many of Steiner's lectures associated with the preparation of the teachers indicated that in the early years of schooling the emphasis was on developing the concepts of the "feeling heart" and the power of the imagination to guide the will of the child to be able to freely make decisions and judgements informed by the spiritual laws of the moral Universe. His pedagogical theories were demonstrated to belong to the romantic stream of educational philosophies. Contemporary educationalists were found to adhere to Steiner's original pedagogical principles through maintaining the Main Lesson curriculum. -- The findings concluded that every aspect of Waldorf schooling investigated could be directly related to the aspects of Steiner's esoteric weltanschauung as discussed at the outset of this study. In order to build on this preliminary investigation further research of this imaginative, creative and value-driven form of education is required. Of particular interest is the work carried out in the Waldorf High School which is purported to be the stage at which the curriculum and pedagogy must combine to reinforce the moral and spiritual awakening of the adolescent that will enable them to meet and one day, transform the world.


Alternative Title

Investigation of the influence of Rudolf Steiner's esoteric Weltanschauung (worldview) on the purpose and principles of Waldorf education

Table of Contents

1. Introduction -- 2. In search of the stone of love - the development of Rudolf Steiner's Esoteric world view (Weltanschauung) -- 3. Worlds apart - scholarly perspectives relating to Steiner's Esoteric Weltanschauung -- 4. The foundations of a moral community -- 5. The Waldorf school - an education for the new age of light -- 6. Modern Waldorf school education - looking for the angel -- 7.


Bibliography: pages 316-340

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Department of Education

Department, Centre or School

Department of Education

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Pamela Coutts


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Sheila Kathleen Curson 2013. Tables in Appendix III and IV were suppresed due to copyright reasons




1 online resource (xi, 350 pages) illustrations

Former Identifiers

mq:30962 2120096