This article explores the definition of animatism in anthropology. In the further segments, we will understand how animatism emerged and what were the problems it faced.

The word ‘Animatism’ came from the Latin term ‘anima’, which means ‘to breathe’, ‘soul’, or ‘life’. Animatism religion is a primitive religion that believes in supernatural and uncanny mystic powers that possess everything around them. 

Human beings are social creatures, and religion is a big part of who they are and what they believe. The various religions we know today weren’t this diverse earlier. The religion of animatism was first started in the South Pacific region of the world. Locution animatism was first traditionally acclaimed and minted by well-known anthropologist Robert Marett(Britain). He coined the locution in the year 1900 in his philosophy of the evolution of various religions. 

Robert Marett defined animatism as a form of faith with unbiased energy or power. This power exists in both conscious and unconscious beings. It can influence what happens around them. Robert Marett said this belief was a primitive form of religion. He quoted that human beings do not own a soul that is personal to them.

Whether animate or inanimate, all beings have a certain power or energy linked to them. Robert fabricated this energy as ‘Mana’. Mana is an intense form of supernatural power or strength that can be acquired or inborn in an object. Moreover, there is a faith that mana can be transmitted to other bodies. Mana includes unnatural powers in objects as well. It is often believed that these supernatural powers interact with each other. The interaction can be of any form, for example, communicating about probable diseases or catastrophes. 

People who have faith in animatism say that these unnatural forces are sent to them by God himself.


In a world where technology rules, we might assume the old-time beliefs, such as animatism, are just a myth. But, even today, this faith exists in many Asian countries. 

Animatism is considered a primitive religion without any complex rituals. People who believe in this religion have faith in praying to inanimate objects. They believe that it will keep the foul energies away. Robert Marett learned about these energies when he explored the civilisation of the South-Pacific region. Places like Polynesia and Melanesia have faith in the religion called ‘Manaism’. 

We can consider animatism and “manaism” similar as both believe in supernatural powers found in objects. Hence, Manaism is used as a synonym for animatism. Another term that can be used in place of animatism is pre-animism.


Animatism is a primitive religion that believes there are supernatural powers possessing everything around them regardless of whether they are motile or non-motile. While the faith of animism says beings that belong to nature can only possess supernatural forces, specific chants called mantras can also possess supernatural powers.

The words animatism and animism are very identical. This can be confusing.

  • The difference between animatism and animism is that people who have faith in animism believe that only natural things possess extraordinary energies, sometimes even words. 
  • On the other hand, the religion of animatism says that every object can have paranormal energy.

Many societies around the world practice animism. The people with faith in animism believe in the souls in objects that can help or punish humans. They can cause harm to humans only if disrespected or infuriated. This word was minted in 1871 by a British anthropologist named Sir Edward Taylor. He was also the founding person of cultural anthropology. 

Sir Edward Taylor wanted to name this early form of religion “Spiritualism”. But, he was concerned about how people would comprehend this to modern spiritualism. Then he drew inspiration from the biological theory “animism” by George Stahl, a scientist from Germany. 

Some researchers say animatism precedes animism in terms of theoretical studies. Some even say that maybe animism emerged from animatism. Others believe animatism and animism concurrently emerged together.


Let us observe and investigate the differences between animism and animism.






Faith that everything around them, whether living or non-living, have the power to harm or help humans.

Faith that natural beings and sometimes even words can possess supernatural strengths.


This locution was coined in the year 1900 by Robert Marett.

This locution was coined in 1875 by Sir Edward Taylor.


Since animatism uses Mana in the faith, it is associated with success.

Animism is less featured than animatism.


Animatism believes in one supreme god.

Animism believes that different objects possess different spirits.


Manaism and pre-animism.

Totemism, mysticism, spiritualism, and pantheism.

Countries of practice

Melanesia and Polynesia.

South-East and East Asian countries.


One spirit is possessed by all objects.

Various spirits possess objects. E.g., in Cambodia, things such as farms, rivers, trees are possessed by a spirit called neak ta. The same spirit in Thai is called Phil.

Cognitive impacts

The use of amulets and sacred objects to acquire.

Promotion of respecting all beings and using mantras.


Although the religion of animatism was widespread in the South-Pacific region, there was always a group of people who did not follow or believe in this faith. Animatism was criticised because people found Robert Marett’s definition insufficient. This is because the theoretical studies of manaism (animatism) were based on inadequate data and did not have enough proof to convince everyone to believe it.


The animatism religion is the faith among people. This faith believes that everything around them in nature has certain energy linked to it, that everything includes both living and inanimate things. The animatism religion is primitive. It is believed that all religions have come to be known today from this energy. This faith induces a certain sense of security and calmness for people who thoroughly follow this religion. It also causes optimistic thoughts and a placebo effect. Although many people believed in this religion, it was still criticised because of insufficient data and proof.


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