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Animism (from Latin animus, -i "soul, life") is the religious worldview that natural physical entities—including animals, plants, and often even inanimate objects or phenomena—possess a spiritual essence. Specifically, animism is used in the anthropology of religion as a term for the religion of indigenous tribal peoples, especially prior to the development and/or infiltration of civilization and organized religion. Although each tribe is unique in its specific mythologies and rituals, the term animism is often used to describe the most common, foundational thread of indigenous tribespeoples' spiritual or "supernatural" perspectives --- in a word, their worldview, or their "reality." Some members of the non-tribal world also consider themselves animists (such as author Daniel Quinn, sculptor Lawson Oyekan, and many Neopagans) and, of course, not all peoples who describe themselves as tribal would describe themselves as animistic. In fact the tribal animistic perspective is so fundamental, mundane, everyday and taken-for-granted that most animistic indigenous people do not even have a word in their languages that corresponds to "animism" (or even "religion"); the term is a purely anthropological construct rather than one designated by tribespeople themselves. Largely due to such ethnolinguistic and cultural discrepancies, opinion has differed—ever since Sir Edward Tylor's 19th-century popularization of the term—on whether animism refers to merely a broadly religious belief or to a full-fledged religion in its own right.[note 1]
Animism encompasses the beliefs that there is no separation between the spiritual and physical (or material) world, and souls or spirits exist, not only in humans, but also in all other animals, plants, rocks, geographic features such as mountains or rivers, or other entities of the natural environment, including thunder, wind, and shadows. Animism may further attribute souls to abstract concepts such as words, true names, or metaphors in mythology. Examples of animism can be found in forms of Shinto, Serer, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Pantheism, Paganism, and Neopaganism.
Throughout European history, philosophers such as Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, among others, contemplated the possibility that souls exist in animals, plants, and people; however, the currently accepted definition of animism was only developed in the 19th century by Sir Edward Tylor, who created it as "one of anthropology's earliest concepts, if not the first".
According to the anthropologist Tim Ingold, animism shares similarities to totemism but differs in its focus on individual spirit beings which help to perpetuate life, whereas totemism more typically holds that there is a primary source, such as the land itself or the ancestors, who provide the basis to life. Certain indigenous religious groups such as the Australian Aborigines are more typically totemic, whereas others like the Inuit are more typically animistic in their worldview.
Just as Christianity can be said to be the experience of being part of the living body of Christ, animism can be said to be the experience of being part of the living biosphere (or even the whole "animate" universe). In this sense, something that is "animate" is simply something that is "alive," and to be an animist is to believe things to be alive that others perceive as "inanimate."