Rudolf Steiner was a philosopher and social reformer born in Austria in 1861. He obtained a PhD from the University of Rostock and was a well-known thinker, speaker and author. Living at a time of great social upheaval and conflict his work aimed to create the conditions for a more cohesive and less fragmented society.
A belief in spiritualism and an afterlife was a popular concept in late 19th and early 20th century Europe when society was less secular that today. It provided hope that there was more to existence than the hard material life that most people were experiencing and provided an alternative to organised religion. Steiner's work was based on the notion of a spiritual dimension in oneself, others and the world that can be developed through working on creating higher states of spiritual knowledge. That by re-gaining this knowledge it would help people find solutions to the problems faced by the modern world.
This led to his development of Anthroposophy which is a 'spiritual philosophy' that supported the broadening of personal knowledge, spiritual growth, service and social engagement. It is not a religion or a set of beliefs but a practice to develop self knowledge. There is no requirement to 'believe' or follow a set of specific rules. It is a 'free' philosophy available to each person to interpret and incorporate into their own faith or belief system. It is deeply personal and individual and as such allows for a great range of differing interpretation and application.
A 'Spiritual Science'.
Drawing on his academic background, Steiner believed he could pioneer a way to extend scientific research beyond the existing parameters of natural science to investigate the non-physical, spiritual realities of life and proposed ways to attain spiritual knowledge. This included certain practices such as meditation designed to deepen connection with one's spiritual self. Steiner offered insights that inspired new approaches in many fields of contemporary practical life. He collaborated with doctors, therapists, farmers, business people, teachers, scientists and artists. In addition to the development of Waldorf Education these collaborations created biodynamic agriculture, new economic and social models, the Camphill movement, Anthroposophic medicine and a number of other initiatives that exist today in the UK and across the world.
Steiner's ideas were formed at the start of the 20th century and his choice of words and systems of thought clearly reflect the white, Eurocentric thinking of the early 1900s in Europe. Despite this, for more than a hundred years the essence of his work has gone on to inspire people from differing cultures across the globe who are looking for a means to create a more cohesive, kind, less agonised and less violent world. For example regeneration https://regenerationeducation.org/about-us/our-mission works across Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities in Israel and the West Bank to advance peace building through education. .
In his collaborations with teachers, Steiner developed a new approach to education that was introduced in the first school in Stuttgart in 1919. He had been invited by factory owner, Emile Molt to set up a school for Molt's own children and those of his workers at the Waldorf Astoria Cigarette Factory. It was a true comprehensive school. Through a series of lectures Steiner provided the teachers with the principles of Steiner Waldorf education and was the school's first Director but he did not lay down a precise curriculum. That was created by the first teachers drawing from what we now call the "generative principles".
We recognise that Steiner's anthroposophical theories also included some evolutionary doctrines around race and reincarnation which presented white European culture and history as superior. These concepts are wholly rejected by the UK schools’ movement today. We cannot change the fact of this aspect of Steiner's work but we can take steps to resolve that history through our actions now. They sit in contrast with the principles of acceptance and inclusivity which underpin the principles of Steiner Waldorf education.
There are historians who have recently identified that after Steiner's death in 1925, some of Steiner's evolutionary theories were adopted by fascist sympathisers who operated within the anthroposophical community in Germany and Italy. This is abhorrent to the UK school movement and such interpretations bear no relation to what we value and aim to create for children experiencing Waldorf education today. We strive to be vigilant to arguments that seek to diminish others different from ourselves. We aim for our children to grow into adulthood as people who will take a stand against prejudice of all kinds and fight for a more equal society.
As the umbrella body for UK schools, Waldorf UK is committed to being anti-racist and supports our schools also to be anti-racist. This includes recognising that racism is not related only to skin colour but also religious belief including islamophobia and anti-Semitism. In the UK we are a movement which is committed to fair treatment and equality as a fundamental right of all human beings. These were the foundational principles also espoused by Rudolf Steiner from which we draw in Waldorf education and which live on in our schools today. See our Anti-racist statement.