(Rudolf Joseph Laurence) Steiner, who was of German-Austrian origin, was
born on 25 February, 1861 (usually, biographies give the date of his baptism,
two days later, as his birth date). His place of birth was a tiny village,
Kraljevec, then within the borders of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Today,
it is part of Croatia.
He spent his childhood
and youth in the vicinity of Vienna, in Steiermark, and in Burgenland.
From the age of 18, he studied mathematics, physics, chemistry, and natural
history at the Technical University in Vienna. At the same time, he attended
lectures by the philosophers Robert Zimmermann and Franz
Brentano at the University of Vienna.
At the suggestion
of the (at the time) well-known Germanist Karl Julius Schröer, in
1882, at the age of 21, Steiner was given the task of publishing the natural
scientific works of Goethe,
the central figure in German culture since the 19th century, in Joseph
Kürchner's compilation National German Literature. At 25, he
Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World-Conception as part
of his work.
From 1884 to 1890,
he supported himself as a private tutor in the family of a wealthy Viennese
businessman. Another activity during his twenties was to write scientific
articles for Pierer's Encyclopedia, where he contributed a number of articles on geology and mineralogy.
characterized by its brevity and objectivity, aimed to summarize the totality
of knowledge at the time and was considered by some the most valuable and
most reliable scientific encyclopedia in the German language.
In 1891, Steiner
acquired a Ph.D. at the University of Rostock. His thesis title: The
Basic Question of Epistemology, Especially in Relation to Fichte's Philosophy
He was invited
Goethe and Schiller archives in Weimar
in 1890, the cultural center of Germany at the time, and given the responsibility
of editing the natural scientific works of Goethe for the Sophien edition
of the works of Goethe. He completed this task in 1897, when he moved to
During his time in
Weimar, he also edited and published the complete works of Schopenhauer
in 12 volumes, and the works of Jean
Paul in 8 volumes. In the series Classical Berliner Editions ("with
introductions by well known historians of literature"), he published and
introduced the works of Wieland and Uhland.
In 1893, he published Philosophy
of Freedom (later also published as Intuitive Thinking as a
Spiritual Path), the basic philosophical foundation for his later works.
In Berlin, he published
and edited the Magazine for Literature from 1897 to 1900, and Dramaturgical
Papers, official organ of the German Stage Association. During the
period, and later, he developed an extensive lecturing and teaching activity
under the auspices of a number of literary and scientific societies.
At the fifth centennial
of the birth of Gutenberg
in June 1900, he was asked to give a festival address to the 7,000 congregated
typesetters and printers at the circus stadium in Berlin. From 1899 to
1904, he also worked as a lecturer on history, literature, the art of speaking,
and the sciences at the Berlin Workers' Training School, founded by the
Democrat Wilhelm Liebknecht. From 1899, he was married to Anna Eunicke,
until her death in 1911.
Through his work
from the 1880s and onwards, he became well known far outside the borders
of Germany as a scholar and cultural personality.
With the turn of
the 20th century his life took a new direction.
Based on lectures
that he was invited to hold in the Theosophical Library of Count and Countess
Brockdorff in 1901/1902, Rudolf Steiner developed in an initial form, during
the following decade, what he named an "anthroposophical spiritual science" or "human science in the broad sense" ("Geisteswissenschaft") encompassing a number of human sciences in the idealistic
tradition in philosophy, rooted in the thinking of Aristotle,
In 1902, he was asked
to become the General Secretary of the German section of the Theosophical
Society. He accepted, but gave the stipulation that he could speak
freely only of what he developed through his own spiritual investigations.
The step from traditional
scholar to the development and public presentation of spiritual research
shocked many of those who up to that time had come to know him as a widely
respected scholar and cultural personality.
His closest co-worker
from 1902 onwards, and later partner for life, came to be Marie von Sievers
(in 1914 Marie Steiner). She made it possible for him to realize his artistic
In Munich, he staged
two dramas by the French writer and poet Edouard
Schuré in 1907 and 1909, translated by Marie Steiner. This was
to be the starting point for four Mystery Dramas by Steiner, that
were staged for the first time in Munich, in 1910, 1911, 1912 and 1913.
In 1912, a separation
from the Theosophical Society became necessary, and an Anthroposophical
Society was founded by co-workers of Steiner. While he continued his lecturing
activity on what he called "spiritual science", he held no office in this
Society, and was not even a member of it.
he also initiated a new art of movement, eurythmy,
as one part of the general development of the arts at the time, in a kindred
spirit to that of Isadora
Duncan, regarded as the
mother of "modern dance".
Together with a new
art of speech formation, developed by Rudolf Steiner and Marie von Sievers, eurythmy
from 1914 has come to constitute the focus for the work on the Goetheanum stage in Dornach (Switzerland). The Goetheanum was designed by Steiner and constructed under his leadership between
1913 and 1919. The first Goetheanum, burnt down 1922/23, was replaced in 1928 by a second Goetheanum, also designed by Rudolf Steiner.
In 1918, when a revolution
took place, not only in Russia, but also in Germany, and threatened to
disintegrate the social fabric, Steiner presented suggestions for a conscious
differentiation of society as a path for the future. It focused on
the development of freedom in the cultural sphere, equality in the sphere
of politics and legislation, and a globally oriented brotherhood in the
sphere of economy. Steiner lectured widely on this topic, leading to a
movement for social threefolding.
In 1919, this led
to the founding of the first free Waldorf school in Stuttgart at the initiative of Emil Molt, CEO
of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory. The school became the model for
the Waldorf movement, leading to the building and development of (by 2009)
some 1,600 Waldorf Kindergartens and 994 independent Waldorf or Rudolf Steiner
schools world wide, offering educational activities from early childhood
through high school and in some cases, programs for adults.
ideas about a conscious threefold differentiation of society has been one
of the main inspirations for the
work by one of the recipients of the Alternative Nobel Prize in 2003, Nicanor Perlas, and other
civil society activists.
Steiner also gave
indications for a curative
education for the developmentally disabled, for an extension of medicine, a renewal and development of agriculture into what today is called biodynamic
agriculture, and other areas of practical life. The results of these
indications can be seen in numerous institutions and companies throughout
On New Year's Eve
1922/1923, the Goetheanum, wholly built of wood, burnt to the ground as
a result of arson. Up to his death in 1925, Steiner was only able to create
an exterior model for the presently existing second Goetheanum, built in concrete. Today, the full version of Faust by Goethe is one of the dramas regularly staged at the Goetheanum.
In 1923/1924, Rudolf
Steiner initiated the foundation of, and started to build a general Anthroposophical
Society and a School of Spiritual Science. During 1924, his lecturing activity
reached a climax, and he held 330 lectures from the beginning of the year
to September 29, when he became exhausted and had to stop all public activity.
He died six months later, on 30 March 1925 in Dornach.
News of Steiner's
death spread quickly. An obituary appeared in the New York Times
the next day, focusing on Steiner's contributions to social theory, writing:
March 30.-News of the death of Dr. Rudolf Steiner in Switzerland was received
in Berlin today. Dr. Steiner was 65 years old, and was the leader of the
Anthroposophical Movement, which has its headquarters at Dornach, in the
Steiner was born at Kraijevio in Silesia, in 1861. From his youth onwards,
he devoted himself to the study and propagation of Goethe's ideals [...]
scheme for the organization of society that would make everybody happy
was described in his book "The Threefold State" of which more than 100,000
copies were sold on the Continent, as well as a large edition in England.
The secret for removing the present ills from society lies in the division
of the community into three separate states, the economic, the political,
and the spiritual, the author maintaining that our troubles now arise from
the confusion of these states.
Dr. Simons, the former German Foreign Minister, was said to have pronounced
"The Threefold State" the only possible remedy for Bolshevism. [...]
the books written by Steiner were "Philosophy and Liberty", "Goethe, the
Father of a New Aestheticism," "Christianity as a Mystical Fact" and "Haeckel
and His Enemies".
For more on Goethe,
For some more biographical
sketches online, see
Some more can be found
and listed here
For his autobiography online, see
Story of My Life
For some printed
- Rudolf Steiner: His Life and Work
- Rudolf Steiner: An Illustrated Biography
- Rudolf Steiner: Herald of a New Epoch or
Amazon lists appr. 6,300 results (April, 2014) for a simple search on "Rudolf Steiner".
For the majority of the published books and dramas by Steiner online, see here
at the site of RSArchive.org. For some 2,300 of his appr. 3,950 published lectures online, see here.
For more on anthroposophy,
see another section at
For some comments
on Rudolf Steiner and Waldorf education by educators, cultural and other
well-known personalities, see here.
2004-2014: Robert Mays and Sune Nordwall