Difference Between Animism and Animatism

Key Difference – Animism vs Animatism


Animism and Animitism are two terms found in Anthropology between which a key difference can be identified. First, let us define the two words. In simple terms, animism is the belief that spirits exist in natural objects. On the other hand, animatism is the belief that there is power in all forces around us. The key difference between animism and animatism is that in animism, we speak of individual spiritual beings that have specific personalities, but in animatism, this is not the case. In animatism, the belief is of a supernatural power that lacks a personality but is everywhere. Through this article let us examine the differences in detail.

What is Animism?

Animism is the belief that spirits exist in natural objects. This word comes from the Latin term ‘anima’ which refers to the soul. When speaking of animism, there are mainly two beliefs. The first belief is that the same spirit inhabits all natural objects. For example, native Americans believe in the existence of a single spirit in various natural objects. The second belief is that there are different spirits that inhabit various natural objects such as rocks, trees, rivers, etc.

The specialty is that the spirit is usually assigned to a specific personality. This includes various qualities, gender, behavior, etc. Some spirits are considered as good while others are considered as evil. Most people believe that these spirits have the ability to interact with human beings. In most primitive societies people are very much concerned whether their actions would offend or displease a spirit. In such societies, people believe that spirits have the power to harm people if offended.

In the field of anthropology, animism refers to a particular theory presented by E. B. Tylor. He used this to explain the earlier forms of religions that existed in the world. Through this theory, Tylor pointed out how people believed in spirits and ghosts and considered these forces as sacred.

Difference Between Animism and Animatism

E. B. Tylor

What is Animatism?

Animatism is the belief that there is power in all forces around us. This power can be considered as a supernatural power. However, it is not part of a supernatural being. According to animatism, power is everywhere and is impersonal. This is a belief that can especially be seen in small-scale societies where power is inherent in various degrees in both animate and inanimate objects. It can be found in rocks, plants, animals and even in people.

Key Difference - Animism vs Animatism

What is the difference between Animism and Animatism?

Definitions of Animism and Animatism:

Animism: Animism is the belief that spirits exist in natural objects.

Animatism: Animatism is the belief that there is power in all forces around us.

Characteristics of Animism and Animatism:

Individual spiritual beings:

Animism: Animism speaks of individual spiritual beings.

Animatism: Animatism does not speak of individual spiritual beings.

Supernatural Force:

Animism: Animism does not speak of a singular supernatural force but various spiritual beings.

Animatism: Animatism speaks of a supernatural force that exists everywhere in both inanimate and animated objects.


Animism: Supernatural forces have personalities.

Animatism: Supernatural force does not have a particular personality.


Image Courtesy:

1. Edward Burnett Tylor [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

2. Jarai Tomb By Rdavout – Own work, [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons