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Anthropomorphism ( Greek ἄνϑρωπος anthropos 'man' and μορφή morphē 'form, shape') means the attribution of human characteristics to animals, gods, forces of nature and the like ( humanization ). The human characteristics can be shown in the form as well as in the behavior. The adjective anthropomorphic (human-shaped) overlaps with the adjectives " human-like " and humanoid , the latter being mainly used in robotics and science fiction .

Personification is a special case of anthropomorphism . With it a human form is given in language or art to a formless abstraction (e.g. the concept “death” or “wisdom”). Prosopopoeia is related to personification , in which a concrete word (e.g. an animal) is given a speaking voice.

Anthropomorphism in Religions

Anthropomorphic representation of Venus (Venus of Arles, 1st century BC)

A strong expression of anthropomorphism can be found in the Christian , Hindu , Germanic , Greek , Celtic , Shinto Japanese , Egyptian and Roman religions and mythologies, in which the gods have distinctly human traits, although in some cases they also have the ability (in special Situations) to take on a zoomorphic form. In the Old Testament , too , human characteristics and feelings are ascribed to God .

The ancient poet Xenophanes notes in a famous poem that people create their gods according to their own image:

“Dull noses and black; such are Ethiopia's gods,

Blue-eyed and blond: this is how their gods see the Thracians,
But the cattle and horses and lions, if they had hands,
hands like people for drawing, for painting, for sculpting,
then the horses would be gods like horses, cattle like horses Cattle
painting, and their shapes, the shapes of the divine bodies,

Created in their own image: each in his own. "

However, even in ancient times, anthropomorphism was not a universally valid religious phenomenon. For example, in the early Roman religion , unlike the Greek religion , there were no gods in human form. Here the more abstract concept of numen was coined for the work of the deities perceived as inaccessible.

Positions in Islam

In medieval Islamic theology, the likeness of God to man was a much debated issue. The two opposing extreme positions were denoted by the Arabic terms tashbīh (“resemblance, anthropomorphism”) and taʿtīl (“emptying the idea of God from any content that can be described with human terms”). The positively rated intermediate position was called tanzīh ("transcendentalism"). The Koran exegete Muqātil ibn Sulaimān as well as the East Iranian theological current of the Karrāmīya were said to have taken extremely anthropomorphic positions , a notorious representative of the taʿṭīl was Jahm ibn Safwān .

Anthropomorphic interpretations of God are based on statements in the Koran in which parts of the body of God (face, eyes, hand) are mentioned, as well as the statement in Gen. 1.27  EU that Adam was created “according to his (ie God's) form” which was imparted to the Muslims through the hadith . The Qur'anic argument against any anthropomorphism was the statement in sura 42 : 11: "There is nothing that is like him (namely God)" ( laisa ka-mithli-hī šaiʾ ). With reference to this, representatives of transcendentalist positions, for example the Muʿtazilites , interpreted the Koranic statements about the body parts of God as metaphors . The Ashāb al-hadīth , to which the early Hanbalites belonged, countered this with the formula bi-lā kaif (“no how”), so they demanded that the statements about body parts in the Koran and Hadith should be accepted without question.

Anthropomorphism in (everyday) animal psychology

Anthropomorphism is also understood to mean the interpretation of animal behavior “with typical human interpretations, whereby the animal is seen as a primitive human”. For example, the "laugh" of chimpanzees is understood as laughing and not as a threatening gesture.

Anthropomorphism in Artistic Representations

Anthropomorphic spirits


Even the spiritual beings known in many cultures often have human-like shapes in tradition, literature and art , e.g. B. angels , demons , nature spirits or ghosts . Spirit beings, in particular, which originate from ancient ideas are often represented with parts of the body of animals, such as wings, horns, hooves or tails, but otherwise have human form and human abilities such as language.

Anthropomorphic animal figures

Reineke Fuchs (Illustration by Wilhelm von Kaulbach , 1846)

Anthropomorphism is also a common stylistic device in literature. It is particularly popular in children's books , where animals are usually depicted anthropomorphically by adopting human behavior or suffering human-like fates, as in the Grimm fairy tale Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten .

Real or fictional animals that act like humans have a long tradition in art and literature. They are often used to depict stereotypical characters so that the viewer or reader can easily grasp and reflect on their character . Examples are Aesop's Fables , Alan Dean Foster's Spellsinger (German spell singer ) and George Orwell's Animal Farm .

Many of the most popular characters in children's television are anthropomorphic animals: The Little Polar Bear by Hans de Beer , Captain Bluebeard from The Program with the Mouse , Mickey Mouse , Kermit the Frog , Bugs Bunny and Donald Duck , to name just a few. The main characters from Brian Jacques ' Redwall series are also anthropomorphic animals . In addition to cartoons , a small number of sitcoms also use anthropomorphism (for example, Die Dinos ).

In comics , anthropomorphic characters often appear in the field of light entertainment aimed primarily at children. The stylistic device is also found in adult comics such as Fritz the Cat (1965) and also in serious subjects such as Art Spiegelman's Mouse - The Story of a Survivor (1992).

In recent years, a subculture , often called furry , has grown around animal anthropomorphism . Its members ( English furries ) associate themselves with anthropomorphized animals, called "anthros" or "morphs". The counterpart in Japanese art are the Kemono .

Anthropomorphic landscapes

Anthropomorphic landscape, 2nd half of the 16th century

In the 16th and 17th centuries in particular, anthropomorphic landscapes were a popular subject in the visual arts. The various components of the landscape depicted come together to form a human figure or often just a head. Corresponding works are known, for example, by Joos de Momper , Matthäus Merian the Younger , Herman Saftleven and Wenzel Hollar .

Anthropomorphic machines

Steam locomotive Thomas

Many people still ascribe human properties to inanimate objects (such as vehicles or machines), although this is mainly done for traditional reasons (such as the christening of a ship ), unconsciously or as a joke. Well-known examples are giving your own car a name or talking to a machine so that it runs. This practice was also taken up in fiction and developed further. Examples of this are the VW Beetle Herbie in several films (from 1968) or the KITT sports car in the television series Knight Rider (1982 to 1986). While these fictional vehicles are not outwardly, but human-like in their behavior, machines are sometimes also optically humanized, especially in cartoons, for example in Cars (2006) and Planes (2013) along with sequels or in the children's television series Bob the Builder .

The similarity to human physiognomy also plays a role in the design of real automobiles . The sight of the front of a car is processed in the brain in a similar way to that of human faces, which is why headlights or radiator grilles are specifically designed in the design of cars so that certain human facial expressions , emotions or character traits are associated with different models .

The special case of the anthropomorphic machine is the humanoid robot .

See also



  • Harminus Martinus Kuitert: God in human form: a dogmatic-hermeneutical study of the anthropomorphisms of the Bible (= contributions to evangelical theology, 45). Chr. Kaiser Verlag, Munich, 1967, DNB 457317310 .
  • Bruno Roy: La belle et / est la bête. Aspects du bestiaire féminin au moyen age. In Renate Baader (ed.): The image of women in literary France. From the Middle Ages to the present. (= Ways of Research , 611) Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1988, ISBN 3-534-08616-3 , ISSN  0509-9609 , pp. 38-51 (French).
  • Daniel Hermsdorf: film image and body world. Anthropomorphism in natural philosophy, aesthetics and media theory of modernity . Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2011, ISBN 978-3-8260-4462-5 . Publishing info
  • Ralf Becker: The human point of view: Perspectives and formations of anthropomorphism. Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main 2013, ISBN 978-3-465-03715-6 .


  • Ibn-Ibrāhīm ar-Rassī al-Qāsim: Anthropomorphism and interpretation of the Qurʾān in the theology of al-Qāsim Ibn Ibrāhīm . Translated and annotated by Binyamin Abrahamov. Brill, Leiden, 1996, ISBN 90-04-10408-9 (English).
  • Josef van Ess : Theology and society in the 2nd and 3rd centuries of the Hijra. A History of Religious Thought in Early Islam , Volume 4. De Gruyter, Berlin, 1997, ISBN 978-3-11-014835-0 , pp. 373-424.
  • Daniel Gimaret: Dieu à l'image de l'homme: les anthropomorphismes de la sunna et leur interprétation par les théologiens (= Patrimoines. Islam). Les Édition du Cerf, Paris 1997, ISBN 2-204-05636-7 , ISSN  0767-0087 (French).
  • Ibn-al-Ǧauzī, Yūsuf Ibn-ʿAbd-ar-Raḥmān, Merlin L. Swartz: A medieval critique of anthropomorphism: Ibn al-Jawzī's Kitāb Akhbār aṣ-ṣifāt; a critical edition of the Arabic text with translation, introduction and notes (= Islamic philosophy, theology and science, 46). Brill, Leiden 2002, ISBN 90-04-12376-8 (Arabic / English).

Web links

Wiktionary: anthropomorphism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Anthropomorphism  - collection of images, videos and audio files
  • Meyer's Large Conversation Lexicon. 6th edition 1905-1909, p. 571.

Individual evidence

  1. Karl R. Popper; Jørgen Mejer, Arne Friemuth Petersen (eds.): The world of Parmenides . The origin of European thought (original title: The World of Parmenides, translated by Sybille Wieland and Dieter Dunkel), Unabridged paperback edition, Piper-Taschenbuch 4071, Munich / Zurich 2005, ISBN 3-492-24071-2 , p. 90
  2. The translation is by Tilman Nagel : History of Islamic Theology from Mohammed to the Present . Munich 1994. p. 302.
  3. See van Ess: Theology and Society in the 2nd and 3rd Century of the Hijra , pp. 373–424.
  4. The Brockhaus Psychologie (ed. By the lexicon editors of the publishing house FA Brockhaus): Psychologie. Understand feeling, thinking and behavior. 2nd Edition. Leipzig, Mannheim, FA Brockhaus 2009, ISBN 978-3-7653-0592-4 , p. 44
  5. Cf. Der Brockhaus Psychologie (edited by the lexicon editorship of the publishing house FA Brockhaus): Psychologie. Understand feeling, thinking and behavior. 2nd Edition. Leipzig, Mannheim, FA Brockhaus 2009, ISBN 978-3-7653-0592-4 , p. 44
  6. Psychology: People associate cars with personalities . Spiegel Online , November 27, 2008, accessed February 3, 2018.
  7. Jürgen Pander: Car Faces: Look at me in the headlights . Spiegel Online, October 3, 2006, accessed February 3, 2018.