What is the word that means someone who believes a deity has a recognizable human form and personality?

Usually, these personality traits are virtuous but they can also mimic man's weaknesses and acts of immorality. For example, the Greek god Zeus was perfidious and extremely promiscuous. He sired numerous gods and demi-gods as a result of his sexual encounters with goddesses, nymphs, mortal boys, girls, men and women.

The son of God, Jesus, weary and exhausted, succumbed to distress when confronted with His own mortality, shortly before dying on the cross

About the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, e lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”

There are many other examples of deities who resemble human beings, speak like humans, and perform an array of perfectly normal human activities such as eating, sleeping, working, playing, having sex with mortals, begetting children, and finally, even dying. These deities are not always immortal but the fact that a few did die makes them more relatable.

What is the name of the belief, the conviction, that one or more deities have human physical and psychological traits?

_______ is the belief that gods are “human-like”.

I keep thinking of anthropomorphism and personification but it's neither, and none of their synonyms fit, there's another word I'm looking for but I can't seem to grasp it.

  • It doesn't exactly hit the spot, but you might mention a belief in minor supernatural beings: supernatural beings who are not spirits, gods, humans, or other natural beings. They usually have a human-like appearance and/or personality but can do things that are beyond the abilities of humans. Minor supernatural beings often have a "trickster" role--they fool people, do outlandish things, and disappear. In European folk tradition, leprechauns, elves, and pixies were minor supernatural beings. - www2.palomar.edu/anthro/religion/glossary.htm – Chaim Apr 16 '18 at 20:24
  • 2
    I have never heard it described as anything other than an anthropomorphic deity or depicting God anthropomorphically, as in taking a stroll in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the evening. What's going on with "Eli, Eli..." is complicated, as Jesus is citing Psalm 22. – KarlG Apr 16 '18 at 20:33
  • 1
    @jsw29 because anthropomorphism suggests a deliberate manipulation, a process, whereas I am looking for the word that expresses the (irrational) belief, the concept that a deity must be human. Not all deities are human-like, some religions believe that the elements of nature are gods, that god is "energy", represented by the universe, etc. – Mari-Lou A Apr 16 '18 at 23:00
  • 2
    Ludwig Feuerbach claimed that man creates god in his own image. philosopherkings.co.uk/Feuerbach.html //Deism came to contrasted to theism, the first a belief in a god that created but took no further interest, the second a god who stays active; but, not necessarily in human form, unlike Zeus and Athena, I suppose. – Xanne Apr 17 '18 at 1:34
  • 1
    I think it was also Feuerbach who said that god is the projection of man on the plane of the infinite. – Xanne Apr 17 '18 at 1:41

Perhaps you are looking for anthropotheism?

Anthropotheism is ascribing human form and nature to gods, or the belief that gods are deified human beings.

  • Excellent, if you could find another extract from a different source, other than Wikipedia, that would be brilliant. – Mari-Lou A Apr 17 '18 at 20:41
  • Generally speaking, I have nothing against Wiki, but their entry is a bit spartan. – Mari-Lou A Apr 17 '18 at 20:50

The OED1 suggests that this was the original meaning of anthropomorphism, though I think the more general meaning (The OED's definition 1.b.) now clearly predominates.

anthropomorphism, n.
a. The attribution of human form, character, or attributes to God or a god.
b. The attribution of human personality or characteristics to something non-human, as an animal, object, etc.

Luckily, the OED offers several more obscure options that probably retain their specifically theistic meaning:

anthropomorphite, n. and adj.
B. adj. Of, relating to, or characterized by anthropomorphitism; spec. that ascribes human form, character, or attributes to God. Cf. ANTHROPOMORPHITIC adj.

anthropomorphitism, n.
Now rare.
The doctrine or beliefs of anthropomorphites; (more generally) anthropomorphism; the ascription of human form, character, or attributes to God. Cf. anthropomorphism n. 1a, anthropomorphite n.

anthropomorphosis, n.
The action or an act of conceiving of or regarding God or a god as having human form or characteristics; the fact or process of becoming anthropomorphized; (more generally, with reference to objects, animals, etc.) anthropomorphism.

anthropopathetic, adj.
1. Characterized by or involving the attribution of human feelings and emotions to God or a god; = ANTHROPOPATHIC adj.

anthropopathic, adj.
Characterized by or involving the attribution of human feelings and emotions to something other than a human being, esp. to God; displaying anthropopathy.

theanthropism, n.
1. Theol. The doctrine of the union of the divine and human natures, or of the manifestation of God as man, in Christ.
2. Mythol. The attribution of human nature or character to the gods.
theˈanthropist n. a believer in theanthropism (also attrib. or as adj. ).

Also anthropomorphitic, anthropomorphitical, anthropophuistic, and anthropopsychic, though all of those are very rare and the last may include the more general meaning of anthropomorphic.

I don't see much to distinguish these one from another, so I think you could pick the one you like the sound of. "Theanthropism" and "theanthropist" may have the most transparent meaning.

1 All definitions are from OED Online, Oxford University Press. Unfortunately, this is a subscription, paywalled service; if you do not have access, check with your local or school library, as many of these have subscriptions which patrons can access. Note that all of the "anthropo-" entries have been updated to the OED 3rd Edition, March 2016, but "theanthropism" has not yet been revised.

  • wow.. now, I'd like to hear your pronounce anthropopathetic, anthropopathic, anthropopathy, and theanthropism, n. – Tom22 Apr 16 '18 at 22:40
  • @Tom22 They're pretty much just like they look ;-). (The OED actually has a "listen" feature, which gives all of the anthro- versions in both British and American accents; theanthropism is only in AmE. Anthropomorphosis actually gets two pronunciations for each dialect, one with primary emphasis on the penult and one on the antepenult.) – 1006a Apr 16 '18 at 23:04
  • 1
    @lbf My assumption was that the OP didn't want anthropomorphism because it is now applied generally to any attribution of human characteristics to a non-human whatever, rather than being strictly a theological/mythological definition. I therefore included other terms that are less general. I've edited to clarify that understanding. Otherwise, I'm not sure why anthropomorphism isn't sufficient. – 1006a Apr 17 '18 at 20:12

References and citations which confirm Mark Beadles' answer

The Open Court Vol 8, page 4229 (1894)

It is natural that people who still cling to anthropotheism (which is the belief that God is an individual being and an ego-entity as man appears to himself) should look upon this purified God-conception as atheism. And it is atheism if atheism means the denial of an individual God-being. But let me add that anthropotheism is after all a childish view of God, which degrades God and presses God down to the rank of a creature, albeit very great and all-powerful. If there were a man-like God-being, a great ego-deity, and individual cosmic consciousness, would not the God of atheism, who is the unalterable order in all existent realities and the eternal law in nature's transient phenomena, be superior to the God of anthropotheists?

The Essence of Christianity (1843)

In the second part Feuerbach considers religion “in its contradiction with the human essence” (WC 316), arguing that, when theological claims are understood in the sense in which they are ordinarily taken (i.e., as referring to a non-human divine person), they are self-contradictory. In early 1842 Feuerbach still preferred that his views be presented to the public under the label “anthropotheism” rather than “atheism” (GW v. 18, 164), emphasizing that his overriding purpose in negating “the false or theological essence of religion” had been to affirm its “true or anthropological essence”, i.e., the divinity of man.

What the God-seekers Found in Nietzsche Nel Grillaert (2008)

Ludwig Feuerbach's doctrine of anthropotheism, which posits that God is but a mental projection of humanity and foregrounds the human's material status, is for Speshnev the logical response to idealist anthropology:

I now understand that all this means only that for humanity there exists no authority, no creator and no god; and as regards to the philosophical god, humankind is the highest and most genuine incarnation of this god; therefore, there can exist for the human no other god than himself ...

An Atheism that Is Not Humanist Emerges in French Thought (2010)

…while attempting for a long time to explain humanity's historical ascent toward anthropothesim, toward its own divinization, instead collapsed into a sort of animality upon achieving precisely this divinization

  • Edited: I asked @Mark Beadles to provide further evidence, he 's not obliged to come up with any seeing as he provided the answer, but I searched in Google Books and found more solid support. If the downvoter(s) would care to explain, I'm eager to hear your reason(s). – Mari-Lou A Apr 20 '18 at 1:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.