In English, is there a term that would describe: "the belief souls exist?"

  • I think "soulism" sounds like discrimination against people with souls, however on a more serious note when I googled the term the first result did seem to relate to your intended meaning.
    – nnnnnn
    Commented May 19, 2020 at 7:33
  • Really? When I search "Soulism" (in Google), the first result i recieve is a New Religion wiki made on Fandom. Also the description being: "Soulism is the belief that the Soul is the base of all existance, and all it wishes for is to pursue all there is about life." makes it sound poetic, rather than i guess philosophical.
    – TomDot Com
    Commented May 19, 2020 at 7:51
  • This is confusing. What exactly are you asking? Is it what the difference is among atheism/agnosticism/asoulism? It is it if these words are actually used/what their frequency is? If the former, better to ask on a religion site. Anyway your title doesn't appear in your text.
    – Mitch
    Commented May 19, 2020 at 11:46
  • @Mitch Apologies concerning the complicating and redundant content of my question. I have emended it, such that only the crux of what I want to know is asked.
    – TomDot Com
    Commented May 19, 2020 at 12:44
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    There's no difference between "soul" and "Soul" in English, so please further explain what you mean. Capitalizing a generic noun doesn't change its meaning.
    – user91988
    Commented May 20, 2020 at 19:44

6 Answers 6


Within philosophy, particularly the philosophy of the mind it's called "dualism" because it's the idea that we are made up of two parts, a material body and an immaterial mind ("soul").

Dualists are contrasted with "materialists" and "idealists" which both have very different meanings in philosophy jargon from their conventional usage. Materialists think the mind is a result of material processes while idealists think that minds are all that exist (or at least all that we can know to exist) and the material world may well be an illusion. All of this is roughly speaking of course. Being philosophy, there is more that can be said about it, and much more still which is said about it.

The term "dualism" would not be readily understood that way outside of this context though.

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    The idealists generally also believe that there are souls, and there is no elegant, readily understood, single word for dualists and idealists, taken together, so the only way to characterise someone who believes in the existence of souls is to say not a materialist. However, most of the relatively recent philosophical discussions about these topics are between materialists and dualists, with idealism being set aside; in such a context, dualism (or, more precisely, substance-dualism) could be a serviceable term for the OP's purposes.
    – jsw29
    Commented May 19, 2020 at 20:59
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    This should be the accepted answer. Animism encompasses a ton of other things and is a very distinct philosophy itself, using it to communicate a belief in souls would be similar to saying that one is muslim to communicate one's monotheism.
    – doubleOrt
    Commented May 20, 2020 at 14:55
  • "Mind-body dualism" is more specific and is a fairly common term.
    – Adam Haun
    Commented May 21, 2020 at 19:03
  • Yes specifying a qualifier like "mind-body dualism" or "substance dualism" helps clarify, but the question is tagged as "single word", hence my suggestion of just "dualism" with the caveat that it's not going to be understood outside certain contexts.
    – smithkm
    Commented May 21, 2020 at 22:44
  • @smithkm, yes, if one insists on a single word, then dualism is the best that can be offered. The disadvantage of that words from the perspective of somebody like the OP, as this answer makes clear, is that it works only in certain philosophical contexts: those that are within the philosophy of mind, and yet not so specialised that some more precise term is needed. The real answer to the OP's question is that there is no single word that can be used for that purpose outside this context, and that the clearest way to convey the idea is to say 'the belief that (immaterial) souls exist'.
    – jsw29
    Commented May 22, 2020 at 15:23

I would term this “Animism” which has three meanings, all related to a common etymology:


animism, n.

Etymology: < classical Latin anima life, soul

  1. Philosophy. Any of various theories postulating that an animating principle, as distinct from physical processes (chemical, mechanical, etc.), directs the energy that moves living beings and governs their growth and evolution; = vitalism n. An influential version was propounded by the German chemist and physician Georg Ernst Stahl (1660–1734) and enjoyed a short-lived revival through the writings of the French philosopher Francisque Bouillier (1813–99).

1871 E. B. Tylor Primitive Culture I. xi. 384 I purpose here, under the name of Animism, to investigate the deep-lying doctrine of Spiritual Beings, which embodies the very essence of Spiritualistic as opposed to Materialistic philosophy... The sense of Spiritualism in..the general doctrine of spiritual beings, is here given to Animism.

2004 tr. A. Lalande in N. Gross & R. A. Jones Durkheim's Philos. Lect. lxxii. 286 More recently,..animism has been revived with more moderation and good sense by Francisque Bouiller in a book titled The Vital Principle and the Thinking Soul.

2. The attribution of life and personality (and sometimes a soul) to inanimate objects and natural phenomena; = animatism n.

1866 Fortn. Rev. 15 Aug. 84 The theory which endows the phenomena of nature with personal life might be conveniently called Animism.

1871 E. B. Tylor Primitive Culture I. 45 The animism of the ruder tribes of India.

1973 Jrnl. Genetic Psychol. 123 219 Piaget..observed that many preadolescent children tend to ascribe life and consciousness to inert objects, a phenomenon that he called ‘animism’.

1999 Piecework Nov.–Dec. 23 Their folk religion was based on animism or the attribution of a spirit or conscious life to material forms.

3. Spiritualism and Philosophy. Belief in the existence of a spiritual world, and of soul or spirit apart from matter; spiritualism as opposed to materialism.

1869 Appleton's Jrnl. 31 July 567/1 Animism is the doctrine of all men who believe in active spiritual beings; it is essentially the antagonist of materialism.

1880 J. Rae in Contemp. Rev. Oct. 615 The universality of what Mr. Tylor calls Animism, the belief in spiritual and unseen agencies.

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    The OP seems to be interested only in (3), and nobody would take this word to have that meaning, unless one is reading a text in which it is explicitly, stipulatively defined that way. The same holds of (1). Note that the quoted examples of its use in these senses say ' I purpose here, under the name of . . .' and ' . . . what Mr. Tylor calls . . .' . When used without being stipulatively defined, the word is understood to have sense (2), which the OP is not interested in.
    – jsw29
    Commented May 19, 2020 at 16:20
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    @Mitch Can you give your own explanation of why this word fits first, rather than just a copy-paste from a dictionary? 1. I agree with the dictionary - anything I say would be otiose. I have been informed that sources are required and that my opinion does not count unless backed by a source. As it happens, I have given my opinion: "I would term this “Animism”" The referent for this is "the belief a soul(s) exist", which is in the question. The source is the OED.
    – Greybeard
    Commented May 19, 2020 at 22:58
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    "animism" is just utterly, utterly unrelated to this question
    – Fattie
    Commented May 20, 2020 at 14:52
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    Has anyone in the last half century used definition 3? It would seem very odd to me to classify say, Christianity, as a type of animism. Regarding (1), please read about vitalism: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitalism. Many people nowadays believe in souls without believing in élan vital.
    – mic
    Commented May 20, 2020 at 15:02
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    @Fattie, it's not quite that simple: Berkeley, for example, is neither. It is, however, true that these days most of the people who discuss such topics are likely to be either materialists or dualists.
    – jsw29
    Commented May 20, 2020 at 15:53

The one true word for "soul" in Greek is psukhê, and so correct English formations would be psychism and apsychism. It is true that psukhê could have many meanings, primarily "life, ghost, soul, the conscious and feeling self", etc. But it is the most obvious translation, and the only one I can think of that has spiritual connotations.

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    Is this a neologism? I've never heard it before.
    – Mitch
    Commented May 19, 2020 at 13:02
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    Neologisms are new words / senses, and the meaningful definition of words [/ senses] requires that they be used and understood by a reasonably large proportion of the Anglophone community. Psychism is a word, with three senses, none of them the one OP requests. Commented May 19, 2020 at 13:16

Having searched further I found a reference to "Asoulism", reported to have been formulated by David Weisman and defined as "a simple disbelief in the existence of souls based on evidence.". However the term "Soulism" itself appears to be less widely used than it's negation.

The term "Partial Asoulism" also denotes the "Disbelief in the existence of souls(s)" however also "disbelief in the non-existence of soul(s)" similarly to the term "Agnostic Atheist".

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    The fact that a particular author has introduced such a word for the purposes of his own writings does not mean that anybody will readily understand it that way outside the context of discussing that author's writings.
    – jsw29
    Commented May 19, 2020 at 16:25
  • If you want to use that term in something you're writing, you should introduce / define it yourself, perhaps citing Weisman. Commented May 20, 2020 at 20:57

I believe the closest pre-existing term would be vitalism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitalism).

  • A correct usage, but it could be that the default sense is still 'the belief that life is inherent in a certain class of substances but not in others' (organic vs inorganic), now of course disproved. Commented May 21, 2020 at 18:50

It might be too broad, but I suggest mysticism. It concerns the existence of a soul and possible concepts of an afterlife, without necessarily being fixed to a specific religion or God.

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    Mysticism is not too broad, but too narrow. The religions whose teachings postulate the existence of souls have many millions of adherents, but only a small minority of them can be called mystics.
    – jsw29
    Commented May 19, 2020 at 20:39

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