Student culture and experience


“I would say that some, or even the majority, of our university students go through their entire course of study without an inner experience of the academic disciplines they study. They allow the subject matter to wash over them; and then, having reviewed sufficiently beforehand, pass the requried exams and find a position with which they can make a living.

It sounds almost paradoxical to say that the hearts of university students should be addressed in everything that is brought to them. It sounds like a paradox, but it actually could be so!”

Rudolf Steiner “The Task of Knowing for Today’s Youth”, in Awake! For the Sake of the Future, SteinerBooks, 2015, p.18.


“The longing to perceive with the heart rather than the intellect resonates in young people . . . Unless you are filled with spirit, being young is no longer an option after your early twenties. Physiologically, we cannot preserve youth. We must grow old, but we can and must carry something of our youth with us as we age. Unless the depths of our souls are touched by spirit, we cannot survive the years between twenty and thirty without falling into grey and abject misery.”

Rudolf Steiner, Youth and the Etheric Heart, SteinerBooks, Great Barrington, 2007, p.110.



Steiner points the way towards a “heart thinking”– in relation to all branches of knowledge. The questions are – how can it be cultivated at university, how can it be taught? This becomes a challenge when, to be accredited as a higher education provider in Australia, “curruculum content” is everything. All such content can be easily available to students online, but that is not what inspires and cultivates heart thinking. It is for the lecturers to show the way to an “inner experience” of this content in the lectures (see Lectures and Seminars below).


“Young people at the universities are seeking for something. This is not surprising, for their purpose in going to college is to seek for something. They have been looking in those who taught them, for real leaders, for those who were both teachers and leaders or — as would be equally correct — teachers endowed with leadership, and they did not find them. And this was the really terrible thing clothed in all kinds of different words — one man speaking conservatively, the other radically, one saying something very wise and another something very stupid. What was said amounted to this: We can no longer find any teachers. 

What, then, did youth find when they came to the universities? Well, they met men in whom they did not find what they were looking for. These men prided themselves on not being teachers any longer, but investigators, researchers. The Universities established themselves as institutes for research. They were no longer there for human beings, but only for science. And science led an existence among men which it defined as “objective.” It drummed into people, in every possible key, that it was to be respected as “objective” science. It is sometimes necessary to express such things pictorially. And so this objective science was now going about among human beings but it most certainly was not a human being! Something non-human was going about among men, calling itself “Objective Science . . .

And having made its acquaintance, having this objective science continually introduced to one, one perceived that another being had stolen away bashfully, because she felt that she was no longer tolerated. And if one were spurred on to speak with this being, secretly in the corner, she said: “I have a name which may not be uttered in the presence of objective science. I am called Philosophy, Sophia — Wisdom. But having the ignominious prefix ‘love’ I have attached to me something that through its very name is connected with human inwardness, with love. I no longer dare to show myself. I have to go about bashfully. Objective science prides itself on having nothing of the ‘philo’ in its makeup. It has also lost, as a token, the real Sophia. But I go about nevertheless, for I still bear something of the sublime within me, connected with feeling and with a genuinely human quality.”

This is a picture that often came before the soul, and it expressed an undefined feeling in countless young people during the last twenty or thirty years.”

Rudolf Steiner, The Younger Generation, Lecture 2.



“Objective science” is the climax of the doctor principle in education which originated in the medieval universities as a focus on the “thinking” aspect (the intellect). It is our task now to go beyond this doctor principle. Teaching as leadership means leading the way to the spirit, to a heart thinking in which the Sophia principle, wisdom through education, comes to the fore in a new way. Steiner says that young people in our time are searching for this, and come to university looking for it. There must be a university in Australia where they find it.


“An overemphasis on intellectual knowledge. . . has made the university sterile and two-dimensional, depriving it, and human society through it, of the depth dimension that comes from other ways of knowing, especially ways of knowing that would be regarded as instinctive or intuitive or poetic”.

J. Pelikan, The Idea of the University: A Reexamination, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1992, p.37.


“It is now very difficult to speak about wisdom in the university, for modern science is not wisdom, rather mostly operational knowledge. If we do not establish a sapiential dimension of academic life, if we do not seek truth that is embedded in wisdom, if we do not seek “illumination,” as the Oxford motto has it, we shall fail”.

N. Lobkowicz, “Man, pursuit of truth, and the university,” in The Western University on Trial, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1983, p.37.



These two statements from other writers on the state of the modern university support Steiner’s observations in a general way: the vital thing now is not course content, it is the kind of thinking which is being cultivated at the university, the kind of thinking that opens the way to wisdom. Lobkowicz comments on wisdom as expressed in the Oxford motto which has a traditional religious sense (Dominus illuminatio mea = “The Lord is my light”, opening words of Psalm 27. Or “my thinking illuminated with the light and wisdom of God”). Steiner, however, means wisdom in another sense which belongs to the human present and future – he means a “heart thinking” as opposed to an intellectual form of cognition.


“The study of academic subjects could and should provide the starting point from which young people can arrive at their own intuitive perception of the spiritual legacy of anthroposophy. Let me emphasise that I refer specifically to the human being’s self-generated perception. The possibility does exist for science, kinowledge, and the inner life to be integrated within our educational system.

            But consider how little university students in our present civilisation are inwardly connected to the field of knowledge they are striving to master. It cannot be otherwise today, for academic subjects are brought to students as something more or less external to them. They encounter a system that is not at all adapted to express or even to speak of what are often extraordinarily significant aspects of empirical knowledge. Staggering truths, really staggering truths, are inherent today in every field of knowledge, ever science or academic subject. And these are the truths that, if young people were to encounter or experience them, would give them a kind of microscope or telescope of the soul. If young people were able to approach these truths through their faculties of soul, they would be able to unlock mighty secrets of existence”.

Rudolf Steiner “The Task of Knowing for Today’s Youth”, in Awake! For the Sake of the Future, SteinerBooks, 2015, p.18.



Rudolf Steiner is here providing an answer to what might well be a central question today, as we contemplate an anthroposophically-inspired university in Australia. The question is: should such a university teach anthroposophical content? Here he is saying – no. But he is saying that young people can find their way to the anthroposophical legacy through a certain kind of human-centred university education. The important question becomes: how are science, kinowledge, and the inner life to be integrated within our educational system? The answer to that question can be found within anthroposophy, but that doesn’t mean that anthoposophy needs to be taught as such in the university (any more than it is in the Rudolf Steiner schools).



Steiner Education Centenary Revival

A booklet of specially selected excerpts from Rudolf Steiner's thoughts on education and the threefold social order. All proceeds are donations to the Education for Social Renewal Foundation. Click here to make an order. 

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