Wilhelm Schmidt (linguist)

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Wilhelm Schmidt
Wilhelm Schmidt SVD.jpg
Wilhelm Schmidt
Born (1868-02-16)February 16, 1868
Died February 10, 1954(1954-02-10) (aged 85)
Freiburg im Üechtland

Wilhelm Schmidt SVD (February 16, 1868 – February 10, 1954) was an Austrian linguist, anthropologist, and ethnologist.

Wilhelm Schmidt was born in Hörde, Germany in 1868. He entered the Society of the Divine Word in 1890 and was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1892. He studied linguistics at the universities of Berlin and Vienna.

Schmidt’s main passion was linguistics. He spent many years in study of languages around the world. His early work was on the Mon–Khmer languages of Southeast Asia, and languages of Oceania and Australia. The conclusions from this study led him to hypothesize the existence of a broader Austric group of languages, which included the Austronesian language group. Schmidt managed to prove that Mon–Khmer language has inner connections with other languages of the South Seas, one of the most significant findings in the field of linguistics.

From 1912 to his death in 1954, Schmidt published his 12-volume Der Ursprung der Gottesidee (The Origin of the Idea of God). There he explained his theory of primitive monotheism, the belief that primitive religion among almost all tribal peoples began with an essentially monotheistic concept of a high god — usually a sky god — who was a benevolent creator. Schmidt theorized that human beings believed in a God who was the First Cause of all things and Ruler of Heaven and Earth before men and women began to worship a number of gods:

  • "Schmidt suggested that there had been a primitive monotheism before men and women had started to worship a number of gods. Originally they had acknowledge only one Supreme Deity, who had created the world and governed human affairs from afar." [1]

In 1906, Schmidt founded the journal Anthropos, and in 1931, the Anthropos Institute, both of which still exist today. In 1938, Schmidt and the Institute fled from Nazi-occupied Austria to Fribourg, Switzerland. He died there in 1954.

His works available in English translation are: The Origin and Growth of Religion (1931), High Gods in North America (1933), The Culture Historical Method of Ethnology (1939), and Primitive Revelation (1939).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Armstrong, Karen A History of God p. 3


  • An Vandenberghe, "Entre mission et science. La recherche ethnologique du père Wilhelm Schmidt SVD et le Vatican (1900-1939)", Sciences sociales et missions, N°19/December 2006, pp. 15–36
  • Schmidt, Wilhelm. 1906. "Die Mon–Khmer-Völker, ein Bindeglied zwischen Völkern Zentralasiens und Austronesiens", 'The Mon–Khmer peoples, a link between the peoples of Central Asia and Austronesia'. Archiv für Anthropologie, Braunschweig, new series, 5:59-109.
  • Schmidt, Wilhelm. 1930. "Die Beziehungen der austrischen Sprachen zum Japanischen", 'The Connections of the Austric Languages to Japanese'. Wien Beitrag zur Kulturgeschichte und Linguistik 1:239-51.
  • Peter Rohrbacher, Pater Wilhelm Schmidt im Schweizer Exil: Interaktionen mit Wehrmachtsdeserteuren und Nachrichtendiensten, 1943–1945, in: Paideuma. Mitteilungen zur Kulturkunde 62, 203–221

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