Johann Gottfried Herder, Enlightenment Anthropology, and the Jew as a ‘Parasitic Plant’

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Buffon’s ‘Histoire naturelle de l’homme’, published in volumes two and three of the Histoire naturelle (1749), was key to the development of a new material history of humankind with scientific ambitions that wanted to understand humans as part of natural history and eventually would be called ‘anthropology’. Buffon understands humanity as consisting of one species, to which the same natural laws apply as for any other species. He understands human diversity as the product of space and time; because of geographical and climatological factors, humans develop differently in different parts of the world. Among German intellectuals, Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803) is a key figure in promoting Buffon’s thinking, in particular by assigning a central role to the concept of ‘culture’. The following essay focuses on the role the image of Jews plays in the emerging intertwined discourses of natural history and anthropology during the second half of the eighteenth century as it manifests itself in Herder’s writings. Herder’s views of Jews are highly contradictory. While he is respectful of their history and culture, he also refers to them in derogatory terms, calling them twice in the Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit a ‘parasitic plant’. To understand Herder’s ambiguity, his views of Jews are traced back to the premises underlying his thinking in natural history and anthropology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20-36
Number of pages17
JournalLeo Baeck Institute Yearbook
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 1 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History


Dive into the research topics of 'Johann Gottfried Herder, Enlightenment Anthropology, and the Jew as a ‘Parasitic Plant’'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this