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Zeitgeist  is originally a German expression that means "the spirit (Geist) of the time (Zeit)". It denotes the intellectual and cultural climate of an era. The German pronunciation of the word is [ˈtsa͡ɪtga͡ɪst] (IPA).

The concept of Zeitgeist goes back to Johann Gottfried Herder and other German Romantics, but is best known in relation to Hegel's philosophy of history. In 1769 Herder wrote a critique of the work Genius seculi by the philologist Christian Adolph Klotz (German Wikipedia article) and introduced the word Zeitgeist into German as a translation of genius seculi (Latin: genius - "guardian spirit" and saeculi - "of the century"). The German Romantics, habitually tempted to reduce the past to essences, treated the Zeitgeist as a historical character in its own right, rather than a mere conceptual instrument.

Zeitgeist has achieved a unique status among German loanwords in other tongues, having found an entrance into English, Spanish, Dutch and even Japanese.

It is a term that refers to the ethos of a cohort of people, that spans one or more subsequent generations, who despite their diverse age and socio-economic background experience a certain world view, which is prevalent at a particular period of socio-cultural progression. Zeitgeist is the experience of a dominant cultural climate that defines, particularly in Hegelian thinking, an era in the dialectical progression of a people or the world at large. Hegel's main contribution to the formulation of the concept of Volksgeist is the attribution of a historical character to the concept. The spirit of a nation is one of the manifestations of World Spirit (Weltgeist). That Spirit is essentially alive and active throughout mankind's history. Now, the spirit of a nation is an intermediate stage of world history as the history of the World Spirit. The World Spirit gives impetus to the realization of the historical spirits of various nations (Volksgeister). The spirits of individual nations are both the articulations (Gliederungen) of an organization and its realization. The spirits of individual nations represent a segment of the World Spirit out of which emerges the unlimited universal spirit. A comparison is introduced here between the status of an individual and that of a nation's spirit. In the process of his formation the individual undergoes various changes without, however, losing his identity. As a part of world history, a nation—exhibiting a certain trend expressed in its Volksgeist— plays its part in the total process of world history. But once it contributes its share to world history it can no longer play a role in the process of world history. The submersion in the total process prevents a people's cultural rebirth, because it has exhausted its creativity in the historical growth of its guiding spirit. It is for this reason that one of Hegel's disciples, Michelet, considered the idea of a renaissance of the Jewish people as philosophically impossible.


  • Whoever marries the zeitgeist will be a widower soon. - August Everding (German Wikipedia article)
  • Opinions, that deviate from the ruling zeitgeist, always aggravate the crowd. - Germaine de Staël
  • The product of paper and printed ink, that we commonly call the book, is one of the great visible mediators between spirit and time, and, reflecting zeitgeist, lasts as long as ore and stone. - Johann Georg Hamann
  • Don't take any shit from the zeitgeist. - comedian George Carlin

In popular culture[]

  • Zeitgeist is the name of The Smashing Pumpkins' 6th studio album which will be released on July 7th, 2007
  • Zeitgeist Art Gallery, in Portland, Oregon, is co-founded by skateboarder Paul Fujita.
  • Zeitgeist Films is an American independent film distributor based in New York City.
  • One of the first songs by Manic Street Preachers bassist and main lyricist Nicky Wire, which was available to the fans on the band's website, is called "I Killed The Zeitgeist".
  • Was a "local alternative" art gallery in Cambridge Massachusetts' Inman Square.
  • Geist and Zeitgeist: The Spirit in an Unspiritual Age (2003) is a collection of essays by Austrian Modernist Herman Broch.
  • Is the name of an album by The Levellers
  • Is one of San Francisco's most popular counter cultural bars and gathering places.
  • Is the former name of the Austin, TX band, The Reivers.
  • Zeitgeist was a famous playboy superhero with the power to project acid as a weapon from his mouth in the Marvel comics X-Force and X-Statix.
  • The website has a section called zeitgeist.
  • Zeitgeist is St. Paul, Minnesota's premiere new music ensemble.
  • The O.C's Seth Cohen has made reference to a 'cultural zeitgeist' when describing how his 'super holiday' "Chrismukkah" will sweep the nation.
  • In Sex and the City, Carrie's boyfriend Vaughn has a father who teaches a class on Cultural Zeitgeist at Columbia University and invites Carrie to speak at his class, as he views her as a cultural icon.
  • The Google Current segments on Al Gore's Current TV end with the statement, "Zeitgeist Data Provided by Google".
  • The online magazine has a weekly column called "The Zeitgeist Checklist".
  • Is the password for Gunther Hermann's E-mail account in the computer game Deus Ex.
  • Richard Dawkins makes reference to Zeitgeist while discussing morality in his book The God Delusion.
  • William Paterson University of New Jersey's art and literary magazine is titled Zeitgeist.
  • The Zeitgeist Stage Company, in Boston Massachusetts, has been staging New England premieres of plays since 2001.
  • Zeitgeist is the name of a popular board game in Canada.
  • The word was basterdised in the production of a comedic UK channel 4 quiz Does Doug know? in 2002, featuring comedienne/presenter Daisy Donovan to form the word Shitegeist, a pop at the growing obsession with celebrity since the first part of this word refers to trivial and pointless nonsense of no value.
  • Zeitgeist has been worked into the vocabulary of the popular Internet podcast 1up yours.

See also[]

External links[]


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