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The term "völkerpsychologie" was coined in the 1870s by the following German men:
- German philosopher, psychologist, and champion of anti-Semitism Moritz Lazarus (1824-1903)
- Lazarus' colleague/brother-in-law, Heymann Steinthal (1823-1899)
Völkerpsychologie came to its fruition under the German physiologist, philosopher, and psychologist Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920). Wundt is today widely known, among other things, as the first person to describe himself as a "psychologist" and one of the first to insist on psychology as a science independent from philosophy and biology. Building on the foundations established by Lazarus and Steinthal, Wundt envisioned völkerpsychologie as an endeavor which identifies, describes, and compares the common roots of human development in diverse nations.
Variously translated as "folk," "ethnic," or "national" psychology, völkerpsychologie concerns itself in part with understanding the processes by which human groups established common grounds of communication and community that ultimately lead them to regard themselves as one people or nation who share a common destiny. Wundt's monumental tome Völkerpsychologie is grounded in his conviction that certain mental phenomena simply cannot be understood from the standpoint of individual consciousness. Instead, such phenomena can only be explained by considering the individual as a member of a group whose collective minds are shaped by forces such as language, mythology, art, and religion. Some psychologists regard völkerpsychologie as a predecessor of today's cultural psychology, which is premised on the notion, clearly suggested by Wundt, that the human mind cannot be understood apart from the culture that shapes it development.