es·​sen·​tial·​ism | \ i-ˈsen(t)-shə-ˌli-zəm How to pronounce essentialism (audio) \

Definition of essentialism

1 : an educational theory that ideas and skills basic to a culture should be taught to all alike by time-tested methods — compare progressivism
2 : a philosophical theory ascribing ultimate reality to essence embodied in a thing perceptible to the senses — compare nominalism
3 : the practice of regarding something (such as a presumed human trait) as having innate existence or universal validity rather than as being a social, ideological, or intellectual construct

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from essentialism

essentialist \ i-​ˈsen(t)-​shə-​list How to pronounce essentialism (audio) \ adjective or noun

Examples of essentialism in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web According to Walker, racial essentialism is built into D&D’s DNA, and its recent push for a racial reckoning is a long time coming. Matthew Gault, Wired, "Dungeons, Dragons, and Diversity," 31 Dec. 2020 In the writing process, Docter delved into research on essentialism, nihilism and existentialism to better articulate the plight of his characters. Los Angeles Times, "How the makers of Pixar’s ‘Soul’ envisioned a before-life place that kids can grasp," 24 Dec. 2020 In January, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of British Columbia published a study showing how taking a DNA test could influence a person’s belief in race essentialism, or the idea that racial differences are innate. Caitlin Harrington, Wired, "Your ‘Ethnicity Estimate’ Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Does," 2 Oct. 2020 Except that among testers who claimed no knowledge of genetics, race essentialism increased nearly 12 percent. Caitlin Harrington, Wired, "Your ‘Ethnicity Estimate’ Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Does," 2 Oct. 2020 Psychological essentialism is the notion that particular groups of people are different because of some real, meaningful underlying essence that is present deep in their nature, and often biological in origin. Katherine D. Kinzler, Scientific American, "Were French People Born to Speak French?," 6 Aug. 2020 Relaying tales of natural women through a supernatural grammar flips essentialism on its head; these accounts offer up feminine bodies and performance at once. Amanda Hess, New York Times, "The Wild Woman Awakens," 17 Dec. 2019 The Gene as a Cultural Icon, published in 1995, scholars Dorothy Nelkin and M. Susan Lindee warned of the rise of genetic essentialism. Libby Copeland, Time, "You Can Learn a Lot About Yourself From a DNA Test. Here's What Your Genes Cannot Tell You," 2 Mar. 2020 What drives Trump is racial essentialism, a rage at the post-racial, integrative center that the mixed-race Obama represented. Andrew Sullivan, Daily Intelligencer, "Obama’s Legacy Has Already Been Destroyed," 18 May 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'essentialism.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of essentialism

1927, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about essentialism

Time Traveler for essentialism

Time Traveler

The first known use of essentialism was in 1927

See more words from the same year

Statistics for essentialism

Last Updated

14 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Essentialism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Jan. 2021.

Comments on essentialism

What made you want to look up essentialism? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


Test Your Vocabulary

Words of Snow and Ice Quiz

  • image1037863653
  • Which of the following refers to thin, bending ice, or to the act of running over such ice?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.


Anagram puzzles meet word search.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!