Sir Edward Taylor originated the term “animism” in 1871 and defined it (I have to believe, since the science of anthropology was only in its infancy at the time) on the basis of missionary reports, which portrayed “primitive” peoples as rather silly and childlike.
How Taylor’s definition has evolved I don’t know. My own formulation of it grew out of my decades-long study of “primitive” peoples seen through the eyes of anthropologists, not missionaries.
Rather than saying that the definitions you’ve seen are wrong and mine is right, I’d ask which definition seems to you more plausible for people as intelligent as you or I (and by no means either silly or childlike).
updated: 24 Jun 2005