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Fetishism is the belief that natural objects have supernatural powers, or that something created by people has power over people. The concept was coined by Charles de Brosses in 1757 and was originally used in the 18th century by French and German scholars to characterize the earliest stages in the evolution of religion. In the 19th century anthropologists and historians of religion such as E. B. Tylor and J. F. McLennan developed the theories of animism and totemism to account for fetishism. The concept of "fetishism" allowed historians of religion to shift attention from the relationship between people and God to the relationship between people and material objects; moreover, it established false models of causal explanations of natural events as a central problem for historians and social theorists.

In the 19th century Karl Marx appropriated the term to describe commodity fetishism as an important component of capitalism.

Later Sigmund Freud appropriated the concept to describe a form of paraphilia where the object of affection is an inanimate object or a specific part of a person. See sexual fetish for more details on the concept of sexual fetishism and its sub-categories.

See also: