The Zeitgeist (spirit of the age or spirit of the time) is the intellectual fashion or dominant school of thought that typifies and influences the culture of a particular period in time. For example, the Zeitgeist of modernism typified and influenced architecture, art, and fashion during much of the 20th century.
The German word Zeitgeist is often attributed to the philosopher Georg Hegel, but he never actually used the word. In his works such as Lectures on the Philosophy of History, he uses the phrase der Geist seiner Zeit (the spirit of his time)—for example, "no man can surpass his own time, for the spirit of his time is also his own spirit."
Other philosophers who were associated with such ideas include Herder and Spencer and Voltaire. The concept counters the Great Man theory popularized by Thomas Carlyle which sees history as the result of the actions of heroes and geniuses.
The first interpretation is reflected well in Indian context in the eleventh canto of Bhagavad Gita, a holy book of Hindus in a verse as said by Krishna, a godhead of Hindus, to Arjuna inspiring him to fight the battle of Kurukshetra, which translated into English means, "I am Time who wastes and destroys the people; lo, I have arisen in my might, I am here to swallow up the nations. Even without thee all they shall not be, the men of war who stand arrayed in the opposing squadrons. Therefore do thou arise and get thee great glory, conquer thy foes and enjoy a great and wealthy empire. For these, they were already slain and it is I who have slain them; be the occasion only, O Savyasachin".
According to Indian philosopher Sri Aurobindo, "When the Zeitgeist, God in Time," which India calls 'Kāla', "moves in a settled direction, then all the forces of the world are called in to swell the established current towards the purpose decreed. That which consciously helps, swells it, but that which hinders swells it still more, and like a wave on the windswept Ocean, now rising, now falling, now high on the crest of victory and increase, now down in the troughs of discouragement and defeat, the impulse from the hidden Source sweeps onward to its preordained fulfillment".
Hegel believed that art reflected, by its very nature, the time of the culture in which it is created. Culture and art are inextricable because an individual artist is a product of his or her time and therefore brings that culture to any given work of art. Furthermore, he believed that in the modern world it was impossible to produce classical art, which he believed represented a "free and ethical culture", which depended more on the philosophy of art and theory of art, rather than a reflection of the social construct, or Zeitgeist in which a given artist lives.
In the analysis of the arts and culture, the concept of a "spirit of the age" or zeitgeist may be problematic as a tool for analysis of periods which are socially or culturally fragmented and diverse.