The institute was founded in 1931 in St. Gabriel near Vienna in Austria. In accordance with the theological discourse of that time, the first statutes encouraged the members "to share in the discovery and description of the mysterious workings of God and the restless searching of the human spirit in the history of peoples and cultures." The founding members of the institute, in addition to Wilhelm Schmidt who became its first director, were Frs. Martin Gusinde, Wilhelm Koppers, and Paul Schebesta – acclaimed ethnographers and authorities in their respective fields of studies.
After Hitler marched into Austria in 1938, Schmidt and the Anthropos Institute quickly fell afoul of the ideology of the National Socialism and had to move to Switzerland, where the institute found a new location in the Château de Froideville, near Fribourg. In 1942 Schmidt succeeded in establishing a Chair and an Institute for Ethnology at the University of Fribourg, both of which were also organizationally attached to the Anthropos Institute.
By the end of the 1950s, the General Council of the Society of the Divine Word – the umbrella organization that supports the institute – decided to move it to Sankt Augustin near Bonn, in Germany, in order to bring it closer to the universities of Cologne and Bonn, which in turn created new opportunities for scientific cooperation. The new location of the institute also gave students of the missionary seminary of the Society of the Divine Word in Sankt Augustin access to the institute’s library and specialists, and thus provided them with a better understanding of human cultures. The facilities in which the institute is located today were completed in 1962.
In 2003, the Anthropos Institute has been restructured into Anthropos Institute International, a worldwide network of scholars and affiliated institutes. A coordinator for international cooperation and contact is chosen for a three-year term. His contact address: E-Mail
The Anthropos Institute Sankt Augustin has been assigned the role of being responsible for the publications of the Institute (Anthropos journal and two book series).