Through close readings of Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and
Buddhist texts, Katherine Wills Perlo proves that our relationship
with animals shapes religious doctrine, particularly through the
tension between animal exploitation and the bonds of kinship. She
pinpoints four different strategies for coping with this conflict.
The first is aggression, in which a divinely conferred superiority
or karma justifies animal usage. The second is evasion, which
emphasizes benevolent aspects of the human-animal relationship
within the exploitative structure, such as the image of Jesus as a
"good shepherd." The third is defense, which acknowledges the
problematic nature of killing, leading many religions to adopt a
propitiation mechanism, such as apologizing for sacrifice. And the
fourth is effective-defensive, which recognizes animal abuse as
As humans feel more empathy toward animals, Perlo finds that
adherents revise their interpretations of religious texts.
Preexisting ontologies, such as Christianity's changing God or
Buddhism's principle of impermanence, along with advances in
farming practices and technology, also encourage changes in
treatment. As cultures begin to appreciate the different types of
perception and consciousness experienced by nonhumans, definitions
of reality become complicated and humans lean more toward unitary
accounts of shared existence. These evolving attitudes exert a
crucial influence on religious thought, Perlo argues, moving humans
ever closer to a nonspeciesist world.
Subjects: Religion, Zoology
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