Animals and Religion

RELS 212-401

Allison Covey

Tuesday/Thursday, 4:30 - 6:00 PM

Religion is full of animals--lions and lambs, monkeys and elephants, buffalo and snakes, even mythical beasts. The identity of the human being is explained, in many traditions, by contrast with the identity of other species. We know who we are because we know who they are, or do we? This course interrogates--through an exploration of sacred texts, art, film, and museum artifacts--the tension present in many traditions between an anthropocentric prioritization of the human being and religious resources that encourage a valuing of other animal species. We'll explore the way animals function both as religious objects and as religious subjects across diverse traditions, asking how human-animal relationships have shaped religion and how religion has shaped the way we think about and interact with other animals. We'll ask how religion has engaged with animals over time and across global cultures, understanding them as symbols, messengers, and manifestations of the divine; as material for ritual and sacrifice; as kin and subordinates; as food and as filth; as helpmeets and as tempters. How have these perspectives shaped animal ethics, influencing the treatment, use, and consumption of animals and their bodies? Finally, we'll ask what it means that we ourselves are evolved animals. How does our own animality factor into the practice of human religion? Is our religious capacity part of what sets us apart from other animals or is religiosity a trait we might expect to find in other species? To what extent is religion a function of the animal?

Fall 2019