The Specter of Speciesism: Buddhist and Christian Views of Animals

The Specter of Speciesism: Buddhist and Christian Views of Animals

The Specter of Speciesism: Buddhist and Christian Views of Animals

The Specter of Speciesism: Buddhist and Christian Views of Animals

Synopsis

This new study looks at how non-human animals have been viewed in the Buddhist and Christian religious traditions. The concept of speciesism, coined in 1970 as an analogy to racism and discussed almost exclusively within philosophical circles, is used to explore very basic questions about which animals, human or otherwise, were significant to early Buddhists and Christians. Drawing on scriptures and interpretive traditions in Christianity and Buddhism, Waldau argues that decisions about human ethical responsibilities in both religions are deeply rooted in ancient understandings of the place of humans in the world and our relationships with other animals in an integrated cosmos. His study offers scholars and others interested in the bases for ethical decisions new insights into Christian and Buddhist reasoning about animals as well as what each might have to offer to the current discussions about animal rights and environmental ethics.

Excerpt

The broad topic “religion and animals, ” though in important respects an ancient concern, remains an area that has not been worked out systematically by modern scholars. If one scours publications from the fields of religious studies, theology, anthropology, ethics, or any of the other fields increasingly dealing with one or both of the topics “religion” and “animals, ” one will not find a work that attempts to lay out the many issues that arise when one tries to assess the relationship of these two vast subjects. in such a circumstance, it is difficult to see many, let alone all, of the inevitable pitfalls awaiting that person who tries to say something general about the relationship of these important realms of human experience.

Such an attempt is, however, sorely needed for many reasons. For example, grappling with the constructed nature and ideological character of Buddhist and Christian views of nonhuman animals has great potential for contributing to contemporary projects of reconceptualizing Buddhist and Christian teachings and practices. This is true not only with regard to the views and treatment of nonhuman animals in the light of the new zoological knowledge but also with regard to ecological issues generally. Indeed, the very attempt to identify tendencies to construct value systems, worldviews, and lifeways that either intentionally or inadvertently marginalize “others, ” whether they be human or otherwise, is of momentous importance today. It has broad relevance to many contemporary exclusions, not the least of which are the exclusions that concern the contemporary social and environmental justice movements. As the antisexism and antiracism movements have often shown, identifying the underpinnings of one exclusion often enables us to see better the underpinnings of others.

Given the state of this developing field, the first attempts may well stumble or even wander aimlessly, for the terrain is both vast and daunting. Indeed, as is so often the case with human endeavors, mapping this terrain will likely be accomplished only collectively through the efforts of many, many people. This book begins the journey, taking a few of the preliminary steps encountered when one tries to assess the characteristics of Buddhist and Christian views of the living beings outside the human species. What follows is a slightly revised and updated version of a doctoral dissertation submitted by the author to the University of Oxford in September 1997 under the title “Speciesism in Christianity and Buddhism. ”

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