Animals and World Religions

Animals and World Religions

Animals and World Religions

Animals and World Religions


Despite increasing public attention to animal suffering, little seems to have changed: Human beings continue to exploit billions of animals in factory farms, medical laboratories, and elsewhere. In this wide-ranging and perceptive study, Lisa Kemmerer shows how spiritual writings and teachings in seven major religious traditions can help people to consider their ethical obligations toward other creatures. Dr. Kemmerer examines the role of nonhuman animals in scripture and myth, in the lives of religious exemplars, and by drawing on foundational philosophical and moral teachings. She begins with a study of indigenous traditions around the world, then focuses on the religions of India (Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain) and China (Daoism and Confucianism), and finally, religions of the Middle East (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). At the end of each chapter, Kemmerer explores the inspiring lives and work of contemporary animal advocates who are motivated by a personal religious commitment. Animals and World Religions demonstrates that rethinking how we treat nonhuman animals is essential for anyone claiming one of the world's great religions.


From the standpoint of religious traditions, what is our rightful role with regard to red-winged blackbirds and short-eared lizards? What do sacred teachings tell us about our responsibilities to bluefin tuna and Black Angus cattle?

Humans often dominate and exploit other creatures. Contemporary factory farming, for example, causes acute suffering, prolonged misery, and premature death to billions of nonhuman animals every year, across continents, on behalf of those who choose to eat animal products. From factory farms to medical laboratories, individuals from nonhuman species have become objects for our purposes, and means to human ends. Technology, mass production, and the sheer number of flesh-eating humans crowded onto this planet have increased the volume and intensity of nonhuman animal exploitation exponentially. Most of us never see the creatures whom we dominate and exploit, their dark eyes and steamy breath, wavy hair or intricate feathers, swaying tails or shiny beaks. We do not have the chance to know them as individuals—their preferences and fears, affections and curiosities— we see only a slab of flesh wrapped in cellophane, a bit of dairy in a plastic container, with an obscure label that fails to mention the truth: This that you eat is part of someone else’s body.

In the seventies and eighties, philosophers Tom Regan and Peter Singer exposed the horrors of the slaughterhouse and the cruelty of animal laboratories, noting that humans could get along quite well without these cruel animal exploiting institutions. Using carefully considered philosophical arguments, Regan and Singer demonstrated that our exploitation of other creatures is morally/ethically inadmissible.

Forty years later, there is much greater awareness of nonhuman animal exploitation, but little has changed in the food, fur, and research industries. In fact, the number of factory-farmed creatures has increased exponentially—we are consuming even more animal products. Why have people failed to respond to philosophical truths, to carefully consider moral imperatives presented by learned contemporary ethicists? Why have institutions of cruelty thrived in spite of increased exposure and consequently, a growing voice of moral condemnation?

Unfortunately, human beings “have been slow to pick up on the logic-based arguments provided by philosophy” (Foltz, Animals, 1). Perhaps many people have not responded because they are motivated more by faith, spirituality, and/or . . .

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