ASA11: Vital powers and politics: human interactions with living things

University of Wales Trinity Saint David, 13/09/2011 – 16/09/2011

(P27)

Religions' contributions in human-animal relations

Location Room 1
Date and Start Time 16 Sep, 2011 at 09:00

Convenor

Deborah Jones (Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics)  email
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Short Abstract

Examining the faith response to the place of animals in society.

Long Abstract

The history of human-animal interactions in the West has largely been defined by the religious approach to the status of animals - an approach which is heavily instrumentalist and yet one from which the humane movement developed. Non-Western religious approaches tend to be more wholistic. The panel could look at a) the contradictions inherent in the Abrahamic faiths in the views of their sacred scriptures and in certain aspects of their tradition, namely viewing animals as 'God's creatures', and yet treating them as if they were inanimate, and b) human-animal relations in non-Western and animistic idealogies/cosmologies/religions.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

A psychological approach to contradictions between Christian teaching and attitudes towards animals

Author: Jennifer Brown email
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Short Abstract

This paper reports on a study exploring whether the content and type of worship experienced by an individual Christian may have greater influence on behaviour than do the teachings found in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures teach with regard to animal welfare.

Long Abstract

The need to respect and care for animals is explicit in the Hebrew scriptures and the fact that God values animals can certainly be inferred from passages in the New Testament, yet comparatively few Christians actively work towards improving animal welfare. It is possible that the behaviour and activities of individual Christians reflect those values most strongly and frequently expressed in Christian liturgy and worship. The psychological theory of Reasoned Action/Planned Behaviour provides a model that can help explain how these values are translated into action. This paper will report on the findings of a pilot study exploring the relationship between the style and content of Christian worship and associated behaviour, focussing on those results relating specifically to animal welfare. Statistically significant correlations were found between the inclusion (or non-inclusion) of an issue in church worship, private prayer and related charitable giving, and participation in certain types of worship was predictive, either positively or negatively, for giving to animal welfare charities. Possible reasons for why liturgy can have a strong influence in forming attitudes and shaping behaviour will be discussed.

Agentive relationality and the caprices of modern spirits: dynamics in animic semiotic ideology among the Bebelibe of northwestern Benin

Author: Johannes Merz (SIL International) email
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Short Abstract

This paper uses a semiotic approach to explain the modern process by which animic ontologies become spiritualised among the Bebelibe of Benin. In their pre-modern ontology interaction and agency between humans, animals and things are egalitarian and are defined relationally.

Long Abstract

In pre-modern understanding of the Bebelibe cosmos (northern Benin), humans, animals and things all have an agentive relationality as they all share the main components of life and relate to each other in an egalitarian cosmos. While such beliefs are still widespread, modernity has left its imprint on the Bebelibe's cosmos by a process I call 'spiritual animisation'. This manifests itself by the cosmos losing the relationally defined agency of beings and things. Humans and animals are now sometimes seen as being animated by spiritualised agency that can exist in its own right. Material things, on the other hand, are either relegated to a kind of object status that retains an echo of their prior agency, or they are viewed as animated by spirits. I seek to explain the dynamics of pre-modern and modern animic ontologies through the notion of 'semiotic ideology'. By using a semiotic framework I can adopt a relational approach that moves beyond the Western dichotomies of subject versus object and material versus spiritual. I will demonstrate how such an approach can elucidate how the Bebelibe's perceived and changing cosmos lies at the basis of several traits of their distinctive culture, such as the egalitarian nature of their social structure, the importance of their aniconic but indexical visual and material culture and why until recently they did not experience spirit possession.

Devil, kin, god, animal: non-human primates in western and Assamese thought and experience.

Author: Saskia Dijk (University of Kent) email
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Short Abstract

This paper investigates the differences in thought about non-human primates in western and Indian scientific and religious texts and worldviews and the subsequent disparities between the assumed and lived experiences and relationships between humans and monkeys in Assam, India.

Long Abstract

Historically, non-human primates in western thought have changed from being 'figura diaboli' in Christian symbolism - primates as immoral beasts, sinners or devils - to 'imago hominis': the reflection of our own selves. Within the biological sciences, such Christianity-inspired attitudes have largely given way to non-religious, scientific frameworks for the study and conservation of primates. The advance of genetics, in particular, has encouraged further notions of non-human primates as kin. Yet, outside the zoo context, very few people in the West experience our non-human distant relatives directly, in contrast to India, where monkeys are found at Hindu temples and in human settlements all over the country, and interactions between people and monkeys take place daily. Many western scholars, especially those working in primate conservation, have attributed this interactive relationship to the monkey god, Hanuman, an important figure in the Indian epic 'the Ramayana' and a popular deity in his own right. It has been purported that Hindus in India protect and even worship monkeys as a result, thereby merely concentrating on textual references, rather than actual, lived, experiences and subsequent relationships between people and monkeys that are often unrelated to religious texts. This paper draws on fieldwork from the largely unstudied northeastern state of Assam in India to demonstrate the discrepancies between western and Assamese (Hindu and Muslim) perspectives on monkeys, which are influenced by differences in western and Indian religious and scientific thought and worldview, as well as divergence in experiential relationships with the animals.

Turning death to keep the world alive

Author: Christel Mattheeuws (Aberdeen University) email
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Short Abstract

I will use the example of animals in rituals among the Zanadroandrena of West Bezanozano (Central East Madagascar) to show how people in relation with the Creator, the sun and moon, the weather, plants, animals and specific places, participate in keeping the world alive.

Long Abstract

The Zanadroandrena of West Bezanozano in Central East Madagascar have a particular way of dealing with death. For them death does not mean being without life-force, but the life-force having become immobile or life threatening. Life-force is always there in both life and death, but somethimes it moves and somethimes it doesn't, or somethimes it gives life and somethimes it brings death among the living. In its death capacity, life-force is called 'jiny'. Death as the primordial nature of 'jiny' has to be restored into a life-giving force. Life is a constant task, searching to build fruitful relations with celestial bodies, the land, animals, plants, spirits and ancestors to prevent that the world falls apart. In this paper I will show how the silkworm, bees, cock and zebus or their poducts are integrated in the Zanadroandrena socio-cosmic web or relations to turn death into a life-giving direction. Each play a particular role defined by the astrological destiny they carry.

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This panel is closed to new paper proposals.