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Wiesław BATOR – The Sacred – the Cursed – the Soulless: On the Treatment of Animals in the Doctrines and Practices of World Religions

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The present article discusses the attitude to animals as exemplified by the religions of the world, both extinct and modern, in their doctrines, cults and morals. The author observes that since ancient times religious doctrines have been marked by the confrontation of anthropocentric views with eco-friendly approaches. According to anthropocentrism, the human being, unlike other creatures, is a special creation of God, endowed with a reflective and immortal soul. The intention of the Creator is that animals should serve human beings as objects of utility or mindless slaves. The opposite current of thought stresses in turn that all living beings are endowed with a soul similar to that of the human being, and all of them cooperate in maintaining the balance given to the world by its Creator. Both types of views may be traced back already to the Upper Paleolithic and their continued parallel development has marked the history of humanity and religion, not infrequently manifesting extreme attitudes, such as, on the one hand, absolute lack of compassion for animals, conceived of as living “machines” (or even utmost cruelty towards them), and, on the other, zoolatry, or worship of animals.

In the course of the article, some examples of the treatment of animals in extinct as well as contemporary religions are discussed with the objective to show the interdependence between the attitudes towards animals exhibited by a given culture and religion and the impact of particular beliefs on the treatment of animals (for instance, in the prehistoric society, in Mesopotamia, Syria, and Greece, in the Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, in the beliefs of ancient Egypt, India, and the Far East, as well as in contemporary tribal beliefs and in new religious movements). The author then describes the problem of ritual slaughter, pointing to its origin in the ideas of taboo, sacrifice, ritual purity, and the soul, and proceeds to discuss contemporary attitudes to animals in the Western world, which has traditionally belonged to the realm of anthropocentrism. The focus of the concluding part of the article is today’s significance of environmental beliefs and the strength of the movements advocating them in the face of the ongoing processes of globalization and environmental devastation. The author points to the imminent conflict between environmentalism promoting animal rights and the teachings of the religions of the universalist tradition.

Keywords: world religions, zoolatry, zoomorphism, anthropocentrism, taboo, sacrifice, soul, ritual purification, ritual uncleanliness, ritual slaughter (shechita), animal burial

Zakład Historii Religii, Instytut Religioznawstwa,
Uniwersytet Jagielloński,
ul. Grodzka 52, room 6,
31-044 Cracow, Poland

E-mail: dokbat@interia.pl

Phone: +48 12 6631721

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» 102.Bator.content.pdf

  1. ISSN 0860-8024
  2. The Republic of Poland Ministry of Science and Higher Education Value: 20.00
  3. Quarterly “Ethos” is indexed by the following databases: EBSCO, CEEOL, Index Copernicus (ICV 2017: 55.26), Philosopher’s Index, ERIH Plus.
  4. DOI Prefix 10.12887