The Question of the Animal and Religion

Theoretical Stakes, Practical Implications

Aaron S. Gross

Columbia University Press

The Question of the Animal and Religion

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Pub Date: December 2014

ISBN: 9780231167512

304 Pages

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Pub Date: December 2014

ISBN: 9780231167505

304 Pages

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Pub Date: December 2014

ISBN: 9780231538374

304 Pages

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The Question of the Animal and Religion

Theoretical Stakes, Practical Implications

Aaron S. Gross

Columbia University Press

Through an absorbing investigation into recent, high-profile scandals involving one of the largest kosher slaughterhouses in the world, located unexpectedly in Postville, Iowa, Aaron S. Gross makes a powerful case for elevating the category of the animal in the study of religion. Major theorists have almost without exception approached religion as a phenomenon that radically marks humans off from other animals, but Gross rejects this paradigm, instead matching religion more closely with the life sciences to better theorize human nature.

Gross begins with a detailed account of the scandals at Agriprocessors and their significance for the American and international Jewish community. He argues that without a proper theorization of "animals and religion," we cannot fully understand religiously and ethically motivated diets and how and why the events at Agriprocessors took place. Subsequent chapters recognize the significance of animals to the study of religion in the work of Ernst Cassirer, Emile Durkheim, Mircea Eliade, Jonathan Z. Smith, and Jacques Derrida and the value of indigenous peoples' understanding of animals to the study of religion in our daily lives. Gross concludes by extending the Agribusiness scandal to the activities at slaughterhouses of all kinds, calling attention to the religiosity informing the regulation of "secular" slaughterhouses and its implications for our relationship with and self-imagination through animals.
With this highly original and exciting book, Aaron S. Gross stands at the cutting edge of a radical reconsideration of the nature of religiosity and theological reflection. Beautifully written, this book has to be read by anyone with an interest in the study of religion. Susannah Heschel, Dartmouth College
Starting from the scandal evoked by the revelation of grossly cruel practices in kosher slaughterhouses in the United States, and the subsequent defense of these practices by leading figures in Orthodox Jewry, Aaron S. Gross proceeds to a wide-ranging exploration of the justification of slaughter in Abrahamic religion and into our willed blindness to the animal as a religious subject. His philosophical and theological inquiries are driven by well-justified ethical concern at what factory farming, buttressed by so-called animal science, tells about the age we live in. J.M. Coetzee, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature
A leading young scholar in the emerging field of animal studies, Gross reveals the deep binaries around which most dominant religious worldviews, as well as the Enlightenment-vectored study of religion, have always revolved—human/animal, subject/object, culture/nature, self/other. Without a radical surrender of these divisions, which render animals as but 'a foil and shadow of the human world,' no legitimate theorizing about religion can take place. Nor is any true religious life possible. Echoing two heartbreaking cries to heaven, separated by eighteen hundred years—the plea of a calf seeking refuge from kosher slaughter in the robes of Rabbi Judah the Prince and the screams of cattle half-butchered but still alive in the now-infamous 'kosher' meat-processing plant in Postville, Iowa—this work makes its own unforgettable plea. Do we have the courage to sacrifice sacrifice itself? There will be no getting around this book. Kimberley C. Patton, Harvard Divinity School, Harvard University
The Question of the Animal and Religion makes a significant contribution to both the larger field of animal studies and the smaller subdiscipline of animal studies in religion. This is in part because Aaron S. Gross's case study on the brutal and systematic animal cruelty at a kosher-meat-producing company is so important, and especially because Gross's is the first work in animal studies in religion to present such a thorough methodological approach. Barbara K. Darling, Wheaton College
The Question of the Animal and Religion makes a crucial contribution to the emerging field of animals and religion. As of today, I cannot name another study that has specifically analyzed the thinking of the foundational theorists of religious studies such as Mircea Eliade, Émile Durkheim, and J.Z. Smith in regard to animals. Barbara Rossetti Ambros, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The Question of the Animal and Religion persuasively demonstrates the need to extend our understanding of religion beyond the human drama to include, as Gross insists, the drama of living itself. This book deserves to be taken seriously. Reading Religion
Gross's book marks a welcome and important step in bringing animal studies to the study of religion, and religion to animal studies. Katharine Mershon, Journal of Religion
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. Ethical Tropes in American Kosher Certification
2. The Event and Response
3. The Absent Presence: Animals in the History of the Study of Religion
4. After the Subject: Hunter-Gatherers and the Reimagination of Religion
5. Disavowal, War, Sacrifice: Jacques Derrida and the Reimagination of Religion
6. Sacrificing Animals and Being a Mensch: Dominion, Reverence, and the Meaning of Modern Meat
Epilogue
Glossary
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Runner-up, 2015 Book Award for Excellence in Constructive-Reflective Studies

About the Author

Aaron S. Gross is a professor of theology and religious studies at the University of San Diego, cochair of the American Academy of Religion's Animals and Religion group, and founder of the nonprofit organization Farm Forward. He is also the author of Animals and the Human Imagination: A Companion to Animal Studies.