REL 300

Japanimals: Power, Knowledge, and Spirituality at the Intersection of Species

What do the lamb of God and White Buffalo Woman have in common? For one thing, they illustrate the sometimes-blurry intersection of humans, animals, and the divine; for another, they illustrate the powerful role played by animals in the religious imagination. As the French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss once remarked, "animals are good to think." As others have pointed out, they're also good to eat, ride, look at, hunt, train for battle, make things out of, and keep as companions. In religion, animals have additionally served as sacrificial offerings, totems, signifiers of purity and pollution, and foreshadowers of the apocalypse. In this class students begin to trace the vast interplay between human and non-human animals in the history of religion. Drawing from the emerging field of Critical Animal Studies, Japanimals weaves together rigorous critical theoretical inquiry with case studies drawn broadly from the history of religions, with a particular focus on case studies from Japan. Students emerge from this course able to articulate how different religious traditions have viewed animals, how religions have influenced modern conceptions of animals, and how religious traditions may (or may not) provide resources for addressing contemporary challenges facing human and non-human animals.

Prerequisites: One course in Religion or permission of the instructor.