Books  General Natural History  Philosophy, Ethics & Religion 

The Question of the Animal and Religion: Theoretical Stakes, Practical Implications


By: Aaron S Gross (Author)

304 pages, 1 b/w illustration

Columbia University Press

Paperback | Jan 2015 | #215356 | ISBN-13: 9780231167512
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £20.50 $25/€23 approx
Hardback | Jan 2015 | #215355 | ISBN-13: 9780231167505
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £61.99 $75/€69 approx

About this book

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 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, Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies, 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 Gross proceeds to a wide-ranging exploration into 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."
– JM Coetzee, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature

"Who has standing before God? Who has a face that says, "Don't kill me"? Or, in the words of Aaron Gross's magisterial new book, "Who counts as a 'who'?" According to The Question of the Animal and Religion, if our answers refer only to human beings while continuing to exclude animals, we are philosophically ungrounded and ethically lost. 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 1800 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

"Gross's 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 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

"Aaron Gross's 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 monograph 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


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
6. Sacrificing Animals and Being a Mensch: Dominion


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Aaron S. Gross is a historian of religions specializing in Jewish traditions. He 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.

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