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Author:
Graham Harvey
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(3,775 words)

Animals participate in religions in many ways. Gratitude may be expressed to them or for them for the provision of sustenance. They symbolize or exemplify both right and wrong behavior, especially companionship and animality. They are sacrificed for a range of reasons. The possibility of their salvation or enlightenment is debated. Religious questions about animals’ potential to intentionally engage in religious acts (e.g. offering themselves for sacrifice or providing instructions about rituals) have recently been paralleled by scientific questions about the cognitive and ritual competence of animals. In this entry, the variety of ways in which animals participate in religions is illustrated by specific examples drawn from many religions, and the roles they play in relation to myths, rituals, ethics, cosmology, and other core themes in religious studies are examined. A somewhat speculative conclusion notes that ethologists are now discussing whether animals perform their own religious rituals. ⸙

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Vocabulary for the Study of Religion Online

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