Methane Dispensers and Bio-Dynamic Beings : Cattle as Polysemous Symbols in Environmental Religious Discourse
*LeVasseur, T. (2016).Ecozon@, 7(1), 112–127.
This paper approaches thinking animals via the animal humanities, focusing on the conflicting meanings ascribed to domesticated cattle: are they destroyers of the environment, or saviors of the planet? By investigating narrative tropes, especially those grounded within the at times competing and overlapping worldviews of religious environmentalism, biodynamic agriculture, and sustainable agriculture, this paper explores the iterative interaction between how cows are conceived, and thus managed, in relation to human-nature interactions. Management questions may include: Who can kill a cow, when, why, and for what purpose? How should cows be raised and treated? Do cows have their own form of intelligence, and even spiritual intelligence? Are cows a leading cause of climate destabilization and deforestation, or can they help avert runaway climate change? Should cows be the entry point into animal abolitionism? Investigating the competing answers to these and other such questions is important, for if humans are to have any form of functional habitat that enables the flourishing of human and non-human lifeforms in the coming decades, then how humans conceive of, manage, and interact with other lifeforms, especially in the context of religion and agriculture, matters. Emerging metrics suggests that the narrative, ethical, religious, and biological understandings of non-human evolutionary kin in the dawning Anthropocene will be fluid and contested. Therefore, scholars must be prepared to interpret and analyze emergent meanings that will be ascribed to other lifeforms on a climate changed planet. Investigating cows—their labor, their environmental impacts, their role in shaping human societies and providing calories, the art of interacting with them on agricultural fields—presents a chance to rethink the human in a world of limits.
Keywords: cows, religious environmentalism, religion, climate change, authentic religion, animal studies.
Research publications concerning biodynamics