Discussions about the proper relationship between humans and animals can easily degenerate into what the Universal House of Justice calls “the all too common tendencies . . . to delineate sharp dichotomies . . . and engage in intractable debate that obstructs the search for viable solutions” (29 November 2017). This paper first uses an exegetical approach to discern a Bahá’í framework governing the treatment of animals, and our relationship to the natural world more broadly. Next, a self-reflexive examination of the author’s own relationship with animals is used to demonstrate how such a framework can directly inform the individual’s way of being in the world, in a manner that is both faithful to the Bahá’í teachings on the subject, and responsive to differences in individuals’ circumstances. Finally, it suggests that by presenting an internally coherent position in which an ethics of kindness and justice flows from underlying ontological principles, this framework hold promise for transcending the dichotomy between domination-themed narratives that assign purely instrumental value to the natural world, and materialistic narratives that deny any unique status to the human being.
This paper had its origins in a presentation offered at the 2020 Annual Conference of the Association for Bahá’í Studies, but expands considerably on the arguments in that talk, both in terms of breadth and depth. My thanks to Roshan Danesh, Nilufar Gordon, Mahtab Sabet, and two anonymous reviewers, for their generous feedback and encouragement.
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