Animal Perceptions: From Sentience to Spirituality

Animal Perceptions: From Sentience to Spirituality

During the 20th century, scientific behaviorism privileged the focus of research on observable animal behavior, while largely disregarding animals’ mental states and internal experience. But just as animals have their own personalities, some may share a capacity for perceptions that we would recognize as spiritual. Consider: if mammals at least possess the equipment needed to feel, then the sense of connection with nature and with one another that forms the foundation of soul is experienced by other beings.

Abrahamic religions clearly set humans apart as exceptional. As the thinking, reasoning, inventing animal, we are addressed as the stewards of the earth, participants in its ongoing creation. But what about all the other creatures on Earth? Surely they must have something to say also.

Rather than viewed in a strictly religious context, “soul” and “soulfulness” can be reinterpreted as reflecting a common capacity for many creatures to have felt experiences. From a Jewish perspective, what would it mean to view other creatures as possessing souls? How does that correspond to Jewish teachings on the lives of animals?

This Scientists in Synagogues event at Kol Ami: the Northern VA Reconstructionist Community on November 19, 2023 explored animal stories from two very distinct perspectives – contemporary encounters with and observations of animals, and the important metaphorical and allegorical roles that two animals in the Hebrew Bible play. The video in this post is of the first half of the talk by Michael Jawer, which discusses the first topic.

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