Book Recommendations, Reviews and Author Interviews from

Religion and Animals: The Gulf Between Teaching and Action

Author interviewed by Marc Bekoff, Psychology Today / Animal Emotions

And see book reviews: Animal Welfare in World Religion Teaching and Practice.

Joyce D'Silva
Religion and Animals: The Gulf Between Teaching and Action
Available from
ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1032273992
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1032273990


I've long been interested in the ways in which different religions view and teach about nonhuman animals (animals) and the gulf between their teachings, and how they permit other animals to be treated with little to no respect, dignity, or compassion. I'm not a religious scholar, and when I discovered Joyce Di'Silva's new book Animal Welfare in World Religion: Teaching and Practice, I was immediately interested because she focused on questions I've been pondering in an amateurish way for decades.1

I'm pleased Joyce could answer a few questions about her very important book that calls for translating the teachings of various religions into on-the-ground practices.

Marc Bekoff: Why did you write Animal Welfare in World Religion?

Joyce D'Silva: Around the world, billions of animals are suffering at the hands of humans: animals are hunted for sport, used for entertainment, experimented on in laboratories, and billions are slaughtered for our food, most of them kept in miserable conditions in factory farms. And, of course, trillions of fish and other marine creatures are also killed each year. What a predatory species we seem to be! Campaigners for animals work hard to end these brutalities, and some progress is definitely being made. Yet governments and international financial agencies like the World Bank group prefer to maintain the status quo. The food industry is just beginning to make improvements.

But there is a forgotten source of power and influence: religion. Eighty percent of people claim to belong to a faith group. Here is a huge opportunity to achieve change for animals. Yet what are we hearing from faith leaders? With a few notable exceptions: nothing. It is as if the whole world of non-human sentient life was not worthy of mention.

One could be skeptical and think, well, salmon and sheep don’t donate to our coffers. But I don’t think that is the reason for this massive lack of concern for our fellow beings. I am just astonished that all the beautiful teaching contained within sacred texts is just being ignored. With this book, I want to bring this teaching to the notice of faith leaders and all people of faith—and others too. I want to challenge them to study the teaching of their own holy books, founders, and saints and to take action to help animals.

MB: How does your book relate to your background and general areas of interest?

JD: I’ve always been interested in what motivates people’s behaviour. For several years I taught moral education in schools in India and religious education in a large secondary school in the UK. As my concern for animals grew, I moved to work for Compassion in World Farming, which is the main international organisation focusing on the well-being of farmed animals. I was moved to become vegetarian (after reading Gandhi’s autobiography) and then vegan. I’ve visited slaughterhouses and factory farms and, of course, watched many investigative films of such places. I’ve gained some idea of the massive burden of suffering that animals are enduring at our hands. At Compassion, I’ve worked for many years to achieve change, and with my wonderful colleagues, we are seeing change taking off. But the animals can’t wait! If all faith leaders spoke out for animals and encouraged their followers to do likewise and maybe change their own lifestyles, change could happen far more quickly.

MB: Who is your intended audience?

JD: I hope that faith leaders will read my book but also all people of faith and indeed those of no particular faith. There are wonderful sacred writings to be discovered. You don’t have to be a “believer” to appreciate them.

MB: What are some of the topics you weave into your book, and what are some of your major messages?

JD: For each of the major faiths, I’ve given quotations from their own holy books and from leading historical and contemporary figures within each faith. For each faith, I’ve checked on a country or countries where that particular faith is in the majority. Does this make a change in how animals are treated? The answers vary a lot but are, mainly, rather disappointing.

How can Christian clergy support bullfighting? How can a highly Buddhist country have cock-fighting as its national sport? How can sacred temples chain elephants by the leg for hours on end? How can the adherents of a faith that calls for food to be good and wholesome devour factory-farmed chicken without thought?

Cow face
Image source: Jan Koetsier/Pexels

This is why the challenge to faith leaders and followers is so urgent. The world should not be like this. Animals should not be suffering at our hands every minute of their (often shortened) lives.

MB: How does your book differ from others that are concerned with some of the same general topics?

JD: There are some scholarly works looking at what faiths teach about our relationship with animals, but none of these compares the teaching with the practice on the ground. This is the big difference. Also, some books are concerned only with the faith of the author and ignore other faiths.

Obviously, I could not cover every faith, so I have focussed on the recognised major faiths but included a chapter with some alternative views, for example, from First Nations peoples in America and Australia, as well as a more contemporary faith, Rastafarianism.

MB: Are you hopeful that as people learn more about religion and animals, they will treat them with more respect and dignity?

JD: I would love to think that my book might inspire people to delve into the sacred texts, where they will find much beautiful teaching about our relationship with animals. Having gone to “the source,” hopefully, they will be inspired to make meaningful changes in their own lives and perhaps even become advocates for animals!


In conversation with Joyce D'Silva, who has worked for Compassion in World Farming since 1985, including fourteen years as Chief Executive, and served as Head of Religious Education at a comprehensive school in England. In 2004 Joyce was the joint recipient of the RSPCA Lord Erskine Award in recognition of a “very important contribution in the field of animal welfare,” in 2013, she was awarded the Assisi Medal of the Companion Animal Welfare Council of New Zealand. Joyce played a key role in achieving the UK ban on sow stalls in the nineties and getting recognition of animal sentience enshrined in the European Union Treaties. With Professor John Webster, Joyce co-edited the book The Meat Crisis: Developing More Sustainable and Ethical Production and Consumption, Earthscan, 2017.

1) The book's description read: This unique and readable book examines the relationship between religion and animal welfare, deeply diving into the teachings and practices of the major world religions. While many books expound the beliefs of the major religions and many about the rights and welfare of animals, few link the two. With each chapter focusing on one of the five major religions—Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism—the book explores the beliefs and practices driving our relationship with and treating animals. The book draws on the scriptures of the major faiths and includes the voices of leading historical religious figures and contemporary faith leaders. In doing so, it compares the teachings of old with contemporary practices. It showcases the impact of the major religions on both the protection and exploitation of animals, from running animal sanctuaries, to participating in or condoning cruel sports and factory farming. Importantly, the book also includes a chapter looking beyond the major world religions, where it examines a wider range of beliefs and practices, including Indigenous peoples from the USA and Australia, Jainism, Sikhism, and Rastafarianism, to provide fascinating insights into another range of beliefs and views on the human-animal relationship. Overall, this book challenges and encourages religious leaders and followers to re-examine their teachings and to prioritise the well-being of animals.

See Dog-Human Relationships: Training, Power, and Religion.

Return to Book Recommendations
Read more at Book Directory