Animals as Religious Subjects :: Book/Chapter Announcement

This news will be old in the timeframe of social media, but still fresh in the timeframe of books. A little more than a month ago, T&T Clark released an edited volume entitled Animals as Religious Subjects: Transdisciplinary Perspectives. The essays collected within were (by and large) presented at a conference by the same title that took place in the summer of 2011 near the University of Chester. The book was edited by Celia Deanne-Drummond, Rebecca Artinian Kaiser, and David Clough, to whom I am very grateful.

My gratitude is due because of the inclusion of an essay of mine entitled “‘Marvel at the Intelligence of Unthinking Creatures'”: Contemplative Animals in Gregory of Nazianzus and Evagrius of Pontus.” The quote in the title is from Gregory’s 28th Oration, and the essay examines this “unthinking intelligence” of animals, which Gregory and other late-antique authors often attribute to an externalized rationality, an infusion of the divine Logos. With Giorgio Agamben’s “anthropological machine” providing the framework for analysis, my essay argues that what Gregory and Evagrius (among others) describe as the goal of (human) contemplation–the very height of human spirituality–cannot be so easily differentiated from this externalized animal rationality.

There are many other excellent essays in the volume. Essays particularly helpful for my own interests were Tim Ingold’s chapter on “Walking with Dragons”; Aaron Gross’s chapter on “The Study of Religion after the Animal”; and Ingvild Sælid Gilhus’s chapter “From Sacrifices to Symbols: Animals in Late Antiquity and Early Christianity.” Additionally, David Clough has an excellent essay on the theological uses of classification schemes, and Charles Camosy, a Fordham professor with whom I have worked here and there, has an essay engaging with Peter Singer, putting forth a Roman Catholic argument that personhood cannot be categorically denied to non-human animals.

The book is prohibitively expensive for most people, but those with the ability to order books at their library will likely find the volume to be helpful.

frozen by demons :: a new excuse for failing to finish your reading

I wanted to pass along this gem from Evagrius of Pontus, a fourth-century Christian whose life took him from his native Cappadocia (where he was friends with Basil of Caesarea and a close associate of Gregory of Nazianzus) to the desert of Egypt. He fled to the desert to avoid temptation after falling in love with a married woman. Also, he had trouble staying awake while reading.

“There are certain impure demons who always sit in front of those engaged in reading and try to seize their mind, often taking pretexts from the divine scriptures themselves and ending in evil thoughts. It sometimes happens that they force readers to yawn more than they are accustomed and they instill a very deep sleep quite different from usual sleep. Whereas some of the brothers have imagined that it is in accordance with an unintelligible and natural reaction, I for my part have learned this by frequent observation; they touch the eyelids and the entire head, cooling it with their own body for the bodies of the demons are very cold and like ice; and the head feels as if it is being sucked by a cupping glass with a rasping sound. They do this in order to draw to themselves the heat that lies within the cranium, and then the eyelids, relaxed by the moisture and cold, slip over the pupils of the eyes. Often in touching myself I have found my eyelids fixed like ice and my entire face numb and shivering. Natural sleep however normally warms bodies and renders the faces of healthy people rosy, as one can learn from experience itself. But the demons provoke unnatural and prolonged yawning, and they make themselves small enough to touch the interior of the mouth.”

From On Thoughts, chapter 33.