2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226

Christianity and the Animal Protection Movement in Nineteenth-Century Britain

Chien-hui Li

Department of History, Fu Jen Catholic University

Christianity has often been regarded as a negative tradition in relation to animal ethics.  This article points out that the prevalence of this viewpoint can be attributed to limitations inherent in the approaches taken in current scholarship.  Through a critique of the traditional history of ideas, this article points out that only when due attention has been be paid to thinking outside the boundaries of orthodoxy, to the social context of ideas, and to the historical agency of different social groups, can we reach a fuller understanding of the complex relations between Christianity and animal ethics in history.

The main section of this article then begins with a discussion of the impact of evangelicalism on the animal protection movement in nineteenth-century Britain. Then it examines the movement’s conscious appropriation of various ideational and practical social resources in the Christian tradition in aid of its objectives.  This article shows that through the conscious re-interpretation of theological concepts such as Creationism, the dominion of humans over other animals, and the spirit of mercy and sacrifice, Christian ideas were turned into powerful ideological instruments laying the foundation and providing the discourses for the movement.  Similarly, the social and moral support of the highly influential clergy was also actively sought by participants in the movement in aid of their various mobilizing tasks.  The final section of the article sums up the major accomplishments of the movement during the nineteenth century in the spheres of legislation, philanthropy, and social values, and argues for the pivotal role of Christianity in its development as consciously appropriated by the movement.

This article aims to contribute to our understanding of the nineteenth-century animal protection movement in Britain, especially its intimate relationship with the Christian tradition. It also aspires to contribute to the contemporary discussion of the relationship between religion and animal ethics.  It shows that when ideas are placed in context, and historical actors regain their agencies, our assumed certainties regarding the impact of any religion on animal ethics may also be shattered. Yet for what we lose in certainty, we gain in new possibilities.


Keywords: animal ethics, animal protection, Christianity, nineteenth-century Britain, anti-cruelty movement, anti-vivisection movement