Amy L. Allocco publishes book chapter on 'Snakes in the Dark Age'

A contribution to the edited volume "Asian Perspectives on Animal Ethics: Rethinking the Nonhuman" theorizes vernacular Hindu snake worship traditions in Tamil Nadu, India as a model for human and nonhuman animal relationships and a constructive environmental ethic.

A chapter written by Assistant Professor Amy L. Allocco, Elon University’s Distinguished Emerging Scholar in Religious Studies, has recently been published in an edited volume titled “Asian Perspectives on Animal Ethics: Rethinking the Nonhuman” (New York: Routledge).

Her chapter, “Snakes in the Dark Age: Human Action, Karmic Retribution, and the Possibilities for Hindu Animal Ethics,” focuses on vernacular snake worship traditions in Tamil Nadu, India, and theorizes them as a model for human and nonhuman animal interaction. Utilizing ethnographic fieldwork and oral narratives, Allocco situates these traditions and practices within Hindu understandings of cosmic time, particularly the Kali Yuga, the current and final world age in which society, religion, and ethics are at their most degenerate.

Both Sanskrit textual sources and contemporary informants represent this age as a time of alienation from the natural world that is characterized by environmental destruction and moral decline. Allocco argues that religious attitudes toward snakes as well as Kali Yuga cosmology are models from which an indigenous environmental and nonhuman animal ethic can be retrieved. Rather than a fatalistic or passive disregard for nonhuman animals, the Kali Yuga framework and the example of human/nonhuman animal relationships within Hindu snake worship traditions can engender moral responsibility for nonhuman animals and the environment.

“Asian Perspectives on Animal Ethics: Rethinking the Nonhuman” is co-edited by Neil Dalal (assistant professor of South Asian philosophy and religious thought in the philosophy department and religious studies program) and Chloë Taylor (assistant professor of philosophy and women’s and gender studies), both of whom are faculty members at the University of Alberta, Canada.

The volume, which was published in the Routledge Studies in Asian Religion and Philosophy series, emerged from an invited workshop that Dalal and Taylor hosted at the University of Edmonton in 2010, where Allocco presented a paper. The workshop, “Rethinking the Nonhuman: Asian, Continental, and Comparative Perspectives,” featured 18 scholars from Australia, Asia, Europe, and North America and was funded by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The book makes a novel contribution to animal ethics and critical animal studies because it demonstrates the range and richness of ideas offered to these fields by diverse Asian traditions, both in terms of their doctrines concerning compassion and nonviolence toward nonhuman animals and vis-à-vis the moral rights and status they accord to nonhuman animals, as well as brings those traditions into dialogue with the views of key Western thinkers.