Questioning Empathetic Responsiveness to Nonhuman Animal Vulnerability

Noninnocent Relations and Affective Motivations in the Animal Turn in Religious Studies


  • Wendy Mallette Yale University



Animal studies, feminist, queer, critical race, vulnerability, empathy, affect


The author uses critical theorizations of empathy, compassion, and epistemology in order to draw out the limits of appeals to respond to nonhuman animal gazes in religious studies. Taking Aaron S. Gross’s and Donovan O. Schaefer’s recent works as exemplary, the author argues that empathetic postures towards vulnerability deny the potential violences of empathy and inadvertently reproduce the scholar as an ethical, conscious, and knowing subject. Instead, noninnocent framings of the relation of a scholar to her objects of study might allow religious studies to think more critically about the affective motivations of our desires to recognize the nonhuman animal and our epistemic limitations—especially in ways that do not presuppose the human/animal binary as a master binary whose collapse will entail the demise of racism, sexism, and colonialism.

Author Biography

Wendy Mallette, Yale University

Wendy Mallette is a Ph.D. candidate in Religious Studies (Theology) and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Yale University.


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How to Cite

Mallette, W. . (2021). Questioning Empathetic Responsiveness to Nonhuman Animal Vulnerability: Noninnocent Relations and Affective Motivations in the Animal Turn in Religious Studies. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, 15(2), 177–203.