The Case for Animal Spirituality—Part 1

Conceptual Challenges, Methodological Considerations, and the Question of Animal Consciousness


  • Paul Cunningham Rivier University



animal spirituality, spirituality, animals, animal behavior, cognitive ethology


This is the first part of a two-part article that presents the theoretical and empirical case for nonhuman animal (hereafter, ‘animal’) spirituality. Part 1 discusses the relevance of evolutionary theory and species differences for understanding animals’ capacity to have spiritual experience, conceptual issues related to defining animal spirituality, and methodological considerations pertaining to the use of analogical reasoning and animalcentered anthropomorphism as heuristic strategies in the study of animal spirituality. Behavioral and ethological evidence bearing on the existence of awareness, perceptual experience, self-awareness, and meaning-making in the absence of human language in animals is presented. Part 2 examines evidence for six biopsychosocial capabilities in animals that are proposed building blocks of human spirituality—cognition, imagination, emotion, moral sense, personality, and value-life. Part 2 concludes with a discussion of the implications of animal spirituality for society’s treatment of animals, humanizing an inhumane human biocultural world, and advancing understanding of human spirituality.


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How to Cite

Cunningham, P. (2022). The Case for Animal Spirituality—Part 1: Conceptual Challenges, Methodological Considerations, and the Question of Animal Consciousness. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, 16(2), 186–224.