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Palgrave Macmillan

Cow Care in Hindu Animal Ethics

  • Book
  • Open Access
  • © 2020

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  • Offers a focused examination of cow care as a subject of widespread ethical concern in India
  • Explores dharma, yoga and bhakti paradigms as starting points for bringing Hindu animal ethics into conversation with contemporary Western animal ethics
  • Complements recently developed ethics-of-care thinking to create a solid basis for sustaining all kinds of cow care communities

Part of the book series: The Palgrave Macmillan Animal Ethics Series (PMAES)

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Table of contents (7 chapters)


About this book

This open access book provides both a broad perspective and a focused examination of cow care as a subject of widespread ethical concern in India, and increasingly in other parts of the world. In the face of what has persisted as a highly charged political issue over cow protection in India, intellectual space must be made to bring the wealth of Indian traditional ethical discourse to bear on the realities of current human-animal relationships, particularly those of humans with cows. Dharma, yoga, and bhakti paradigms serve as starting points for bringing Hindu—particularly Vaishnava Hindu—animal ethics into conversation with contemporary Western animal ethics. The author argues that a culture of bhakti—the inclusive, empathetic practice of spirituality centered in Krishna as the beloved cowherd of Vraja—can complement recently developed ethics-of-care thinking to create a solid basis for sustaining all kinds of cow care communities. 


“It is a work of ethics meant also for a wider audience. … Cow Care in Hindu Animal Ethics thinks within the Hindu tradition without posting an exotic, perfect India; it reads history with a sympathy that is real but critical; it is a constructive work of ethics that will interest the wide range of readers who care about the earth, its community of living beings, and a future in which no living being is left behind.” (Francis X. Clooney, International Journal of Hindu Studies, Vol. 26 (2), 2022)

“The book succeeds in providing an account of the topic that is well-informed, practically engaged and constructive in advocating forbetter treatment of cows.” (David Clough, Modern Believing, Vol. 61 (3), July, 2020)

“A thoroughly researched and most timely book analyzing the placement of the cow throughout Hindu culture, and its potential role in human well-being more broadly. While the growing Western animal rights movement is primarily based in human-centric concerns, and the protection of animals objectified and valued in terms of benefits to human health, diet, ecology and environment, Valpey introduces us to the notion of the cow as subject and as citizen in its own right. Using traditional as well as modern theoretical frames of references, Valpey leads us to the inexorable conclusion that the welfare of human civilization and cow protection are inextricably linked.” (Edwin Bryant, Professor of Hinduism, Rutgers University, USA) 

“It takes special scholarship, sensitivity and courage for understanding the cow, a unique bovine creature. To call the cow merely an animal is considered heresy for Hindus, when the cow is not only mother, but also a refuge for all the Hindu gods and goddesses. The cow embodies Mother Earth and the bull embodies dharma. The cow is a grand stage on which economy and spirituality, rituals and aesthetics, life and death all play out their truths. In this comprehensive study, Dr. Kenneth Valpey lucidly reveals this complex phenomenon, covering textual traditions to contemporary practices and issues.” (Acharya Shrivatsa Goswami, Director, Caitanya Prem Samsthana, Vrindavan, India) 

“There has been growing academic interest in the more-than-human these days, and this certainly includes nonhuman animals. The cow within Hinduism has been either regarded as the most special of animals, or even as the representative of all animals. Kenneth Valpey has produced a wonderful book that invites us to look at cows as “subjects,” and explores the special nature of them from a wide variety of sources within India. In so doing, he offers a very thoughtful ethical perspective for our consideration. Those interested in the larger field of animal ethics will find much of value in this book.” (David L. Haberman, Professor of Religious Studies, Indiana University, USA, author of People Trees: Worship of Trees in Northern India)

“An extensive and nuanced meditation on the relationship between human and animal kingdoms in India and the world at large: this volume examines the philosophical underpinnings of the ethics of cow care and protection in India and goes on to make a credible environmental case for their contemporary implementation. It offers a very rich blend of cultural studies, intellectual history, and environmental awareness and will clearly develop and deepen the discourse on inter-species dharma.” (E. H. Rick Jarow, Associate Professor of Religion and Asian Studies, Vassar College, USA)

“The cow is integral to the economic, cultural and spiritual wellbeing of Hindus and is central to the natural, human and divine spheres of life, which interrelate for mutual benefit. Kenneth Valpey's book 'Cow Care in Hindu Animal Ethics' discusses the historical and current issues that surround the cow as a sacred animal in Indian culture. It highlights how both dharma and bhakti are balanced in the daily care of cows, requiring the long term well-being of all animals, with the human - cow relationship as a starting point. The book is well researched on Hindu animal ethics from the Vedic to the contemporary and is an important contribution to our knowledge of the co-operation between human beings and the animal world.” (Dr. Nanditha Krishna, President, C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, Chennai, India) 

“This is a path-breaking book that deserves to be widely read. Valpey expands our understanding of animal ethics and complexifies our notion of devotion. Original and thought-provoking, this book will open up new venues for discussion and reflection regarding cow care.” (Mary Evelyn Tucker, Yale Forum for Religion and Ecology, USA)

“This fascinatingbook highlights the historical underpinnings […] of the cow as a sentient animal, as a spiritual/divine/magical being […]. The notion of the significance of the cow has found its way into yoga too—for example through cow-named yoga postures […], the teaching of ahimsa, the belief in karma and the promotion of the sattwic illumined nature in practitioners that cows are believed to embody. As sincere yoga practitioners and teachers, I feel we are morally compelled to gain an ever deeper understanding of the cultural roots from which yoga has emerged […]. Most importantly, in the context of millions and millions of cows continuing to suffer or face injustices throughout the world today under human hand and society, this book recognises cows as victims and as individuals. Concern about the welfare of cows remains ever-present as you journey through the chapters, and it is afforded the high profile it deserves. I would wholeheartedly recommend this priceless gem.” (Jenny Mace, Founder of Animalia Asana®)

Authors and Affiliations

  • Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, Oxford, UK

    Kenneth R. Valpey

About the author

Kenneth R. Valpey is a research fellow of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies and a research fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, UK. Besides Hindu animal ethics, he has published on Vaishnava Hindu temple worship traditions and on India’s enduring favorite of bhakti literature, the Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 

Bibliographic Information

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