This spring, professor of religion Daniel Capper will begin a new discussion that has never been initiated. In his new book, “Learning Love from a Tiger: Religious Experiences with Nature,” Capper will examine the interaction between religious persons and the nonhuman world.
“Across religions, people have had varied religious experiences with the nonhuman natural world,” Capper said. “In the book, I explore many such experiences, asking the questions, ‘Why are these experiences so varied?’ and ‘What do these experiences mean for humans and for the natural world?’ There is no other book which approaches this material, so already with this description my book is unique.”
Capper recognized the absence of this kind of research in the public sphere and decided to take the initiative to start the conversation.
“It is important to understand religious experiences with nature in comparative perspective, so someone had to write a book like this,” Capper said. “As it turns out, that someone was me.”
The book will include stories from religious texts and personal experiences. One example of such stories comes from two early Christian texts that describe how Paul, a Christian evangelist, was led to baptize a lion. It was surprising to Paul when he received the request, but he took the lion to a river and baptized him.
“Although most Christian traditions today do not allow baptizing animals, what we see in this story is an unusual openness to the natural world in the early Christian tradition,” Capper said. “The book has many, many more stories like this, as I tell stories on almost every page.”
The University of California Press is the publisher of Capper’s manuscript and said the book “prompts readers to engage their own views of humanity’s place in the natural world and in particular question longstanding assumptions of human superiority.”
“Learning Love from a Tiger” examines the animated encounters humans have with the natural world. This research introduces important ideas to recent work in environmental ethics, religion and ecology.
The eight chapters of Capper’s book cover perspectives in the traditions of many religions, such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. The book also examines folk religious traditions of the Maya, citizens of the Himalayas and people in ancient China.
But the richest information will come from Capper’s personal observations.
“A lot of the book is based on my own field work done at Christian pet blessing rituals, a Hindu ashram, a Buddhist monastery and in various places in Tibet,” Capper said.
“Learning Love from a Tiger” is available for pre-order on Amazon.