Into the Wild: Early Modern Protestant Missionaries and Their Views on Animals

In: Exchange
David Onnekink Associate Professor, Department of History and Art History, Utrecht University Utrecht Netherlands

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Christianity and the environment have a tense relationship. Although in recent years an eco-theology of stewardship has taken flight, according to theologians as well as philosophers the historical track record of Christians with regard to nature in general and animals in particular leaves much to be desired. However, this view has never been empirically tested. In this article three early modern accounts of Protestant missionaries who lived in Greenland, New Netherland (North America) and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) are analysed in order to uncover attitudes towards animals. The accounts describe local fauna, reflect upon the way in which animals are treated and discuss ‘pagan’ attitudes towards animals. The concepts of tropicality and arcticality are used to help to frame the missionaries’ views on animals in terms of othering non-European fauna. The article concludes that the critique of Christianity’s track record is essentially justified, but also that it was more nuanced and complex than has hitherto been thought. As such, the early modern missionary accounts’ focus on wildlife may well serve as a source of inspiration for present-day missionary organizations.

1 Introduction

A Short Account of the Mohawk Indians (1645), a tract by the Dutch minister Johannes Megapolensis on the culture and religion of native Americans, also briefly sketched the landscape and fauna of the colony of New Netherland in and around present-day Albany. Megapolensis was impressed by the lush grapevines and wild strawberry fields. American wildlife included fat deer and elk, partridges and turkeys, and large flights of ducks, geese and swans, so many that “any one may stand ready with his gun before his house and shoot them as they fly past”. He referred to these animals as “profitable beasts”. His description fits into a larger narrative to describe the land as “very well provided with all things needful for human life”.1 Animals and fruits are thus conceptualized as natural resources for the benefit of people.

The famous philosopher Peter Singer would not be surprised. In his view Christianity, which advocates the exceptionalism of human life, has been detrimental to the rights of animals. In his landmark Animal Liberation (1975) he criticized the Bible and Christian tradition for condoning humans to “kill other animals and use them for food”. He referred to the Creation account in Genesis, in which God gave man dominion over animals and the use of them for man’s good. Hence Christianity is guilty of speciesism, the belief that one species, the human, is superior and therefore allowed to kill, use or abuse other species.2 Singer’s views have been intensely debated in the half century since the publication of Animal Liberation. Hailed as the undisputed founder of the animal rights movement, Singer has also been criticized for a lack of nuance when discussing Christian theology. Andrew Linzey, most notably, an Anglican scholar whose Animal Rights: A Christian Assessment (1976) appeared around the same time as Singer’s manifesto, agrees with Singer that “Christianity has a poor record on animals”, but simultaneously believes that Christian theology “can provide a strong basis for animal rights”.3 In recent years ‘religion and animals’ has emerged as a new field of academic research and has led to a better understanding of the complex relationship between Christianity and animals.4 A number of scholars have argued that Christian concern for animals is more complex and varied than Singer suggested.5 A fair balance is struck by Paul Waldau, who believes that historical Christianity has a complex legacy of attitudes towards animals, which is, however, dominated by an emphasis on human exceptionalism.6 Even so, Singer’s position on Christianity and animal rights remains the point of departure for any scholarly debate on this theme. It forms the basis of the introduction of the recent Routledge Handbook of Religion and Animal Ethics (2020).7 The matter is obviously not merely academic, as Singer and Linzey are both scholars and activists.8 Laura Hobgood-Oster as well believes that it is necessary to understand Christianity’s relationship with animals, for “to engage in a history of the Christian tradition without considering the other-than-human animals that are part of this history is to deal with parts, not wholes”.9

Singer’s argument was primarily philosophical, but in his In Defense of Animals (1985) he also voiced a historical claim, namely that “It is beyond dispute that mainstream Christianity, for its first 1,800 years put non-human animals outside its sphere of concern”.10 Even so it is striking that discussions of animal rights are conducted almost exclusively by philosophers and theologians rather than historians. The historical claims by Singer, Linzey and many others rest primarily on an analysis of theological and philosophical works, ranging from Thomas Aquinas to John Calvin to Karl Barth, and from Rene Descartes to Immanuel Kant.11 There is surprisingly little work by historians on descriptions of actual encounters with animal wildlife, such as in the account of Megapolensis, which would lead to a fuller understanding of past Christian attitudes towards animals. There is therefore room for a more historicized and less theological investigation that would substantiate or dispute Singer’s claim about the problematic relationship between Christianity and animals in the premodern world.

This article proposes to do so by charting actual encounters of premodern Christians with nature and wildlife. It will do this through the lens of early modern (1500–1800) Protestant missionaries’ travel accounts. The choice is not obvious since missionaries, like Megapolensis, were focused on people and conversion rather than nature. However, in the course of their travels to overseas colonies they were inundated with overwhelming and impressive experiences of ‘other’ environments, tropical and arctic landscapes. Some of their accounts are permeated with descriptions of local flora and fauna. These encounters prompted missionaries to reflect on the relationship between the Bible and nature, between Christianity and indigenous religion in relation to the natural environment. Richard Grove trailblazed this line of research in 1994 with his landmark study on early modern colonial expansion and its relation to the ‘origins of environmentalism’. Grove also showed how the use of missionary travel accounts could yield valuable new insights into Christian attitudes towards ecology.12 This fits into a more recent focus on the relationship between mission and ecology, the historical dimension of which is yet to gather full strength.13

Ever since the publication in 1857 of David Livingstone’s (1813–1873) journal, Missionary Travels in South Africa, missionary accounts that profusely described tropical landscapes were popular. Early modern missionary accounts are, however, less well known, and usually used for understanding encounters between Christianity and ‘pagan’ religion rather than as descriptions of nature and wildlife. Many missionaries’ accounts did not mention landscape at all. John Eliot (1604–1690), for instance, one of the first active missionaries in North America, never referred to the landscape or indeed to animals and this is true of some of his contemporaries as well. His Dutch counterpart in New Netherland, minister Jonas Michaëlius (1577–1638), did so only in passing.14 However, other missionary accounts are quite detailed on fauna, for instance Peter Kalm’s Travels in North America (1770).15 Some of these were well known and popular, witness the multiple translations. Jesuits were very prolific, including Athanasius Kircher (1602–1680), a German Jesuit scholar who published his China Illustrata (1669) based on Jesuit travel accounts.16 There are not so many Protestant missionary travel accounts. David Crantz (1723–1777), a Moravian missionary who arrived in Greenland in 1761, published The History of Greenland a few years later.17 Pehr Kalm (1716–1779) was a Swedish/Finnish explorer and Lutheran pastor who published En Resa til Norra America (1753–1761).18 These works also pay attention to wildlife. Kircher’s and Kalm’s books, for instance, contain multiple engravings of animals in their natural surroundings (Figure 1). As this article intends to show, missionary sources can thus aid our understanding of the historical relationship between Christianity and animals and indeed the environment.

Figure 1
Figure 1

American dove and raccoon, in Pehr Kalm, Reis door Noord Amerika volume 1 (1772), 204

Citation: Exchange 51, 3 (2022) ; 10.1163/1572543x-bja10006

The question this article seeks to answer is whether Singer’s thesis is validated or falsified by early missionary travel accounts. Were missionaries before 1800 ‘concerned’ with animals, and if so, how? The article focuses on three themes common in mission history, as proposed by Dana Robert in a programmatic article on the relationship between mission and ecology. The first and most profound theme was the urge of missionaries to civilize the wilderness. Nature was glorious because it was created by God, but it was also fallen. Missionaries had a “dream of creating a new Garden of Eden … The vision of subduing nature and replacing the wilderness with the fields and farms of civilization was a common trope among early European Protestant missionaries”.19 Secondly and related, there were clashes between missionaries and ‘pagans’, or between ‘civilized’ and ‘uncivilized’ religion, vividly portrayed by Boniface’s destruction of the sacred oak of Thor. Thirdly, missionaries were keen observers of nature, most notably David Livingstone and his descriptions of African nature.20

These three themes (wildness, religion and description) allow for an investigation of Singer’s thesis in three sub-questions. Did missionaries believe they had a responsibility to civilize, to subject and care for wildlife? Did missionaries criticize ‘pagan’ religion and its views on animals? Did missionaries describe wildlife as reflections of God’s glorious creation, or were they primarily interested in animals as natural resources?

These sub-questions will be explored through a methodology based on the concept of ‘tropicality’. Western observations on colonial nature were never neutral but always filtered and framed within cultural preconceptions. “The contrast between the temperate and the tropical is one of the most enduring themes in the history of global imaginings”, Felix Driver and Luciana Martini write, “tropicality has frequently served as a foil to temperate nature, to all that is modest, civilized, cultivated”.21 The tropics are not just a physical but also a conceptual space in which Western notions about the moderation and frugality of temperate zones are contrasted with the extremes and irrationality of the tropics. Tropicality embodies a dualism between images of the tropics as paradisiacal gardens of Eden or the jungle as a wild and dangerous place.22 Less well known is the concept of arcticality, coined by Icelandic anthropologist Gísli Pálsson and used to designate the northern space in contrast to the temperate and tropical zones of the world.23 Since ancient times, the temperate climatic zones have been considered ideal; the further one traveled to the north or south, the more the quality of climate and nature deteriorated. In early modern times, the far north was considered barbaric, with primitive living conditions, sexual immorality, witchcraft, stench, and speech that emulated animal sounds. Even so, some early modern observers also praised the simple lifestyle of northerners and emphasized their honesty and hospitality. A further notion about the north is related to the abundance of natural resources, especially with regard to fishing.24

Tropicality and arcticality will be applied to analyse early modern missionary accounts through the three sub-questions on wildness, religion and description. This will be done through an analysis of three works of missionaries on the temperate, arctic and tropical zones respectively. They were written by mainstream Protestants (Reformed and Lutheran) from different nationalities (Dutch and Danish) and different eras (1645, 1671 and 1729). They have also been selected for their variety in the weight attributed to natural descriptions, ranging from a few pages to a quarter of a book. This comparative approach will help uncover the complexity and variety of early modern Protestant missionary attitudes towards animals. An analysis of these works will allow for more understanding of early modern Protestant attitudes towards wildlife and will help to test Singer’s thesis.

Animal wildlife in the tropical zone is described by Philippus Baldaeus (1632–1671), a Dutch Reformed minister in Ceylon. In 1671 he published his richly illustrated and voluminous A Description of the East-India Coasts of Malabar and Coromandel and also of the Isle of Ceylon with their Adjacent Kingdoms & Provinces.25 Baldaeus was a nephew of Robert Junius, Dutch missionary in Taiwan, and followed his example by entering into service in the East India Company after completing his theology studies at Leiden University. He lived in Malacca and Malabar before settling down in Ceylon, which the Dutch largely controlled by 1662, and became a keen student of Sanskrit and Hinduism. He was an early writer on India and Ceylon and the first European to publish in print in the Tamil language. His book proved an immediate success and was translated into German in 1672 and into English in 1676.26 It consisted of three parts: a description of Malabar and Coromandel, a description of Ceylon, and a treatise on the ‘bigotry’ of Hinduism. Most of the first two parts cover descriptions of culture, towns, politics and (colonial) history, but chapter 47 discusses cattle on Ceylon, chapter 50 plants and trees, and chapters 51 and 52 wildlife. Moreover, depictions of animals are profusely scattered throughout the book.

The temperate zone is covered by a short work of Johannes Megapolensis (1603–1677). His A Short Account of the Mohawk Indians was translated into English in 1792.27 Megapolensis was a Reformed pastor in the Dutch New Netherland “for the edifying improvement of the inhabitants and Indians”.28 He settled down in 1642 in Beverwijck (present-day Albany) in the colony of Rensselaerswijck and established the second Dutch church in America, after Manhattan. He developed an interest in what he described as the “heavy language” of the local Mohawk people and started working on a vocabulary. A Short Account was the published version of a long letter describing his meetings with the Mohawks, which includes several pages on landscape.

The arctic zone is covered by the work of the Lutheran missionary Hans Egede (1686–1758), A Description of Greenland (1729).29 Egede was born in Norway, studied theology in Copenhagen and received his first vicarage on the Lofoten in northern Norway. In 1721 he founded the Bergen Greenland Company to rediscover the lost Danish colony of Greenland and established the first settlement on Kangeq Island. He built a missionary post and started baptizing local Inuit as from 1724. He became interested in their language and culture and in the natural world of Greenland, which was described in his 1729 A Description of Greenland. It was translated into English, French, German and Dutch.30 His work contains several chapters on the land, climate and animals.

2 Early Modern Christian Thought on Fauna

Before we can analyse the missionary accounts, some deeper understanding of early modern thought on nature is needed. This was obviously rooted in the Bible, which is full of references to nature and animals. Man’s relation to animals is based on divine mandate as recorded in the book of Genesis in which God orders Adam to “replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”31 This verse is habitually cited by Peter Singer as quintessential for understanding divine permission for humans to exploit animals, to eat them, sacrifice them and use them for labour.32 However, theologians have discussed at length the meaning of the word subdue, and whether it would imply a theology of ‘dominion’ or ‘stewardship’.33 Moreover, the Bible also orders man to take good care of animals. Exodus 23, for instance, instructs the Israelites to be gentle with donkeys and oxen and allow them a Sabbath day of rest, and even to provide food for wild animals. Quintessential is the story of Noah’s ark, where not only are the animals saved from worldwide disaster but which saw the making of an “everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth”.34 The Bible leaves us with a very complex and nuanced view of the relationship between humans and animals.

Early modern theology digested the Bible’s views on animals through classical and medieval theologians and was deeply indebted to the work of Thomas Aquinas. His view on the biblical mandate to use animals fostered the long anthropocentric tradition of Western Christianity. “By divine providence [animals] are intended for man’s use in the natural order … it is not wrong for man to make use of them either by killing or in any way whatever”.35 This view was shared by both the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation.36 Ignatius de Loyola believed that “Everything else on earth has been created for man’s sake”.37 Luther argued that “the animals are subjected to man as to a tyrant who has absolute power over life and death”.38 To underscore that these views may be typical for Western Christianity only, the Russian Orthodox tradition seems to be more attuned to nature. Herman of Alaska (1756–1836), head of the Russian Orthodox mission in Alaska, protested against the exploitation of sea animals.39 Seraphim of Sarov (1759–1833) is often portrayed in iconography with a bear that reportedly visited his hermitage in the woods frequently and peacefully.40

Dana Robert’s first theme, the view of missionaries on human responsibility and the taming of wilderness, figures prominently in early modern Protestant theology. Lydia Barnett has argued that there was a widespread belief that people were living in what she calls the ‘Fallocene’. Modern scholars use the term Anthropocene to describe the geological era in which humans gain the capacity to change the global environment. This may not yet apply to early modern thought, but Barnett suggests that “(at least some early modern) humans imagined themselves having the power to transform the global environment”. As such the concept of the Anthropocene owes “an unacknowledged debt to religious thought”.41 Alexandra Walsham likewise has shown how early modern Protestants believed that there was a direct correlation between nature and human behaviour: “the physical appearance of the earth … [was] a direct consequence of human sinfulness.”42 For Thomas Burnet, in his Sacred Theory of the Earth (1681–1689), the biblical Flood marked the great divide, and showed how sin caused devastating changes to the face of the earth. If humans, through the Fall and the Flood, had impacted nature, restoration of the original Eden was part of the soteriology of early modern Christians. Missionaries as well were fascinated by images of the lost paradise they found in the tropics, the lush and rich natural environment being an echo of the lost garden of Eden. They were also concerned that the ‘heathens’ of Africa and America were unqualified to tend these veritable gardens of Eden.43 By tending nature through farming and by subduing the wild, humans could still endeavour to fulfil the Genesis mandate. The subduing or even taming of wild animals was part of this assignment.44 This implied not wanton abuse but respect for animals, which figured primarily amongst puritans and dissenters in early modern England, culminating in the work of the animal rights activist avant la lettre Anabaptist Robert Tryon (1634–1703), who “would not eat Flesh, because it could not be procured without breaking the Harmony and Unity of Nature”.45 These observations led historian Robert Watson, who argued that early modern English Protestants “appear to be leading the way toward modern animal-protection sentiments”, to make a case for reconsidering Singer’s claim.46

This also connects to Robert’s second theme, the theological interpretation of animals. Nature was seen as the liber naturae (the Book of Nature). It reflected God’s might and glory and could be studied alongside the Bible as a source of truth.47 John Calvin emphasized the importance of nature as reflecting God’s glory.48 This theology was widely shared in the Reformation. The Confessio Belgica (1619) explicitly endorsed the doctrine of the Two Books.49 This notion of a fallen but glorious nature that could point the way to God was also reflected in early modern views on animals.50 The Huguenot writer Guillaume de Salluste Bartas (1544–1590) wrote a famous poem, La sepmaine ou la creation du monde (1570), which displayed creation as God’s mirror for mankind. Animals had an important role as they “become guides and prototypes for a restored creation”.51 Nature in its fallen state still reflected the glory of God. There were debates on the question as to whether animals had souls and immortal lives. Martin Luther had great affection for his dog Toelpel and seemed to have believed that “God will create a new earth and a new heaven, and will create also a new Toelpel who will have a skin of gold and hair of pearls”.52 John Calvin was more hesitant and rejected the discussion on souls of animals as speculation.53 John Wesley, however, also believed that animals had souls. Some would go even further. The Ranter Jacob Bauthumley stated that “God is in all creatures, man and beast, fish and fowl, and every green thing”.54 Philip Melanchton, Martin Luther and John Calvin all emphasized the importance of nature as it contained vestigia Dei, traces of God as Creator.55 John Dodd and Robert Cleaver, in their A plaine and familiar exposition of the eleventh and twelfth chapter of Proverbs (1612), therefore argued that cruelty to animals robs humans of living witnesses to the glory of God.56 These considerations led reformers to condemn cruelty to animals. John Calvin believed man had a duty to animals: “as we deale rightfully with men, so we should use the like duetie even towards the brute beasts”.57 Ralph Vennings believed that humans had an extra duty to animals, since animals’ suffering was a direct consequence of human sin through the Fall. Mistreating animals would add sin to sin.58 Erik Jorink concludes that animals were “a starting point for Christian reflections”.59

If the Book of Nature pointed towards her Creator, early modern Protestants had reason to study and describe nature, the third theme Robert identified. The Reformation placed much emphasis on the understanding of nature, to distinguish itself from Catholicism which had emphasized the importance of miraculous works.60 It followed that an understanding of animals would contribute to an understanding of God’s works. Books on animals in the Bible were produced, such as the Swiss Zwinglian zoologist Conrad Gesner’s Historia animallum (1545–1555) and the Wittenberg theologian Wolfgang Franzius’ Historia animalium sacra (1612). In light of the discovery of America they raised questions about the knowledge of animals possessed by the classical and biblical authors.61 Interest in actual animals was also booming. The Amsterdam anatomist Frederik Ruysch (1638–1731) maintained a famous collection of animal specimens and other natural artefacts “for the contemplations of the mighty works of God”.62 Because nature was God’s book, its study became highly relevant during the Reformation, a development strengthened by the Renaissance, which engendered a deep scientific interest in nature in general and animals in particular. Animals were categorized and depicted in as much detail as possible, and there was interest in the display of exotic animals in their natural surroundings.63 The new discoveries of animals from the New World and other parts of the globe necessitated a continuous recalibration and categorization of fauna.64 This scientific development of increasing interest in the mechanics and details of the natural world is often associated with secularism, but the Reformation also saw the natural world as divinely inspired, which spurred a “deep conviction that contemplation of the natural world would lead to greater piety.”65

Thus, whilst there is reason to believe that early modern Protestant theologians were mainly dismissive of animals, it is worth investigating whether Protestants did indeed have a particular interest in caring for and tending domestic and wild animals, whether they attributed theological significance to animals and whether they believed accurate descriptions of animals as reflecting God’s glorious creation were relevant.

The accounts of missionaries can add depth and substantiate these issues through their descriptions of non-European lands. The colonial enterprise engendered a massive interest in foreign lands, their cultures, religions and landscapes. This led to a flood of publications that also included images and texts on exotic plants and animals. These were not always based on personal observation but also on witness reports, and it is here that the accounts of missionaries could play a role.66 Irina Podgorny has underscored the importance of missionaries in the early modern global network of knowledge exchange with regard to animals in general and ‘great beasts’ in particular.67 The interest of missionaries in landscape, flora and fauna appears primarily functional. As Miguel de Asúa and Roger French argued in their study on Jesuits, “missionaries should also be informed about the local climate, geography, plants and animals, for they were supposed to find their way into the interior of the land and live among the natives.”68 Moreover, missionaries had a very practical interest in plants as they became active in the pharmaceutical trade in colonial natural products.69 Even so, missionaries did produce descriptions of landscapes and fauna that were worthwhile in themselves. A case in point is Hans Egede’s description of Greenland, which was subtitled Shewing the Natural History, Situation, Boundaries, and Face of the Country.70 In the following three sections, the three works of Egede, Baldaeus and Megapolensis will be explored for their reflections on animals.

3 Description

The first angle to explore is whether the missionaries made an effort to accurately describe nature in general and animals specifically. Did the authors see animals as something with inherent value, as reflections of God’s glory or as resources for the sustenance and profit of human life?

Johannes Megapolensis, in his Short Account, is primarily concerned with his interactions with the native Americans, but even so his account takes off with several pages on landscape and environment. Megapolensis sketches a rough landscape, a “mountainous” land with some rocks “so exceeding high that they appear to touch the clouds”.71 He is also captivated by natural beauty, for instance when he describes Cohoes Falls, a massive waterfall just north of present-day Albany. Megapolensis describes how the Mohawk River (“an excellent river”) flows “between two high rocky banks, and falls from a height equal to that of a Church, with such a noise that we can sometimes hear it … the water is as clear as crystal”.72 The reference to the church is significant, as if God Himself carved out a natural church in the rocks. Cohoes Falls was a popular spot for travelers. Pehr Kalm visited the Falls in 1749 and described them at more length if more matter of fact. The latter’s published account also contains an illustration (see figure 2).73

Figure 2
Figure 2

Cohoes Falls, in Pehr Kalm, Reis door Noord Amerika volume 2 (1772), 64

Citation: Exchange 51, 3 (2022) ; 10.1163/1572543x-bja10006

The account of Megapolensis is, however, dominated by attention to the yield of the land and its provision for the sustenance of humans: “The land … is good, and very well provided with all things needful for human life …”.74 The meta narrative is one that describes a pristine land that looks very much like home in terms of landscape, climate and fauna, but is purer and more plenteous, like Europe during an earlier stage of civilization. Climate is referred to insomuch as it is conducive to living. Megapolensis remarks how it is different from northwestern Europe, as summers are very hot and winters very cold.75 This is somewhat different from the Dutch minister in New Amsterdam, Jonas Michaëlius (1577–1638?), who believed that “the country is good and pleasant; the climate is healthy”.76 There are plenty of comparisons. The land is like Germany, nuts are like those in the Netherlands, “the grapes were as good and sweet as in Holland”, the wine could be as good “as they have in Germany or France” and the deer “are as fat as any Holland deer can be”.77 In the pristine landscape “[t]here grows an abundance of chestnuts, plums, hazel nuts, large walnuts of several sorts, and of as good a taste as in the Netherlands”. The hills are covered with blueberries and the flat lands with “strawberries, which grow here so plentifully in the fields, that we go there and lie down and eat them”.78 Although the term ‘abundance’ does not have explicit Christian connotations, it is also frequently used in the King James Bible in a positive manner to denote the gifts of nature given to man.79

Abundance also applied to animals. Megapolensis elaborates on American wildlife but with the exception of the rattlesnake, there are no actual descriptions of animals. His interest is almost exclusively on game. “In the forests is great plenty of deer” and “[t]here are also many turkies … many partridges, heath-hens and pigeons … We have here, too, a great number of all kinds of fowl, swans, geese, ducks, widgeons, teal, brant, which are taken by thousands upon the river in the spring”.80 Game is available in abundance and its quality is excellent. Elk, for instance, are “very fat and tasted something like venison” and the deer are fat as well.81 There are many fish in the Mohawk River, and Megapolensis recounts that his sons “have caught in less than an hour fifty, each a foot long”.82

Unlike Megapolensis, Baldaeus writes little on the landscape of Ceylon, but he is fascinated by the exotic beauty of animal wildlife. “They abound in Geese, Herons, wild and tame Ducks, Peacocks, Pigeons, Turtles, Partridges, Parrocets, of most delicious colours …”.83 Ceylon can also boast “an abundance” of singing birds such as larks and nightingales, “great plenty” of fish, “very frequent” caimans which are sometimes “18 foot long”.84 His description conveys an image of tropical abundance and beauty.

The Isle of Ceylon is very fertile in Rice, and all sorts of fruits, as Ananas, Cocoes, the best Oranges, Lemons and Citron exceeding by far those of Spain and Portugal … You have here fresh Grapes the whole year round, except in the three Winter of rainy months. It abounds also in Sugar-reeds.85

The language of abundance (overvloedigheydt) also applies to wildlife. “The Isle of Ceylon abounds in all sorts of four-leg’d Creatures, Birds, Fishes”.86 Baldaeus notes that there are “Hedg-Hogs, Oxen, Cows, Bulls, Sheep, Goats, Stages, Does, Elks, tame and wild Boars, Hares, and Partridges, Peacocks and Apes in abundance.”87 Ceylon, moreover, “affords vast quantities of Birds”.88

Egede was even more interested in the natural environment. Starting with a chapter on the Vikings and the colonial past of Greenland, he continues with chapters on “Soil, Plants and Minerals”, the climate, two chapters on animals and hunting, before moving on to a description of Inuit life, their customs, language and ultimately religion. The title pages promised the reader copper plates “representing different Animals, Birds and Fishes”.89 Egede takes care in his descriptions of wildlife. There are not many birds except the Rypper, “and these they have in great Numbers”.90 There are also “vast Numbers of Hares, which are white, Summer and Winter, very fat and of a good Taste”.91 His main interest, however, is in whales. “These sea-Animals, or rather Monsters, are of different sizes and bulks.”92 He emphasizes their sheer size but also their aggressive demeanour. The jaw of the whale is “very large, sometimes about eighteen Feet, and sometimes more”, whereas they are “very dangerous to meddle with, for they rage and lay about them most furiously with their Tail, so that no body cares to come at them, or catch them.”93 His description also has a utilitarian character in that he is interested in the way whales are hunted and which whales are useful for meat, fat and oil, and which ones not. “Some yield a 100, and some 200 or 300 tuns of fat and blubber.”94 In the illustration depicting the whales, they are accompanied by harpoons, indicating that whales are for hunting rather than wonders of nature (see figure 3).

Figure 3
Figure 3

Whale, in Hans Egede, Beschryving van Oud-Groenland, 56

Citation: Exchange 51, 3 (2022) ; 10.1163/1572543x-bja10006

Indeed, like Megapolensis and Baldaeus, Egede emphasizes abundance, but whereas the description of America is factual and of Ceylon focused on paradisiacal beauty, Egede’s account, which is longest, sees abundance primarily as a natural resource. He pays more attention to what nature yields for the well-being of man. This emphasis on the natural resources of the north is typical for the frame of arcticality.95 Thus he praises the rich natural resources of the Greenland Sea which “abounds in different Sorts of Animals, Fowls and Fishes, of which the Whales bears the sway”.96

In sum, there is some genuine interest in and concern about the beauty of natural landscape and exotic animals. Megapolensis is impressed by the beauty of Cohoes Falls, whereas Baldeaus and Egede are in awe of the splendour of the tropical and arctic fauna. The level of descriptions vary. Megapolensis takes some time to describe landscape, whereas Baldaeus and especially Egede write about animals more extensively. On balance, however, all three authors are primarily interested in landscape and wildlife in so far as it benefits human sustenance.

4 Wilderness

This section explores the question whether missionaries believed Christians had to subject wildlife as part of the re-creation of Eden. If man has dominion over animals, how are they handled and treated? The question entails also the matter of domestication and treatment. In order to curb the wilderness, missionaries wanted to control it and bring it into cultivation, which could imply taming animals. Did they believe the indigenous population succeeded in this? Did they condone mistreating animals, and if so, were missionaries sensitive to this issue?

For Johannes Megapolensis the landscape he encountered was certainly wild. He described it as a “wilderness” that was filled with “forests”.97 There are also dangerous animals, like “country lions, bears, wolves, foxes.”98 He is brief but outspoken on the manner in which the native people handled this wilderness. He believed that there is a disjunction between natural abundance and native ignorance. “Vines grown here naturally in great abundance” and grapes “grow very large.”99 Wine “tasted better than French or Rhenish”.100 But this land of plenty is not taken well care of by the native population, and the vines “were not cultivated”.101 The relationship between the natives and animals is close. Megapolensis admires their hunting skills and relates how they use the skins of deer, panther, bear, beaver and otter to make clothing. At the same time he is critical of the way in which they consume meat. They eat game like Europeans (venison, turkey, hare), but unlike European they consume bears, wild cats, and “their own dogs”.102 Indeed, “The fish they cook just as they get them out of the water without cleansing” and they even eat “the entrails of deer with all their contents”.103 Venison they roast on fire, but “when they eat it, the blood runs down their chins”.104

A similar theme figures in the description of Baldaeus, who is fascinated by the wildness and perils of Indian and Ceylon wildlife. As is typical for tropicality observations, dangerous species are described with superlatives, such as “Spiders of a prodigious Bigness”.105 The forests contain “some ravenous Beasts, as Tygers”.106 Jackals are “very greedy after Mens Flesh” and when they meet in the evening they “make a most dreadful noise”.107 Crows are “cunning” and “make a most terrible Outcry”.108 Chapter 52 is mostly about snakes and serpents, which are sometimes harmless, but often dangerous and venomous, most notably the cobra which “which frequently used to kill People.”109 What is most striking is the focus on extremes: striking natural beauty goes hand in hand with devastating danger.

Unlike Megapolensis’s short letter, the voluminous account of Baldaeus allows for more in-depth analysis of the matter of controlling the wilderness. We can explore this theme by analysing Baldaeus’ view of the elephant. The frontispiece prominently depicts an elephant as a quintessential symbol of Ceylon civilization, and maps and pictures with elephants are profuse throughout the book.110 Pichayapat Naisupap has shown that the Dutch East India Company was well aware of the importance of this beast, using the kingly and noble animal as a tool in diplomacy.111 According to Baldaeus, the elephant is “first in rank” and “of these there are great numbers here”.112 Unlike his contemporary Pieter Nuyts, whose In Praise of Elephants (1670) is full of admiration, Baldaeus is rather critical of the giant beasts.113 Elephants are awe-inspiring and magnificent, but they can also be dangerous and troublesome. When elephants are in large groups, they are “so pernicious, that it is not safe travelling without some Soldiers with their Drums and Kettles, the noise whereof frightens these Creatures”.114 Indeed, elephants “are most dangerous towards Evening when they are hungry.”115 Baldaeus uses the elephant to explore the relationship between man and nature, especially with regard to the animal hunt, of which there is a magnificent engraving in his book (see figure 4). He is full of admiration and describes approvingly the locals’ “catching of the eliphants” as it chimes well with missionary notions on the importance of controlling wilderness. He accounts how there are “vast stables, where the wild Elephants are tam’d, and afterwards sold to the Moors of Bengale and Coromandel.”116 There is little information in Baldaeus’ book about the treatment of domesticated elephants, but early modern travelers in the Moghul empire were critical of the abuse of elephants by the local population.117 However, Baldaues does explain how the people are unable to control nature properly. The province of Patchiarapalle, he writes, has a number of Christian churches and schools but as a whole the “Province is very sandy and unwholesome, wants good Water, and is much infested by the Elephants, by reason of the vast quantity of wild Palm-Trees that grown here”.118 An accompanying engraving, “The Elephants throing [sic] down ye palm trees”, shows angry wild elephants toppling palm trees and destroying the land.119

Figure 4
Figure 4

“The catching of elephants on the island of Ceylon”, in Philippus Baldaeus, Nauwkeurige beschrijving Malabar en Choromandel part 2 (1672), 198

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If native people have a mixed track record when it comes to their control of elephants, Baldaeus’ references to horses form an interesting counterpoint. He seems to juxtapose the elephant, symbolizing the wildness of Ceylon, to the horse, a Western animal fully controlled by the Dutch colonizers. The former was the emblem of exotic wildlife, the second not endemic to Ceylon and a symbol of Western colonization. The juxtaposition is echoed in Lof des elephants, in which Nuyts emphasizes the mutual antipathy between elephants and horses.120 Baldaeus concurs and explicitly opposes the two animals, describing horses as “great Enemies of the Elephants”. The Portuguese released horses on Delft Island, north of Ceylon, where they roam in vast herds and “live in the wilderness”.121 An engraving similar to the catching of the elephants shows the way in which the indigenous people catch wild horses by driving them onto a riverbank and catching them with ropes.122 Most horses, however, are tame, used by Westerners in a controlled manner. An engraving of the English fort in Bombay, for instance, has images of soldiers riding horses.123 An image of the Dutch entering Cochin after its capture in 1663 has a general on a horse.124 The horse is associated with military might as well and is obviously not exclusive to Europeans.125 Indeed, the Central Asian horse trade has roots that go deep into the Middle Ages. Even so, in the visual material in Baldaeus’ book the horse is exclusively associated with Western civilization. There was also the matter of the quality of horses. English military in colonial India were suspicious of local horse dealers and critical of the quality of indigenous horses for military use, which prompted them to set up a horse-breeding program in the late eighteenth century.126

Most literature on early modern colonial horses and elephants is focused on military and economic aspects.127 However, there is cultural research on these animals in nineteenth- and twentieth-century colonial settings. Davide Torri’s study of “the tame and the wild” in English colonial literature observed that Indian horses were seen to “possess a fierce nature and […] are wild and unruly”.128 Similar research on German late-colonial literature also suggests a contrast between European domestic animals, such as dogs and horses, and exotic animals like elephants, in which control and wildness are juxtaposed.129 Thus the tropes of wildness versus control were common in later colonial discourse.

This can be substantiated through an iconographic analysis of a series of copper engravings of churches on Ceylon in Baldaeus’ book. The Amsterdam-based engraver Abraham Blooteling (1640–1690) created 26 depictions of churches, which have a very similar format. A church is pictured including the “church house”, from a small distance, set in its natural surroundings and showing a bit a landscape, meadows, trees and fields. People and animals are depicted as well.130 If not for the exotic elements these could have been depictions of European churches; they exude peace, quiet and orderliness. It is difficult to establish a direct relationship between the description of a specific church in Baldaeus’s accompanying text, which does not refer to animals, and Blooteling’s engravings. As an iconographic collection, the 26 pictures show varying degrees of missionary control over tropical nature. The genre became fairly typical in the early nineteenth century, when pictures of orderly missionary station houses set in their exotic tropical surroundings were ubiquitous in missionary periodicals and travel accounts.131 In a sense they represent European civilization set within a tropical context. The pictures show a gradient variation. For instance, the church of Navacouli is depicted with Europeans, horses and almost no reference to the tropics, with the exception of palm trees (see figure 5). The church in Chavagatzeri appears more exotic, with Dutch colonial architecture, palm trees, and native people with an elephant (see figure 6).

Figure 5
Figure 5

The church in Navacouli, in Philippus Baldaeus, Nauwkeurige beschrijving Malabar en Choromandel, part 2 (1672), 166

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Figure 6
Figure 6

The church in Chavagatzeri, in Philippus Baldaeus, Nauwkeurige beschrijving Malabar en Choromandel, part 2 (1672), 166

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To chart references to animals in these pictures I have divided animals into four categories: European animals (horses), domesticated animals, native livestock (cattle, sheep, goat) and exotic animals (elephants). Dogs are classified amongst the domesticated animals but are obviously not necessarily European. Elephants are regarded as exotic but not necessarily wildlife since they were often domesticated. Indeed, none of the pictures show explicit wildlife. The categorization chimes well with Amanda Brien’s research on the interpretation of animals in late-colonial German fiction, in which dogs and horses are juxtaposed with elephants.132

Table 1
Table 1

Analysis of animals in prints, Baldaeus, A Description of the East-India Coasts, 800–806

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Of 26 pictures, sixteen contain animals, of which eleven include horses/dogs and ten livestock. Three pictures, in which the churches of Paneteripou, Chavagatzeri and Catavelli are depicted, have elephants. As such, about ninety percent of the pictures show a church in settings that could have been European, with only hints of exotic architecture and landscape. In three cases the elephants add a distinct tropical feature. In the series of pictures, horses are exclusively for Dutch and elephants exclusively for native people. The two images, which are printed next to each other, illustrate the juxtaposition we identified between horses and elephants. In Navacouli, a Dutch soldier is riding a perfectly controlled horse, whereas in Chavagatzeri several natives have difficulty controlling an elephant. The horse/elephant dichotomy clearly shows missionary attitudes towards the control of nature and animals.

In his account of Greenland, Hans Egede sees God’s creativity reflected in nature. Referring to the massive whales, he praises the “Almighty Creator, who has made such mean Things suffice for the Maintenance of so vast an Animal”.133 He dedicates his work to the Creator and hopes “that God in his Mercy will advance and promote, to the Honour of his most holy Name and the enlightening and saving of these poor Souls”.134 He explains how the land offers potentially “Plenty and richness” but now lies “destitute” for want of European colonists.135 Unlike in Ceylon there are few wild animals. “There are no venomous Serpents or Insects, no ravenous wild Beasts to be seen in Greenland”.136 There is one exception: the polar bear, but “He very seldom appears near the Colony, in which I had taken up my Quarters. He is of a very large Size, and of a hideous and frightful aspect, with long Hairs; he is greedy of human Blood.”137

Egede’s account of the reindeer hunt provides another angle into understanding missionaries’ views on the control of wildlife. Typical for the arcticality discourse, Egede elaborates on the richness of the natural resources in Greenland. He remarks that “Rain-Deer [sic] are in some Places in so great Numbers, that you will see whole Herds of them.”138 The way that the native population hunts these animals fascinates him. They gather “where they are in any Number, there they chase them by Clap-hunting, setting upon them on all Sides, and surrounding them with all their Women and Children, to force them into Defiles and narrow Passages, where the Men armed lay in wait for them and kill them.”139 (See figure 7). It is here that Egede points out the inability of the Greenlanders to manage wildlife. “In the mean while they with so much Eagerness hunt, pursue and destroy these poor Deer, that they have no Place of Safety, but what the Greenlanders know.”140 The criticism of the natives’ inability is clear. Egede appears as the only missionary who expresses concern about the natives’ cruelty toward animals when referring to the “poor Deer”.141

Figure 7
Figure 7

Reindeer hunting in Hans Egede, Beschryving van Oud-Groenland, 50

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Egede expresses similar concern for animal welfare in a section on domesticated animals. There are “[d]ogs in great numbers” who are as “timorous and stupid as their Masters”. According to Egede, they are not tame beasts, but he laments the carelessness of their masters, for “though the poor Doges are of so great Service to them, yet they don’t use them well, for they are left to provide for, and subsist themselves, as wild Beasts”.142 The matter is not simply one of carelessness, but also a lack of control. By mistreating dogs, the Inuit risk that the domesticated dogs will start behaving like wild animals.

In sum, all three missionaries emphasize the wildness of the lands they encounter, but there is a difference between the arctic, temperate and tropical zones. The arctic is an empty land with little danger except the polar bear and the monstrous whales. There are vast natural resources that can be tapped, but the Inuit fail to do so properly. America is wild and sometimes dangerous, but also rich in fruits and game. However, the land is not cultivated well and food is strangely handled. Ceylon is by far the most dangerous place, with tigers, serpents and spiders. The natives try to control the elephants but do not always succeed, unlike the Europeans who keep their horses in perfect check. An overall missionary narrative about missionary criticism of natives who fail to control animals emerges. There is some concern for the welfare of animals in Egede’s text, which criticizes mistreating dogs.

5 Religion

Early modern missionary writings abounded in descriptions and scathing criticism of pagan religions encountered in the colonial enterprise. A case in point is Jacobus Canter Visscher (1692–1735), a preacher working in the service of the Dutch East India Company in Cochin. His writings were published in 1743 as Letters from Malabar and contained multiple observations on Indian society, religion and nature. Although he is deeply interested in Indian culture, he is also critical and dismissive, especially of deities in the Hindu pantheon which he sees as demons.143 Similar contempt can be found in Description of the Guinea Coast (1703) by Willem Bosman (1672–1704), a Dutch West India Company administrator in the slave-trading fort in Elmina in Guinea, who referred to African deities as “false gods”.144 In his view the inhabitants of Guinea were fascinated with “devils, conjurors and apparitions”.145 Reading Bosman we are struck by the connection between his criticism of indigenous religion and its relation with animal wildlife, apparent for instance in his horrified observation on Anansi, the Akan god of stories and knowledge, who often appears as a spider.146

In the three missionary accounts we find a sharp juxtaposition of the Christian God with the deities of indigenous people, who are referred to as demons, false gods or simply imaginations. The people they observe are much closer to their environment, and their pagan religion is more intertwined with nature, and with animals in particular. Johannes Megapolensis, for instance, sees multiple connections between animals and the spiritual. He mocks Mohawk religion in so far as it is related to animals, most notably the tortoise they believe played a role in their creation myth.147 The Mohawks “are entire strangers to all religion”, although they believe in a spirit called Tharonhijouaagon, which they worship “in the place of God” but also sacrifice to the devil, Otskon. Megapolensis is horrified to learn that they offer bears to this deity. He associates this behaviour with the cruelty they show to enemies, as the sacrifice is meant to atone for what they regard as their lack of severity against enemies.148

Hans Egede as well mocks the religion and ignorance of the Inuit. He relates accounts of a “ravenous beast”, the amarok, but he has never seen one and believes it to be a fable made up by the Inuit.149 He juxtaposes Inuit knowledge to Western superior understanding. For instance, he comments that reindeer are scarcer the further north one goes, with the exception of the north of Disco Island on Greenland’s west coast “where they are in great Numbers”.150 The “Natives … instead of Reason, give us a very childish Tale for the vast number of reindeer, being found upon Disco-Island”. He then relates Greenland folklore about Torngarfuk, an Inuit deity who appears as a bear and who “has Command over all the Animals of the Sea”.151 Egede provides a more down-to-earth explanation. The deer may be more plentiful there “by reason either of its joining to America, or else because the Deer pass over to the Islands upon the Ice, in quest of Food”.152 The juxtaposition between pagan religion and science, rather than Christianity, is a trope common in missionary writing.153

The connection between animal wildlife and pagan religion is strongest in Baldaeus’ work. The relationship between the elephant as a symbol of Indian culture and wildlife and as quintessential from a religious point of view is expanded on in section three of the book on “The Idolatry of the East India Pagans”. Baldaeus describes numerous gods which are part animal, such as Siri Hanuman, the ape god, or Egasourubunt, with the head of an elephant and eleven hands.154 Attention is paid to the Hindu god Ganesha (in this book called Quenevady), who has the body of a man and the head of an elephant (see figure 8).155 Ganesha, according to Baldaeus’s account, was conceived when the god Ixora walked in the woods and saw a male and female elephant copulating, after which the goddess desired the same. They both transformed into elephants, “ate of a certain Fruit in the Wood, which made them quite frenzical, so that they made the same noise, overturn’d the Trees, threw up the Sand with their Trunks, and did all the other Actions of Elephants, not excepting even their Copulation”.156 Ganesha was born instantly after conception. He “had the Hand, Teeth and Face of an Elephant, with large hanging Ears, and ugly Lips with red Pimples all over the Face: His Hair is long (like his Father’s) tied about with a Serpent or Adder”.157 Ganesha is described as a “young monster” and “very voracious”.158 The seamless merging of Indian wildlife and Hindu idolatry is personified in this dual nature of Ganesha. Moreover, the story of the garden, the eating of the fruit, the conception and birth of the idol with a serpent in his hair has obvious intertextual echoes with the biblical story of the Fall in the Garden of Eden.

Figure 8
Figure 8

The idol Quenarady, Ixora’s son, in Philippus Baldaeus, Nauwkeurige beschrijving Malabar en Choromandel part 3 (1672), 20

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Animals figure as a key ingredient in the apologetic literature of the missionaries. They see a seamless relationship between wildlife in Greenland, America and Ceylon, and their ‘nature religions’. In the case of Megapolensis and Egede the dismissive references to pagan religion are incidental, but in Baldaeus there is a more lengthy and sustained argument built around his criticism of Hindu animal-gods.

6 Conclusion

The purpose of this article was to test the thesis of Peter Singer that early modern Christianity put “animals outside its sphere of concern”.159 On a basic level, this statement seems validated. With regard to the theme of description, there is certainly genuine interest in the beauty and details of nature, most notably in Megapolensis’s description of Cohoes Falls, Baldaeus’ references to the exquisite exotic birds and Egede’s fascination with the whales. At the same time, all three missionaries see animals primarily as a natural resource, most notably in Megapolensis’s accounts of fruits and Egede’s view of whales. The second theme, controlling the wilderness, figures in all accounts. All missionaries believe that the natives of America, Greenland and Ceylon are not qualified guardians of the Edens in which they live. They respect native hunting skills to an extent but also criticize eating manners and native lack of control of wildlife. This figured most prominently in Baldaeus’ analysis of the elephants. There is also incidental criticism of natives’ responsibility for animal cruelty. With regard to religion all missionaries are on the same page: pagan religion has a reprehensible tendency to conflate fauna and the divine through the belief in animal-gods. The concepts of tropicality and arcticality have helped to deepen our understanding of these themes. Consistent with tropicality, Baldaeus’ account embodies a paradox of a deep fascination with the exotic beauty of Ceylon wildlife as well as its danger and wildness. Consistent with arcticality, Egede is primarily fascinated with animals as natural resources. Because the tropics and the arctic are juxtaposed with the temperate zone, there is an overstated interest in massive animals, the whale of the north and the elephant of the south, whereas Megapolensis rather emphasizes the sameness of the American and European landscapes.

Based on our analysis it is fair to conclude that the missionaries primarily saw animals as a natural resource rather than something of inherent value. This is rather in line with Protestant theology as it was rooted in Thomist theology. Thus Singer’s thesis seems validated by these findings. However, this conclusion needs to be tempered. The missionaries sometimes also saw nature as something beautiful, that was worth describing in detail even if it was not useful. They also believed that taking control of animals included some respect for animals’ welfare, which figured in the critical views on the mistreatment of dogs and sacrifices of bears. Finally, animals played an important part in their theology, as they underscored man’s God-given role to maintain wildlife and as they opposed pagan religion that was saturated with animal imagery. Therefore, the missionaries’ accounts show substantial traces of what modern theologians would regard as leaning towards a theology of stewardship rather than dominion. As we saw, a number of early modern writers who expressed an interest in nature tended to be dissenters, such as Presbyterians and Ranters, which seems to conform with the fact that Singer’s statement referred to ‘mainstream Christianity’. However, this research has shown that a more nuanced thinking about animals can also be traced in the writings of three missionaries that were emphatically part of mainstream Protestantism. In this sense, this research also nuances Singer’s thesis and rather conforms to Paul Waldau’s image of a more complex heritage.

This article forms a building block in reconstructing the history of Christianity and animals, which appears to take off in the early nineteenth century when ecclesiastical concern with animals became more apparent, for instance in Christian involvement in the establishment of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1824 and the rise of vegetarianism in Christianity, most notably Seventh Day Adventism. As this article and other research discussed in this article have shown, concern for animals within Christianity predated 1800.

Since the focus of this article was on missionaries, it is interesting to observe that although animal theology has been developing in the past few decades, it is fair to say that modern Christian mission has not really concerned itself much with animals or indeed the natural environment. In Protestant churches, attention to the environment surfaced only after the 1983 meeting in Vancouver of the World Council of Churches about ‘Justice, Peace and Care for Creation’ movement. The chair of the World Council of Churches, Emilio Castro, referred in 2000 to the ecological debate as the “third missionary frontier”.160 However, despite the fact that many Christians now take an interest in the protection of the environment, Christian missionary and aid organizations are almost exclusively concerned with people rather than with nature or animals.161 The accounts of early modern missionaries and their interest in landscapes and wildlife may very well serve as a source of inspiration for present-day missionary organizations.


I would like to thank the referees of this article and David Trim for their careful and through criticism, and Kate Delaney for editing the text.


Johannes Megapolensis, A Short Sketch of the Mohawk Indians in New Netherland, their Land, Stature, Dress, Manners and Magistrates, John Romeyn Brodhead (ed.) (New York: D. Appleton, 1857).


Peter Singer, Animal Liberation. Towards an end to man’s inhumanity to animals (Wellingborough: Thorsons, 1975), 238. This specific statement refers to the theology of Thomas Aquinas, who synthesized classical and medieval Christian thought on this issue.


Andrew Linzey, Creatures of the Same God. Explorations in animal theology (New York: Lantern Books 2009), introduction (n.p.).


Paul Waldau, “Animals”, in Willis J. Jenkins, Evelyn Tucker & John Grim (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Religion and Ecology (Florence: Routledge, 2016), 298. Also Paul Waldau, “Second wave animal law and the arrival of animal studies”, in Deborah Cao & Steven White (eds.), Animal Law and Welfare: International Perspectives (Cham: Springer, 2016), 11–43 and Paul Waldau, Animal Studies. An Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).


Stephen M. Vantassel, Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental Theology of Human- Wildlife Relations (La Vergne: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2009); Laura Hobgood-Oster, The Friends we Keep: Unleashing Christianity’s Compassion for Animals (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2010).


Waldau, ‘Animals’, 293, 294. Cf. Waldau, “Religion and Animals”, in Peter Singer (ed.), In Defense of Animals: the Second Wave (Malden: Blackwell 2006), 69–70: ‘the record of some religious institutions in defending animals is one of abject failure, often driven by extraordinary arrogance and ignorance. Yet at other times religious believers have lived out their faith in ways that have been fully in defense of nonhuman lives’. Cf. Paul Waldau, Animal Studies. An Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 147.


Andrew Linzey & Claire Linzey, “Introduction: Toward a New(er) Religious Ethics for Animals”, in idem (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Religion and Animal Ethics (London/ New York: Routledge, 2020), 1–20: 1.


E.g. Stephen H. Webb, On God and Dogs: A Christian Theology of Compassion for Animals (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).


Laura Hobgood-Oster, Holy Dogs and Asses: Animals in the Christian Tradition (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008), 5.


Peter Singer, “Prologue: Ethics and the New Animal Liberation”, in idem, (ed.), In Defense of Animals (Oxford: Blackwell, 1985), 3; Singer’s criticism can be set in the context of a wider debate about the tense relationship between Christianity and nature, sparked by a 1967 landmark article by Lynn White. “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis”, Science 155 (1967), 1203–1207.


Illustrated poignantly by the otherwise insightful selection of primary texts edited by Andrew Linzey and Tom Regan (eds.), Animals and Christianity: a Book of Readings (New York: Crossroads, 1998). See the work of Peter Singer and Andrew Linzey, but also for instance Paola Cavalieri, ‘The Animal Debate: a Reexamination’, in Singer (ed.), In Defense, 54–68.


Richard Grove, Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens and the Origins of Environmentalism, 1600–1860 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994). Chapter 5 explores the Dutch East India Company and Calvinist attitudes towards the environment. “Scottish Missionaries, Evangelical Discourses and the Origins of Conservation Thinking in Southern Africa, 1820–1900,” Journal of Southern African Studies, 15/2 (1989), 163–187, focuses in particular on early-nineteenth-century missionaries.


E.g. Marthinus L. Daneel, African Earthkeepers: Wholistic Interfaith Mission (Maryknoll N.Y., Orbis Books, 1988); Allan Effa, “The Greening of Mission”, International Bulletin of Missionary Research 32/4 (2008), 171–6; Carolyn Peach Brown, et al., “An Investigation of Perception of Climate Change Risk, Environmental Values and Development Programming in a Faith-Based International Development Organization”, in R. Globus Veldman et al. (eds.), How the World’s Religions are Responding to Climate Change (London and New York: Routledge, 2014), 1–20; Dana Robert “Historical Trends in Missions and Earth Care”, International Bulletin of Missionary Research 35 (2011), 223–228.


John Eliot, The Glorious Progress of the Gospel, amongst the Indians in New England (London: Hannah Allen, 1649); Abraham Rogerius, De open-deure tot het verborgen heydendom … (Leiden: Françoys Hackes, 1651); H. Jessey, Of the Conversion of Five Thousand and Nine Hundred East-Indians, in the Isle Formosa (s.l., 1700); John Wilson et al., The Day-breaking, if not the Sun Rising of the Gospel: with the Indians in New England (London: Fulk Clifton 1650); Michaelius: the First Minister of the Dutch Reformed Church in the United States: Facsimile of his Letter, the Only Extant, written during the First Years of the Settlement of New-York, Henry C. Murphy (ed.) (Amsterdam: Frederik Muller, 1883), 14.


Peter Kalm’s Travels in North America: The English Version of 1770 (New York: Wilson- Erickson Inc., 1937).


Athanasii Kircheri e Soc. Jesu China monumentis, qua sacris qua profanis, nec non variis Naturae et artis spectaculis, aliarumque rerum memorabilium argumentis illustrata, auspiciis Leopoldi primi, Roman. Imper. Semper augusti Munificentissimi Mecaenatis (Amsterdam: Jacob van Meurs, 1667); Cf. Girolamo Merolla and Angelo Piccardo, Breve, e succinta relatione del viaggio nel regno di Congo nell’ Africa meridionale, fatto dal P. Girolamo Merolla da Sorrento, sacerdote cappuccino, missionario apostolico: continente variati clima, arie, animali, fiumi, frutti, vestimenti con proprie figure, diversità di costumi, e di viveri per l’uso humano (Napels: Francesco Mollo, 1692); Joseph Gumilla, El Orinoco ilustrado y defendido. Historia Natural, civil y geographica de este gran rio y de sus caudalosas vertientes goviernos, usos y costumbres de los indios sus habitadores, con nuevas y utiles noticias de Animales, Arboles, Frutos, Aceytes, Refinas, Yervas, y Raíces medicinales; y sobre todo, se hallarán conversiones muy singulares á N. Santa Fé, y casos de mucha edificacion … (Madrid: Manuel Fernández, 1745).


David Cranz, The History of Greenland, containing a description of the country and its inhabitants, and of the mission carried on for above thirty years by the Unitas Fratrum at New Herrnhuth in that country (London: Brethren’s Society, 1767).


The book was translated into Dutch, French and German, and into English by Adolph Benson as Peter Kalm’s Travels in North America: The English Version of 1770 (New York, Wilson-Erickson Inc., 1937).


Robert, “Historical Trends”, 124.


Ibid., 124–126.


Felix Driver & Luciana Martini (eds.), Tropical Visions in an Age of Empire (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 3.


Daniel Clayton & Gavin Bowd, “Geography, Tropicality and Postcolonialism: Anglophone and Francophone Readings of the Work of Pierre Gourou”, L’Espace géographique 35 (2006), 208–21.


Michael Bravo & Sverker Sörlin, “Introduction”, 14, and G. Pálsson, “Arcticality. Gender, Race, and Geography in the Writings of Vilhjalmur Stefansson,” 275–309, in Michael Bravo and Sverker Sörlin (eds.), Narrating the Arctic. A Cultural History of Nordic Scientific Practice (Canton Mass.: Science History Publications, 2002); Dolly Jørgensen & Sverker Sörlin, “Making the Action Visible: Making Environments in Northern Landscapes”, in idem, (eds.), Northscapes: History, Technology, and the Making of Northern Environments (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2013), 4; Richard C. Powell, Studying Arctic Fields: Cultures, Practices, and Environmental Sciences (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017), 30.


This section is based on Sumarlidi Isleifsson and Daniel Chartier, Iceland and Images of the North (Québec: Presses de l’Université du Québec, 2011), 10–14.


Philip Baldaeus, A Description of the East-India Coasts of Malabar and Coromandel and also of the Isle of Ceylon with their Adjacent Kingdoms & Provinces (London: Awnsham and John Churchill, 1671).


Philip Baldaeus, Nauwkeurige beschrijving Malabar en Choromandel, derz. aangrenzend rijken, en het machtige eiland Ceylon (Amsterdam: Van Waasbergh en Van Someren, 1672); Idem, Wahrhaftige Ausführliche Beschreibung der Berühmten Ost-Indischen Kusten Malabar und Coromandel, als auch der Insel Zeylon samt dero angräntzenden und untergehörigen Reichen (Amsterdam: Van Waasbergh en Van Someren 1672).


Johannes Megapolensis, Een kort ontwerp van de Mahakvase Indiaenen, haer Landt, Tale, Statuere, Dracht, Godes-Dienst ende Magistrature … (Alkmaar: Ysbrandt Jansz. Van Houten, 1645); idem, A Short Account of the Mohawk Indians, their Country, Language, Figure, Costume, Religion, and Government (Philadelphia: Ebenezer Hazard, 1792).


Quoted in Megapolensis, A Short Sketch, 139.


Hans Egede, Det gamle Grønlands nye Perlustration, eller Naturel-historie, og beskrivelse over det gamle Grønlands situation, luft, temperament og beskaffenhed … (Copenhagen, H.C. Paulli, 1729).


Hans Egede, A description of Greenland. Shewing the natural history, situation, boundaries, and face of the country; … With a new map of Greenland. Translated from the Danish (London: C. Hitch, 1745); Idem, Beschryving van Oud-Groenland of eigentlyk van de zoogenaamde Straat Davis … (Delft: Reinier Boitet, 1746); Idem, Description et histoire naturelle du Groenland (Copenhagen and Geneva: C. & A. Philibert, 1763); Idem, Beschreibung und Natur-Geschichte von Grönland (Berlin: Mylius, 1763).


Genesis 1:28–29. King James Bible.


E.g. Singer, In defense, 2.


E.g. Raymond E. Grizzle & Christopher B. Barrett, “The One Body of Christian Environmentalism”, Zygon, 33/2 (1998), 233–53; Dinah Shelton, “Dominion and Stewardship”, AJIL Unbound 109 (2015), 132–5.


Genesis 9:16. King James Bible.


Quoted in Andrew Linzey & Paul B. Clarke (eds.), Animal Rights: A Historical Anthology (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), 10; Cf. Linzey, Animals and Christianity, 17–20.


On the ambivalent legacy of the Reformation on environmentalism, see the debate between Michael Northcott and Henk Jochemsen: Michael S. Northcott, “Reformed Protestantism and the Origins of Modern Environmentalism”, Philosophia Reformata 83 (2018), 19–33; Henk Jochemsen, “The Relationship between (Protestant) Christianity and the Environment is Ambivalent”, Philosophia Reformata 83 (2018), 34–50. For the connection between the Scientific Revolution and environmental pollution, see Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution (San Francisco: Harper Collins Publishers Inc., 1980).


The spiritual exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, Thomas Corbishley transl. (New York: Dover Publications, 1963), 23.


Martin Luther, Luther’s works, vol. ii, Jaroslav Jan Pelikan & Daniel E. Poellot (eds.) (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing, 1958), 132–3.


Robert, ‘Historical Trends’, 123.


E.g. Fr. Yohanna Meshreki, “Delightful teachings” (accessed 28 September 2022).


Lydia Barnett, After the flood. Imagining the Global Environment in Early Modern Europe (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019), 91.


Alexandra Walsham, The Reformation of the Landscape: Religion, Identity, & Memory in Early Modern Britain & Ireland (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 379–83.


Cf. Barnett, After the flood, 103.


E.g. Brian Stanley, “Gardening for the Gospel: Horticulture and Mission in the Life of Robert Moffat of Kuruman”, in Anthony. J. Cross, Peter. J. Morden, and Ian. M. Randall (eds.), Pathways and Patterns in Christian History: Essays on Baptists, Evangelicals, and the Modern World in Honour of David Bebbington (London and Didcot: Spurgeon’s College, 2015), 354–68.


Quoted in Robert N. Watson, “Protestant Animals: Puritan Sects and English Animal- protection Sentiment, 1550–1650”, English Literary History 81/4 (2014), 1111–1148, 1139.


Watson, “Protestant animals”, 1142. See also Philip Samson, “Evangelical Christianity. Lord of creation or animal among animals? Dominion, Darwin, and Duty”, in Linzey, Routledge Handbook of Religion and Animal Ethics, 63–72.


Erik Jorink, Reading the Book of Nature in the Dutch Golden Age, 1575–1715 (Leiden: Brill, 2010), 41.


Jorink, Reading the book of nature, 45.


Ibid., 20.


Lewis G. Regenstein, Replenish the Earth: A History of Organized Religion’s Treatment of Animals and Nature – Including the Bible’s message of Conservation and Kindness to Animals (New York: Crossroad, 1991).


Catharine Randall, The Wisdom of Animals: Creatureliness in Early Modern French Spirituality (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame University Press, 2014), 128; Jorink, Reading the book of nature, 49.


Martin Luther, Weimarer Ausgabe, Tischreden, vol. 1, no. 1150, 567.


Linzey and Regan (eds.), Animals and Christianity, 100. Cf. Waldau, Animal studies. An introduction, 45.


Quoted in Randall, The Wisdom of Animals, 126.


Jorink, Reading the book of nature, 44.


Referred to in Samson, “Evangelical Christianity”, 67.


Quoted in Samson, “Evangelical Christianity”, 68. From Calvin’s Sermons on Deuteronomy.


Ralph Venning, Sin, the Plague of Plagues (London 1669), 74. Referred to in Samson, “Evangelical Christianity”, 67.


Jorink, Reading the book of nature, 71.


Ibid., 42.


Ibid., 93.


Ibid., 321.


Sarah R. Cohen, “Searching the Animal Psyche with Charles Le Brun”, Annals of Science 67/3 (2010), 353–82.; Anita Guerrini, “The King’s Animals and the King’s Kooks: the Illustrations for the Paris Academy’s Histoire des animaux”, Annals of Science, 67/3, 383–404,; Domenico Bertoloni Meli, “The Representation of Insects in the Seventeenth Century: a Comparative Approach”, Annals of Science 67/3, 405–29.


See Irina Podgorny, “The Elk, the Ass, the Tapir, their Hooves, and the Falling Sickness: A Story of Substitution and Animal Medical Substances”, Journal of Global History, 13/1 (2018), 46–68.


Kathleen Crowther-Heyck, “Wonderful Secrets of Nature: Natural Knowledge and Religious Piety in Reformation Germany”, Isis 94/2 (2003), 253–273, 253.


S. Kusukawa, “The Sources of Gessner’s Pictures for the Historia Animalium”, Annals of Science 67/3 (2010), 303–28.


Podgorny, “The Elk, the Ass”, On Missionary Knowledge Networks and Colonialism, see Patrick Harries & David Maxwell (eds.), The Spiritual in the Secular: Missionaries and Knowledge about Africa (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 2012).


Miguel de Asúa & Roger French, A New World of Animals. Early Modern European on the Creatures of Iberian America (London: Ashgate, 2016), 141–82.


See Podgorny, “The elk, the ass”, 57.


Egede, A Description of Greenland.


Megapolensis, A Short Sketch of the Mohawk Indians, 149, 151.


Ibid., 151. A similar awe for the greatness of heights and mountains is displayed in the work of other missionaries. See for instance T. Arbousset & F. Daumas, Narrative of an Exploratory Tour to the North-East of the Colony of the Cape of Good Hope (London: John C. Bishop, 1846), 22–3.


Benson, Peter Kalm’s Travels in North America, vol. 1, 351–2.


Megapolensis, A Short Sketch of the Mohawk Indians, 149.


Ibid., 152. Cf. Karen Ordahl Kupperman, “Fear of Hot Climates in the Anglo-American Colonial Experience”, The William and Mary Quarterly, 41/2 (1984), 213–40.


Michaelius: the First Minister, Frederik Muller (ed.), 14. Pehr Kalm believed the climate had changed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Benson, Peter Kalm’s Travels in North America, vol. 1, 275–7.


Megapolensis, A Short Sketch of the Mohawk Indians, 150.


Ibid., 149.


See for instance 1 Chronicles 22:4 (“cedar trees in abundance”); 2 Chronicles 9:27: “… as the sycamore trees that are in the low plains in abundance.”; Isaiah 7:22 “And it shall come to pass, for the abundance of milk that they shall give he shall eat butter”. All references from King James Bible.


Megapolensis, A Short Sketch of the Mohawk Indians, 150.


Ibid., 150.


Ibid., 151–152. The language of abundance is echoed in Michaëlius’s writings, who noticed that the land “abounds in all kinds of game”, Michaelius: the first minister, Frederik Muller (ed.), 14.


Baldaeus, A Description of the East-India Coasts, 826.


Ibid., 826.


Ibid., 824.


Ibid., 825.


Ibid., 826.


Ibid., 826.


Egede, A Description of Greenland, frontispiece.


Ibid., 64.


Ibid., 62.


Ibid., 69.


Ibid., 66.


Ibid., 69.


Isleifsson and Chartier, Iceland and Images, 10–14.


Egede, A Description of Greenland, 65.


Megapolensis, A Short Sketch of the Mohawk Indians, 149.


Ibid., 150.


Ibid., 149.


Ibid., 150.


Ibid., 149.


Ibid., 156.


Ibid., 156.


Ibid., 156–157.


Baldaeus, A Description of the East-India Coasts, 828.


Ibid., 826.






Ibid., 827.


Elephants seem to attract the attention of the engraver, and they are depicted on multiple locations and in multiple varieties, confirming the iconic role the creature plays for Ceylon. For more information see for instance also the elephant in the map of Sri Lanka by Robert Knox, An historical relation of the island Ceylon (London: Richard Chiswell, 1681); Baldaeus, A Description of the East-India Coasts, 632, 650, 651.


Pichayapat Naisupap, ‘The emblematic elephant. Elephants, the Dutch East India Company, and Eurasian diplomacy in the seventeenth century’, unpublished MA Thesis (Leiden University, 2020).


Baldaeus, A Description of the East-India Coasts, 825.


Pieter Nuyts, Lof des elephants (Delft: Arnold Bon, 1670).


Baldaeus, A Description of the East-India Coasts, 825.






Aune, “Elephants, Englishmen and India”, 31.


Baldaeus, A Description of the East-India Coasts, 807.


Ibid., 807.


Nuyts, Lof des elephants.


Baldaeus, A Description of the East-India Coasts, 810, 824.




Ibid., between 602 and 603.


Ibid, 635.


See for instance Ibid., 593, 602.


Saurabh Mishra, “The Economics of Reproduction: Horse-breeding in Early Colonial India”, Modern Asian Studies, 46/5 (2012), 1116–1144, 1122, 1127.


E.g. Simon Digby, War-Horse and Elephant in the Delhi Sultanate: a Study of Military Supplies (Oxford: Orient Monographs, 2004); Jos Gommans, “The Horse Trade in Eighteenth-Century South Asia”, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 37/3 (1994), 228–50; Saurabh Mishra, “The Economics of Reproduction: Horse- breeding in Early Colonial India”, Modern Asian Studies, 46/5 (2012), 1116–44.


Davide Torri, “Her Majesty’s Servants: The Tame and the Wild under the British Raj”, Religions of South Asia 7 (2013) 44–58, 50.


Amanda M. Brian, “Beasts Within and Beasts Without: Colonial Themes in Lothar Meggendorfer’s Children’s Books”, German studies review, 37/2 (2014), 253–274, 259.


Baldaeus, A Description of the East-India Coasts, 800–806.


See for instance “Church-mission House and School at Kandy in Ceylon”, Church Missionary Paper, 48, Michaelmas 1827, n.p.; “Church-mission Settlement at Bathurst in Sierra Leone”, Church Missionary Paper 55, Michaelmas 1829, n.p.; “Church-mission Premises at Secrole, near Benares”, Church Missionary Paper 64, Christmas 1831. Thanks to Sam Kocheri Clement for directing me to the Church Missionary Paper sources. See also by way of example the frontispiece in Robert Moffat, Missionary Scenes and Labours in South Africa (London: J. Snow, 1842).


Brian, “Beasts Within”, 259.


Egede, A description of Greenland, 72.


Ibid., preface xvi.


Ibid., 43.


Ibid., 59.


Ibid., 59–60.


Ibid. 60.


Ibid. 62.


Ibid., 61.


Ibid., 61.


Ibid., 63.


Jacobus Canter Visscher, Mallabaarse brieven, behelzende eene naukeurige beschrijving van de kust van Mallabaar (Leeuwarden: Ferwerda, 1743), Letter 32.


Willem Bosman, Nauwkeurige beschryving van de Guinese Goud- Tand- en Slavekust (Utrecht: Anthonie Schouten, 1704), letter X, 134.


Ibid., 134.


Ibid., 135.


Megapolensis, A Short Sketch of the Mohawk Indians, 159.


Ibid., 58.


The amarok is a giant wolf in Inuit religion.


Egede, A Description of Greenland, 60 note.


Ibid., 61 note; Cf. 181.


Ibid., 60 note.


See for instance Grove, “Scottish missionaries”, 168; Cf. Brian Stanley, “The missionary and the rainmaker: David Livingstone, the Bakwena, and the nature of medicine”, Social Sciences and Missions, 27/2–3 (2014), 145–62.


Baldaeus, A Description of the East-India Coasts, 838.


On the relation between Hinduism and animals via Ganesh, see Waldau “Religion and Animals”, 72.


Baldaeus, A Description of the East-India Coasts, 836.




Ibid., 837.


Singer (ed.), In Defence, 3.


Emilio Castro, “A Christocentric Trinitarian Understanding of Mission”, International Review of Mission, 89/355 (2000), 584–591.


The exceptions are Au Sable and A Rocha; both are Christian ecological organizations.

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