BSO 106 | Buddhism and Animals


4-week online course
with Dr. Geoffrey Barstow

What did the Buddha teach about animals? How should we treat animals today? 


Join professor of Religious Studies, Dr. Geoffrey Barstow, and a global cohort of students, for this unique opportunity to explore the rich and multifaceted history of Buddhism and animals. 

How have Buddhist communities throughout history thought about animals? Were all Buddhists vegetarian?


In this course, we will take a look at some of the ways that the Buddhist tradition has approached non-human animals. There is a basic tension at the heart of Buddhist attitudes towards animals: animals are seen as like us in the sense that we share a capacity for suffering but unlike us in that animals lack human intelligence. We will explore this tension as it plays out in Buddhist art, literature, ritual, and philosophy. We will also explore ongoing debates about vegetarianism, and end by reflecting on contemporary issues surrounding animals in Buddhism.

What if animals are smarter than we think? 


Few of the issues we discuss in this course have simple answers. Often, we will hear multiple Buddhist voices taking opposing views. In addition, our understanding of animals is changing, particularly as new research emerges on animal cognition. Throughout the course's four modules, we will see that there hasn't been a single Buddhist approach to animals and that there aren't any blanket conclusions about what Buddhists should or should not do. By the end of the course, however, you will hopefully feel better equipped to make decisions about how to think about and interact with animals in your own life.

Course Structure

Students enrolled in this course will receive:

  • 4 pre-recorded video lectures + audio recordings (90 min each)

  • 4 recordings of Zoom Q&A sessions + audio recordings (90 min each)

  • 4 BSO Credits

  • Course Syllabus (PDF)

  • Weekly Readings (PDF)

  • 4 Weekly Handouts (PDF)

  • 4 Weekly Quizzes

  • Access to private Community forum

  • Certificate of Completion (PDF)

Your Instructor


Dr. Geoffrey Barstow

Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Oregon State University

Dr. Geoffrey Barstow first encountered Tibetan Buddhism in 1999, and since that time the study of Tibetan religion, history, and culture has been the focus of his professional life. For the last decade and a half, his research has focussed on the history and practice of vegetarianism on the Tibetan plateau, asking questions about how animals were viewed, how they were treated (i.e., eaten), what that can tell us about Tibetan Buddhism, and how Buddhist ideas about animal ethics might impact broader philosophical discussions. His published work includes Food of Sinful Demons: A History of Vegetarianism in Tibet (Columbia University Press) and The Faults of Meat: Tibetan Writings on Vegetarianism (Wisdom Publications).

Student Testimonials

"As someone who teaches a course on Animals in Society, I cover the topics of vegetarianism and veganism. I took this course to broaden my understanding of dietary practices, and more generally, attitudes about animals from the Buddhist perspective. The course was well organized, informative, engaging, and provocative. As I was listening to lectures, I was constantly considering sociological concepts in a different light."

— Dr. Irene Fiala, Associate Professor (Edinboro University, Pennsylvania, USA)

"This was a very well thought out and informative course. Dr. Barstow clearly planned his topics and discussions from personal experiences. I enjoyed the course very much and will look for future courses that Dr. Barstow is teaching."

— BSO 106 Student

"I very much enjoyed this course! As a vegan and Buddhist, this course was helpful not just from an academic standpoint but also for my own spiritual practice."

— BSO 106 Student

"BSO 106 | Buddhism and Animals was everything I hoped for and more! It was short, to the point, and easy to grasp even some challenging Buddhist beliefs and practices. Dr. Barstow is well informed and made the class a pleasure."

— BSO 106 Student