If you care about both faith and animals, then Laura Hobgood-Oster should be on your reading list—if you haven’t discovered her already. As a scholar at Southwestern University in Texas, she has become one of the world’s leading voices in promoting the importance of animals in religious tradition.
And, that’s only part of her work that has produced books and lectures at other universities and major events. Her Southwestern faculty page lists her wide array of interests this way: “Animals in the history of the Christian tradition; human-dog history; contemporary religious-ethical issues related to other-than-human animals; religion and ecology; environmental studies; ecofeminism; human-animal studies.”
ReadTheSpirit magazine connected with Laura Hobgood-Oster years ago—through a dog story that made national headlines. In her book, The Friends We Keep, she includes a brief story about a church in southern California that began a worship service for adults to attend along with their pet dogs. As it turns out, that’s a congregation that ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm reported on during a 2010 project called American Journey.
Finally, ReadTheSpirit online magazine published a summary of that “dog church” story—and an in-depth interview with Hobgood-Oster.
In that interview, she is asked about the personal roots of her life’s work and her book The Friends We Keep.
She responds: “I grew up in church. My father is a minister and I write some about growing up in the church in this book. We always had animals around us. They were part of my image of Christianity. Our church youth group would camp out on Assateague Island with wild horses running around us. We saw that as part of our overall view of God and God’s creation—so it didn’t hit me until I was older that animals aren’t necessarily a part of everybody’s image of Christianity. And, I didn’t realize that in the last couple of centuries animals have been disappearing from our Christian tradition. I began studying images and stories from before the Reformation, from before the Enlightenment, and animals were everywhere! I wondered: Where have they all gone?”
Today, Laura Hobgood-Oster is a major resource for journalists, religious leaders and scholars studying the positive relationships between what she calls non-human animals and religious life.