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Vegan Epiphanies

A Virtual Conference organized by Vegan Studies at the University of California-Santa Barbara.

Friday September 17th, 2021

Organizing committee: Renan Larue (UCSB), Emilie Dardenne (Rennes 2) and Romain Espinosa (CNRS).

Veganism is a strange phenomenon.

There are traces of it in most civilizations, including ours. For millennia various peoples have expressed a  commitment not to participate, as much as possible, in the subjugation, ill treatment, and killing of animals. This expression seems to correspond to a deep and almost global human tendency – operating alongside others –  not to inflict unnecessary harm upon other animals.

However, veganism is often mocked and ridiculed; perhaps less so today, especially with increasing media coverage of the catastrophic ecological consequences of fishing and animal husbandry. Nevertheless, the term “vegan” frequently carries a negative connotation, with its adherents routinely labeled as bizarre, self-righteous, and sectarian. Some opponents simply abhor that vegans want to change their culinary habits and traditions. Others are scared of the social, moral, anthropological, economic, and religious consequences that widespread veganism assumedly involves. And indeed, veganism is typically less about cheese alternatives or plant-based burgers than moral rights and duties, biological and spiritual identity, and our place and responsibilities in the universe.

Everyone intuitively understands that veganism raises many deep and disturbing questions – Are people naturally frugivores and therefore intrinsically good and peaceful, or are they carnivores and therefore necessary violent? What role did plants and meat play in the human evolution? Should animals have rights? Is the slaughter and consumption of animals sanctioned by religion? How, if at all, does animal oppression intersect with issues of gender, race, and other forms of oppression? Is a vegan world a utopian fantasy or a crucial next step in the history of the human race?

In this conference we address, at least indirectly, several of these questions. And we do so through the lens of the vegan “epiphany.”

The choice of this term is provocative, primarily owing to its religious implications and the common accusation that vegans themselves are sectarian or “cultish.” Yet we employ “epiphany” in a secular rather than Christian sense, referring more narrowly to “a moment of powerful insight that brings new understanding—flash of revelation with lasting consequences.” In this conference, we will explore the insights, understandings, and revelations that cause people to abandon animal products and commit themselves to the vegan lifestyle.

Some aspects of veganism and traditional religion do overlap, that is, beyond their epiphanic dimension: the pursuit of ideals, the acceptance of moral duties, shared values, (self-) disciplines, and feelings and practices of togetherness. Veganism and traditional religion, as anthropological phenomena, both stem from basic human aspirations and needs. In some cases the two overlap, with religious commandments actually entailing the respect of animal life. Various issues pertaining to veganism and religion will be covered in the first half of the conference, aptly named “The Sacrilegious Meat.”

During the second half of the conference, we will envision the political, economic, philosophical, environmental, and even spiritual context of vegan epiphanies. Vegan epiphanies don’t happen out of nowhere, as individuals are largely shaped by their cultural environments. Conversely, vegans have an impact on society, whether they are aware of it or not. Indeed, they influence people around them just by the way of life they display on a daily basis. In the second half of the conference – “A Social Change in the Making” – we will more specifically shed light on vegan activism and on the way vegan activism tends to reframe, at least partly, the way we collectively see the world around us and its other inhabitants.

This conference was originally planned to take place in May 2020 as the second part of a conference that was supposed to take place in April 2020 at Université de Rennes. Due to the global pandemic, both events were postponed.

CONFERENCE SCHEDULE (all times are Pacific Standard Time)

8:45 a.m.


Vegan Epiphanies: Moral Revelation, Self-Discipline, Political Commitment

9 a.m. – 11 a.m.


Yanoula Athanassakis (New York University)
What a Vegan Epiphany Means and Entails

Adam Shprintzen (Marywood University)
The Veg(etari)an Crusade, an American History

Ghazala Anwar (Starr King for the Ministry)
The Invisible Ethical Veg(etari)anism in the Muslim Mystical Tradition

11:15 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.


Didier Maleuvre (UC Santa Barbara)
Vegan Sanctity: A Psychological Outline

Christopher Miller (Loyola Marymount University)
Jonathan Dickstein (UC Santa Barbara)
Be Vegan to Be a Better Jain: Mahavira ’s Epiphany and the Contemporary Reinvention of Ahimsa

12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Lunch break

1:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.


Miriam Cué (Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, France)
From Using to Caring: Can Mindfulness Support a More Ethical Behavior Towards Animals?

Solaire Denaud (UC Santa Barbara)
You are not fully alive if you eat cadavers: How a Rastafari understanding of God led to a meatless diet.

Robert C. Jones (California State University, Chico)
Is Veganism Incoherent?

3:45 p.m. – 5:45 p.m.


Jan Dutkiewicz (Swiss National Science Foundation)
Jonathan Dickstein (UC Santa Barbara)
Veganism as Left Praxis

Joshua Tasoff (Claremont Graduate University)
Changing Hearts and Plates: Two Interventions to Reduce Meat Consumption

David Cleveland (UC Santa Barbara)
Vegan Ideals in the Age of Consumption

5:45 p.m.



For additional information, contact:

Renan Larue – renanlarue@frit.ucsb.edu
Jonathan Dickstein – jhdickstein@ucsb.edu