Aaron S. Gross
Assistant Professor, Theology and Religious Studies
Aaron S. Gross is a historian of religions who focuses on modern and contemporary Jewish thought and ethics. He has a sub-specialty in South Asian religious traditions. Thematically Gross’s work centers on the study of animals and religion, and food and religion. He is active in the leadership of the Society for Jewish Ethics and the American Academy of Religion’s Animals and Religion Group, and founded and serves as CEO of the nonprofit advocacy organization, Farm Forward. His new book, The Question of the Animal and Religion: Theoretical Stakes, Practical Implications (Columbia University Press 2015), makes a case for elevating the category of the animal in the study of religion through an investigation into recent, high-profile scandals involving one of the largest kosher slaughterhouses in the world, located unexpectedly in Postville, Iowa.
Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara Department of Religious Studies
M.T.S., Harvard Divinity School
B.A., Grinnell College; Philosophy
Scholarly and Creative Work
His active research projects include the study of contemporary American Jewish thought and practice, especially as it is related to the significance of animals, race, and food practices. Gross also has a comparative interest in South Asian traditions (various forms of Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism). His new book, The Question of the Animal and Religion: Theoretical Stakes, Practical Implications (Columbia University Press 2015), makes a case for elevating the category of the animal in the study of religion through an investigation into recent, high-profile scandals involving one of the largest kosher slaughterhouses in the world, located unexpectedly in Postville, Iowa. His 2012 co-edited volume, Animal Others and the Human Imagination: A Companion to Animal Studies (Colombia University Press), reflects cross-culturally on the growth of animal studies as an independent field and the rise of "animality" as a critical lens through which to analyze society and culture, on a par with race and gender. His work has been published in the Central Conference of American Rabbis Journal; Critical Research on Religion; Horizons, The Journal of the College Theology Society; Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies; the popular periodical Tikkun Magazine; and in numerous academic encyclopedias and edited volumes including The Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception (De Gruyter, forthcoming), The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Ethics and Morality (Oxford University Press 2013), Animals as Religious Subjects: Transdisciplinary Perspectives (T&T Clark 2013), and The Encyclopedia of Food Issues (Sage 2015).
Gross views the study of religion as inherently interdisciplinary and his teaching draws especially on anthropology, critical theory, philosophy, sociology, and theology. Gross teaches survey courses on world religions and upper division courses on Jewish traditions. In addition to expanding the offering of upper level courses on Jewish traditions, he teaches thematic courses on animals and religion, and food and religion. While Gross teaches about Jewish traditions in all periods, he puts a special emphasis on modern and contemporary Jewish thought and practice, especially in North and South America. As a specialist in Judaism committed to the ideals of a liberal arts education, Gross emphasizes that understanding Jewish traditions provides essential information for a critical understanding of such important modern Western concepts as race, ethnicity, multiculturalism, nation, law, spirituality, ritual, religion, and religious freedom.
Gross’s classes emphasize religion in the everyday, religion as “meaning making”, the theoretical basis for the academic study of religion, ethical traditions, and critical attention to race, sex, and gender. He also focuses on building core skills including thesis-driven writing, close reading skills, sympathetic understanding, ethical reasoning, and critical and comparative thinking. In classroom presentations Gross utilizes a variety of media including material culture, images, video, and a wide range of websites. Pedagogical approaches Gross favors include interactive lecturing, discussion, small group work, guest speakers, and site visits.