Fiona is the editor of Plantpuree, a website that celebrates vegan living. With over 20 years in diet & fitness, fashion, and beauty, she brings a wealth of knowledge and a unique perspective to her work and writing on veganism.
Estimated reading time: 17 minutes
People often attempt to undermine veganism by making false comparisons with religious passion, hoping to portray vegans as naive, impractical and ignorant. These accusations often stem from different motives such as the idea that animals are essential for nutrition and economic growth, through to taste preference and personal/philosophical convictions which allow animal exploitation for food, clothing or other purposes.
Whatever the reasons, the idea that veganism is a religion couldn’t be further from the truth. While the term “religion” is typically associated with a system of beliefs and practices involving respect for or worship of some type of divine being, veganism does not follow this definition.
You don’t need to have faith in a higher being or even pay homage to one in order to be vegan. Neither do you have to subscribe to a certain set of rules or dogma. On the contrary, you just have to believe in the principles of kindness, compassion and respect for ALL living beings.
And it is because of these ethical principles that in 2020 veganism qualified as a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010 – a legal framework which ensures individuals are not discriminated against because of their beliefs.
Despite not being a religion, however, it can still be argued that veganism has a spiritual/religious nature. This is especially evident in its core values such as nonviolence and respect for all living beings. Furthermore, veganism can also be seen as an expression of compassion and empathy- two values which are deeply embedded in many religions around the world.
One thing is for certain, veganism has become a central part of many people’s lifestyles – drastically changing how we perceive the world. And for that reason alone, it is well worth exploring the fascinating relationship between veganism and religion.
Table of Contents
What is a Religion?
Religion is often a core part of many lives, offering people comfort and direction through difficult periods in their lives as well as offering them an inclusive sense of solidarity. Faith brings comfort and guidance to believers, creating powerful bonds between those united by similar values or beliefs.
However, in order to decide whether or not veganism is a religion, it’s important to understand what exactly qualifies as a religion. There is no one answer to this question because there are so many different types of religions practiced around the world. However, most experts agree that religions have at least some of the following features (1):
Belief in a Higher Power
Belief in a higher power is one of the key characteristics of a religion. It is a central component to all religious practices, as it provides believers with a source of comfort and guidance. All major religions share this core belief, whether it is in the form of an omnipotent force or deity like God or Allah, or in abstract ideas like Karma or the “Life Force”.
Moral Code or Ethical System
Another common feature is a moral code or a system of ethics that governs how followers should behave towards others. This is usually centered around respect for all living being and may be based on the teachings of spiritual leaders or the interpretation of sacred texts. Many religions also incorporate ethical practices that are intended to benefit society as a whole, such as charitable works or community service initiatives. These serve to demonstrate the positive impact that religions can have on the world, helping believers feel connected to one another through shared values and beliefs.
Ceremonies and Rituals
Through prayer, meditation, singing, and other forms of devotional activity, religions provide believers with the opportunity to experience spiritual enlightenment. Similarly, formal ceremonies like weddings and funerals are outward expressions of belief. In short – engaging in practices or rituals associated with religion provides an incredibly powerful connection between people on earth and something divine.
Community and Shared Values
People who believe in something often feel a sense of unity with others who believe in the same thing. This connection can be found by going to places where people worship together, such as churches, temples, or mosques. People who share the same values and beliefs can come together and feel united. Likewise, spiritual connections can go beyond structured communities and reach out to spontaneous gatherings that join together for prayer or other religious practices.
Belief in an Afterlife
Many religions believe in an afterlife and reincarnation. This means that death is not the end, but just a transition to something else. This could be another life or even another body. People find comfort in knowing that there is more beyond life that we know.
Not all religions have all of these features, but most have at least some of them. Now let’s take a look at veganism and compare and contrast it against some of the basic criteria of religions to see if it meets them.
Definition of Veganism
The Vegan Society, defines veganism as “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practical, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” (2)
Many ancient cultures, such as those of India and Greece, initiated the idea of veganism out of respect for all life forms. They believed that abstaining from meat was a way to demonstrate their commitment to non-violence. This dietary transition wasn’t merely motivated by religious or ethical values, but also encompassed spiritual beliefs that honored the lives of animals.
In 1944, Donald Watson coined the term “veganism” and founded The Vegan Society in Britain, providing a foundation for modern vegans. Watson and other vegans of the past were driven by a deep-seated commitment to vegetarianism, which extended even further than just food – they wanted to ensure animals weren’t used in any way for clothing or other items. In recent years, veganism has developed tremendously – there are now many vegan products available on the market, eateries all over the globe offering plant-based menus, and countless communities uniting under this ethos.
Like many religions, veganism is a set of beliefs and values based on the idea that all living things are worthy of respect. It is rooted in compassion for animals, as well as the belief that humans should not unnecessarily harm other living beings for the sake of personal gain or pleasure. This is reflected through practices like abstaining from animal products, as well as giving donations to animal advocacy organizations.
Another key feature of veganism is its emphasis on an ethical lifestyle beyond diet – it is a holistic approach that includes making choices that minimize harm and suffering for all animals, human and non-human alike. This is reflected through the many environmental and health benefits of following this diet, as well as the conscious lifestyle choices that vegans make in terms of their clothing and cosmetics.
Overall, it is clear that veganism is a set of beliefs and practices that is rooted in principles of compassion, respect, and ethical living. While it is not always considered to be a religion like Christianity or Islam, there are many similarities between these belief systems, and it is clear that veganism is an important part of many people’s spiritual beliefs. Whether it is an official religion or not, veganism is a way of life is worth embracing.
Differences Between Veganism and Religion
While there are some similarities between veganism and religion, there are also some key differences. Veganism does not share the same widespread characteristics as organized religions, such as:
- Most religious traditions involve the reverence of a higher power or powers, such as God, Allah, and even ancient gods and goddesses. In contrast, veganism does not worship any deity.
- While numerous spiritual affiliations use prayer for guidance, penance, and gratitude, Vegans typically do not engage in this practice as part of their beliefs.
- Numerous religious believe in an afterlife, and typically contain detailed teachings regarding what will happen to the soul when a person dies. In contrast, veganism does not usually encompass any convictions concerning life after death.
- Religions often require followers to participate in vital ceremonies and celebrations, like Mass, Yom Kippur or Diwali. However, veganism does not necessitate such rituals or festivals.
- Religious scriptures: Numerous religions are grounded in sacred texts, for example the Bible, Qur’an or Bhagavad Gita, that contain heavenly disclosures and lessons. However veganism does not have any particular religious scripture.
It is clear that veganism is different from religion in a number of key ways. Veganism does not involve the worship of a higher power or religious rituals and beliefs about the afterlife. On the other hand, veganism is motivated by a desire to reduce harm to animals and the environment, and to promote health and well-being. In the next section, we will explore these motivations in more depth.
Motivations behind Veganism
While veganism is not typically seen as a religion, some individuals may view their vegan lifestyle as a spiritual or moral commitment.
There are different types of vegans and gaining an insight into the reasons someone follows veganism is key to understanding their values and convictions. Some may be driven by ethical concerns, while others choose veganism due to health benefits, environmental sustainability or religion.
By looking at the factors that shape someone’s decision to choose veganism, we are better equipped to understand their views and develop a more informed and respectful discussion about whether or not veganism is a religion, philosophy, set of secular beliefs or an ideology
Abolitionist vegans, also known as ethical vegans, lead lives that strictly follow the definition of veganism according to The Vegan Society. They ardently oppose animal exploitation and abuse in all its forms.
Ethical vegans make sure to source items from companies that don’t exploit animals at all, be it for food or clothing products. Similarly, they do not take part in any types of entertainment where the animal is abused – such as horse racing and zoos.
Animal rights philosopher Gary Francione claims that any approach which aims to enhance animal welfare is the “moral baseline” of veganism. He firmly believes that those who permit animals to be used in certain conditions are not true vegans (3).
Health-conscious vegans have entirely removed animal products from their diets, but they may use them in other ways such as in their clothing. They embrace an exclusively plant-based diet purely for the numerous health benefits that it offers.
Research indicates that individuals who consume a high quantity of meat are more likely to contract cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Alternately, people who avoid consuming animal-based products have significantly lower rates of death due to these same illnesses. (4)
Numerous studies demonstrate that following a vegan diet can be beneficial in encouraging weight loss, reducing obesity rates and improving gut health. Research suggests that there are considerable advantages to transitioning to this type of eating plan. (5,6,7)
Health vegans, who do not observe the Vegan Society’s definition of veganism, have been criticized by ethical vegans for using the term “vegan” to describe themselves. For them, health vegans aren’t true vegans; they are strict vegetarians that maintain a plant-based diet and refuse to condone any form of animal exploitation.
From an ethical vegan perspective, veganism is a moral and political decision while opting for plant-based nutrition is merely a matter of health.
Environmental vegans are passionate about protecting the planet from any potential damage caused by animal agriculture. Consequently, they make mindful decisions to reduce their environmental impact – like following veganism.
The consequences of livestock breeding on our planet’s resources are tremendous. It requires a large amount of land and water, resulting in significant deforestation. In fact, 8% of all human water use is allocated towards the animal agriculture industry to irrigate crops for the animals’ consumption. (8)
According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, “each year, billions of hectares of forest area are lost due to agricultural uses as pastures or feed production from crops for livestock.” (9)
In addition, cattle rearing is the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon, with an astonishing 480,000 kilometers of land converted to pastures from 1988 to 2014 due to practices such as clear-cutting. This destruction has had a detrimental effect on our planet and its inhabitants. (10)
Not only does this exploit regional water and soil nutrients, but it also has a devastating effect on biodiversity. In fact, researchers believe that if we don’t act soon to reform our food system then the earth’s resources will be completely exhausted by 2050. This is an unsustainable path that requires drastic change now in order to ensure a future for generations to come. (11)
What’s more, climatologists believe that agricultural activities such as raising livestock for meat and leather are having a detrimental effect on our climate and driving climate change. (12,13)
Greta Thunberg solidified her commitment to veganism for environmental causes based on the research of scientists. Like the scientists, Greta believes that if we want to preserve our Earth, then it is essential that consumption of animal products ceases and a transition is made towards veganism. By taking this approach, we not only maximize the use of resources and limit our contribution to global warming but also protect the planet ensure a brighter tomorrow for generations to come. (14)
Just as ethical veganism advocates for doing good and causing no harm, environmental veganism encourages us to think carefully about our actions, selecting choices that will benefit all of humanity – including generations yet to come – and the planet we inhabit.
Religion and Spirituality
With strong faith-based convictions, religious and spiritual vegans are motivated by their beliefs to avoid consuming animal products.
There are many different types of religious veganism, including vegan Hinduism, vegan Buddhism, vegan Rastafarianism, and vegan Jainism. Note that Buddhist vegans, Jain vegans, etc reach beyond the vegetarianism of their traditions to adhere better to the practice of kindness and do no harm to others.
All of these traditions place a strong emphasis on non-violence towards all living beings as part of their core philosophy. For this reason, they often discourage or even forbid the consumption of animals and animal products.
The concept of “ahimsa” means “not harming” or “not causing injury.” This is an important idea in some religions, and may be one of the reasons why some people choose to be vegan. Jainism and Taoism are two other religious traditions that also teach that it is important to not hurt other living beings.
Not only inspired by spiritual or religious principles, veganism could also be seen to be a way of reaching personal enlightenment and growth. Some may see it as a method to cultivate compassion, kindness, mindfulness—to align their actions with values and beliefs. Going vegan is thus an avenue for deepening one’s spirituality while being able to express values in tangible ways.
Ultimately, the relationship between veganism and religion is a fascinating one that highlights the intersection of ethical and spiritual values.
If you choose to follow a vegan lifestyle for moral or religious reasons, you are part of a growing movement that embraces the well-being of all living beings and promotes kindness and compassion towards others.
Similarities Between Veganism and Religion
There are several similarities between veganism and traditional religions that explain why many argue that veganism has a religious nature.
Vegans may experience a powerful sense of unity and connection with one another due to their shared mission in protecting animals from harm. This bond of solidarity can provide practical support, camaraderie, belonging, and comfort- similar to the kind felt by those within traditional religions. Veganism is much more than an individual choice; it has become a communal movement that celebrates the connection between humankind and all living creatures through compassion.
A sense of community is often found in both vegan and religious circles. Much like those who practice religion, vegans tend to congregate to express their ideals and lift each other up. This can be seen through digital platforms such as Facebook groups, Meetup events, or local gatherings for vegetarian-friendly restaurants and cafés. As with any traditional faith system there is an emphasis on kindness and acceptance amongst the members of the community; many vegans extend this sentiment by offering resources or knowledge that might benefit others within the group.
Veganism and religion are not just similar in the act of abstaining from animal products. At their core lies a shared value – that of compassion for all living beings, an idea which is fundamental to most religious teachings. The concept of “ahimsa” or non-violence can be found within many faith traditions, encouraging individuals to recognize the violence associated with slaughtering animals as wrong. Some even go so far as saying we have a responsibility towards protecting life itself – an essential belief throughout numerous religions around the world.
Vegans can be brought together by their shared values and beliefs, making it a huge part of who they are. Animal rights is something that many vegans hold close to their hearts and make sure to follow in what they eat, wear, and support daily. By believing strongly in these core principles of veganism, it forms an even stronger bond amongst them all.
Protected Belief Systems
Both veganism and religious practices may be acknowledged as protected belief systems. Ethical veganism is now considered a philosophical belief under anti-discrimination law in countries like the UK, which provides vegans with protection from discrimination in many aspects of their lives. This legal standing for ethical vegans has been likened to how traditional religions are safeguarded by similar laws.
To some, veganism is just as powerful and significant a part of their identity as religion is to others. It becomes an intrinsic element of who they are – from what they eat, drink, and purchase to how much time they devote to the community around them. As with any belief system in life, veganism can be deeply rooted in one’s sense of self and is an important part of their overall identity. It’s more than just a lifestyle choice but rather something that brings profound fulfillment.
Diversity and Tolerance
Finally, veganism and religion share a number of similarities, including an appreciation for diversity and tolerance. Both are welcoming to people from all backgrounds who may hold different beliefs or practices. This open-mindedness is essential in the vegan community, creating a connection to traditional religious values.
Some philosophers and academics, such as Dr. Will Tuttle and Dr. Paul Waldau have argued that veganism can be seen as a kind of “religion” or “secular faith.” (15,16) These arguments suggest that veganism is much more than just a dietary choice; it involves an ethical and spiritual commitment to reducing animal suffering while living in harmony with the environment. As such, it is argued that veganism can be thought of as a type of moral or religious statement made by those who practice its beliefs and principles.
Nevertheless, these points of view are not commonly supported. The majority of philosophers and academics don’t consider veganism to be a “religion” in the traditional sense, as it is largely associated with non-theistic beliefs and is not centered around a specific god or deity.
Is Veganism a Philosophy
Having looked at the characteristics of both religion and veganism, it is clear that there is some overlap between the two. Both involve a deep commitment to one’s beliefs and values, as well as respect diversity and tolerance. However, ultimately veganism is mostly rooted in non-religious concerns about animal rights and environmental protection. And so far our discussion indicates that religion is too narrow a category for veganism. So if it’s not a religion, is veganism perhaps a philosophy?
Religion and philosophy are two distinct concepts, with major differences between them. Religion involves worshipping a higher power or powers, as well as the role of that power in an individual’s life and in society at large. Meanwhile, philosophical beliefs are based on personal conscience, moral values, convictions or principles which don’t necessarily have to link to any faith or godly figure.
So while it is not quite the same as religion, veganism is certainly a philosophy. It is an ethical system that promotes living in harmony with the environment and all forms of life, grounded in a deep sense of compassion and care for other beings.
And for those who practice its principles, veganism is undoubtedly a way of life – one that is both deeply meaningful and rewarding.
It’s important to understand that the question of whether veganism should be deemed a religion is much more than an academic exercise. If it were to gain legal recognition as a faith or philosophical point-of-view in more countries than the UK, this could have tangible effects for vegans across the world in their daily life, particularly around protection under anti-discrimination laws.
Not only can recognizing veganism as a religion or philosophical belief bring about cultural and social implications, but it may likewise make the wider community better understand and respect vegans. If people are more aware of this lifestyle’s importance, they will be more likely to rally behind those who practice it. This could result in an increase of acceptance and tolerance of veganism.
Is veganism a religion? Not directly, however, it’s undeniable that many people who go vegan do so out of deeply-rooted moral and spiritual convictions. Much like traditional religions, they express their beliefs through the actions they take – such as following plant-based diets or leading more ethical lives. In this way the relationship between Veganism and religion is unmistakable.
Is Veganism A Cult? Debunking The Myths and Misinformation
Complete Guide To Vegan Cereal UK & US (And What To Avoid)
(13) Eshel, G., et al. 2014. Land, irrigation water, greenhouse gas, and reactive nitrogen burdens of meat, eggs, and dairy production in the United States. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(33), pp.11996-12001.