To my delight, the New York Times recently chronicled the growing scholarly interest in human/non-human animal interactions in a story entitled “Animal Studies Cross Campus to Lecture Hall.” There are now more than 100 courses in colleges and universities in the burgeoning field of animal studies. At least 40 U.S. law schools now routinely offer courses in animal law. A growing number of formal academic programs, book series, journals, conferences, institutes, and fellowships are also dedicated to (re)examining human-animal relations from a variety of disciplinary perspectives—“art, literature, sociology, anthropology, film, theater, philosophy, [and] religion,” to name a few.
Indeed, in my academic field of specialization, philosophical and religious ethics, the total bracketing of “the animal question” is now untenable, as our human use and consumption of animals have long become serious and respectable topics of analysis. Case in point: Peter Singer’s seminal Animal Liberation (1975), a book widely recognized as having spearheaded the contemporary animal movement, regularly appears in applied ethics anthologies and in philosophy Ph.D qualifying exam reading lists.
Admittedly, Singer’s view that the interests of nonhuman animals should be counted equally alongside of those of humans remains a minority position—even among scholars and activists devoted to improving animal welfare. Nevertheless, most ethicists today, regardless of their personal proclivities toward encompassing nonhuman animals in their sphere of moral concern, are being pressed to give reasoned responses to the claims or platforms of animal protectionists.
On the day that this blog is to be published, approximately 600 Christian, Jewish, and Muslim ethicists will be convening in Washington, D.C. for the annual meetings of the Society of Christian Ethics (SCE), Society of Jewish Ethics (SJE), and Society for the Study of Muslim Ethics (SSME). A glance at the joint program book alone will reveal that ethical interest in nonhuman animals is flourishing:
- Rabbi Julia Watts Belser will be presenting a SCE paper entitled “”Suffering Rabbis and Other Animals: Theorizing the Connections between Animal Ethics, Jewish Feminist Animal Ethics in Conversation with Passage from Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metsia 83b-85a.”
- Haley Rose Glaholt will be presenting a SJE paper entitled “Illuminated by the Inner Light: Victorian Quakers Negotiate Species Hierarchy and Moral Significance.”
- The SSME will be hosting a session entitled “The Use and Abuse of Creation: Animas and Sustainability in Islamic Ethics.” Panelists and papers include
– Kecia Ali, “Muslims and Meat-Eating: Vegetarianism, Ethics, and Identity”
– Irene Oh, “An Islamic Ethic of Eating for the 21st Century: Balancing Food Choice, Piety, and Sustainability”
– Robert Tappan, “Islamic Bioethics and Animal Research: The Case of Iran”
- I will also be presenting the central findings of my book in two separate sessions at the SCE. While the word “animal” doesn’t appear in my book’s title (and thus, not in the program book notes either), I discuss therein the ways in which claims of human rights bear upon those of animal rights and vice versa.
I should add that animals were also definitely on the agenda at the recently concluded 2011 annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion as well. In addition to numerous sessions, panels, and solo papers that could be categorized under the heading of animal studies, there was also one well-attended preconference workshop that was jointly sponsored by the Sustainability Task Force and the Animals and Religion Consultation entitled “Teaching About Religion and Sustainability: The Animal Question.”
In future blogs I will discuss how and why my Christian and ecofeminist commitments led me to change some of my beliefs, practices, and patterns of relating to nonhuman animals.
For now, however, I am curious to know what readers of www.feminismandreligion.com think about the following questions:
(1) How do your feminist commitments (if any) affect the way you conceptualize or interact with nonhuman animals?
(2) How do your religious commitments (if any) affect the way you conceptualize or interact with nonhuman animals?
(3) How do you explain or account for the recent scholarly interest in the “question of the animal”?
Grace Yia-Hei Kao is Associate Professor of Ethics at Claremont School of Theology. She will be teaching her Animal Theology, Animal Ethics course again in Spring 2013. Read more about her work on her website.
My students and family at a class field to Animal Acres–a farm animal rescue and refuge in the greater Los Angeles area