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It’s (the American Academy of Religion) Conference Time

It’s (the American Academy of Religion) Conference Time
I received an e-mail today thanking me for supporting the American Academy of Religion for the past 20 years and accordingly inviting me to pick up an “appreciation gift” at the upcoming meeting in Boston (Nov 18-21). Last week, my colleague Monica A. Coleman and I also led our (Claremont School of Theology’s) monthly PhD Colloquium wherein we spoke to doctoral students about academic conferences in general and the AAR in particular. Both of those events has gotten me thinking about this year’s AAR. Some of my current and former students are equal parts excited and terrified about it: they are presenting their research (a handful for the first time ever at the national level), interviewing for faculty positions, and meeting up with senior scholars. When solicited, I’ve done what I can to help prepare them for these high-pressure situations and now wish them well. Fortunately for me, this is neither a year where I am conducting interviews, nor interviewing. I do, however, have three papers to deliver (n.b. one is for a pre-conference event, so I am safely within the limit) and other professional responsibilities to attend to (viz., steering committee obligations, an editorial board meeting, appointments with current and prospective publishers). Now, about those papers…. I. The pre-conference event will be held on Friday, November 17 at the Old South Church (645 Boylston). We will be “Celebrating Asian North Americans in Theological Education with Frank Yamada.” The occasion for this session is Dr. Frank Yamada’s recent ascendancy to the Executive Director position of the Association of Theological Schools—the first Asian American to hold such a vaunted position. The panelists are Faustino Cruz, Boyung Lee, James Lee, and me. Along with the ATS, the panel discussion and dinner is sponsored by a host of Asian American organizations (please see the flier). I do look forward to this most happy occasion.   II. On Sunday (1-2:30pm, Hynes Convention Center-108 (Plaza Level), I’ll be on a “Teaching Animals and Religion” panel that is jointly sponsored by Animals and Religion and Teaching Religion. Here’s the description (A19-206): David Aftandilian, Texas Christian University, Presiding For this roundtable, presenters will discuss 1 or 2 specific pedagogical approaches that they have found to work well in teaching about animals and religion. Presenters have been selected to represent a wide range of types of institutions, courses, and instructional practices. Many are also senior scholars in the field who will bring years of experience in teaching about animals and religion to the roundtable. To allow more presenters to participate, and to leave more time for audience participation, the roundtable will follow a lightning-style format. In 5 to 6 minutes each presenter will specify the contexts (type of institution and course) within which they have taught using this approach, describe the pedagogical practice, and discuss how both they and their students have assessed its success. Finally, the audience will be invited to share their own practices of teaching (and learning) about animals and religion in various contexts. Panelists: Eric D. Mortensen, Guilford College Jay McDaniel, Hendrix College Aaron Gross, University of San Diego Barbara K. Darling-Smith, Wheaton College Barbara Ambros, University of North Carolina David Clough, University of Chester Lea Schweitz, Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago Grace Kao, Claremont School of Theology I look forward to talking about my pedagogical approach in the Animal Theology & Ethics course that I’ve taught on three separate occasions since I began working with graduate students in 2009.   III. On Monday (9am-11:30am, Sheraton Boston-Beacon B (Third Level)), I’ll be a part of another panel with the theme “Animal Expression, Theological Thought: How Animal Encounters Ground Theological Construction.” Here’s the description (A20-104):...
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Speaking Up for Animals

Speaking Up for Animals
“I hope that readers will rethink their consumer choices, monies that have long been offered at the expense of nonhuman animals–overwhelmingly female and exploited because of their female biology. We choose where our money goes, and in the process, we choose whether to boycott cruelty and support change, or melt ambiguously back into the masses.”   This passage nearly concludes Lisa Kemmerer’s Introduction to her Speaking Up for Animals: An Anthology of Women’s Lives (Paradigm Publishers, 2012). Her book is divided into three parts: (1) Pondering what I put into my mouth, (2) Working for wildlife, (3) Potpourri: From dancing bears to undercover investigation. We find in this anthology 18 powerful stories of women animal advocates: women who have founded sanctuaries, volunteered in rescue and rehabilitation organizations, protested the inhumane treatment of animals in various industries, taken in stray or abandoned “pets,” gone vegan, and/or engaged in other forms of animal activism. I was deeply moved by this book. All the contributors report working as animal advocates out of some combination of pity or compassion for animal suffering and outrage at the injustice of their exploitation by fellow human beings. But each does so in a way that is deeply personal and narratively powerful. As readers, we are not simply introduced to an abstract concept of “animal cruelty,” we are told about Hilda, a still-live sheep that was literally discarded as trash on a stockyard “dead pile”–and then we learn how that shocking discovery led Lorri Houston to cofound Farm Sanctuary, the first shelter in the country for farmed animals. We read about Tua Rohd, a severely injured and “bare recognizable” gibbon who was captured from the wild in Thailand for the exotic pet trade. While recounting this story, Amy Corrigan, Director of Research and Education for the Animal Concerns Reserach and Education Society (ACRES) in Singapore, shares that she was “emotionally crushed” when this gentle creature died in her arms after only surviving a few days post-rescue. These chapters reveal real wisdom. One contributor, scholar-activist Dana Medoro, notes the importance of being “dexterous” when advocating for animals because “it’s difficult for people to absorb the shock of the information about all of the hateful ways in which humans treat and use animals.” Many others speak freely about the anguish, guilt, and grief they regularly experience in the work they do, knowing that they cannot save them all, or even most, and that they regularly face real “Sophie’s Choices” (on which animals to save and which to leave behind). What might be of particular interest to readers of this blog is the women who cite their religious commitments as motivating forces in their activist work: Anuradha Sawheny notes how her Hindu commitment to ahimsa grounds her compassionate approach to animals and accordingly her work for the Indian chapter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Linda Elin McDaniel, an ordained United Methodist Church minister and board member of the Christian Vegetarian Association describes her turn to vegetarianism as both a blessing and an enactment of her commitments to be peaceful, just, and compassionate like Jesus. For Sue Pemberton, it is her internalization of the Budddhist teachings on compassion and karma that lead her to help rehabilitate pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, walruses) at The Marine Mammal Center of Sausalito, California. Kris “Risa” Candour, an African American woman, operates a Reiki natural healing practice for humans and their animal companions in Vancouver, Canada. To be clear, the book is not simply about women “saving” animals, but in several cases of animals “rescuing” them. Lynette Shanley, the founder of two Australian organizations (one for wildcats and one for primates), writes beautifully about how her own companion animals and her...
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(Non-Human) Animals on the Agenda

(Non-Human) Animals on the Agenda
“[E]thical interest in nonhuman animals is flourishing.” 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 those of you who are feminist and religious think about the following...
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