Animals and Religion Sessions at the 2020 AAR Virtual Meeting

In this last year, I took on the responsibility of co-chairing the Animals and Religion group at the American Academy of Religion. Over the last decade I have benefitted greatly from the conversations and collegiality that I’ve found in this group and it’s an honor to have a role in organizing more of that. Co-Chair Barbara Ambros and I, along with the help of an excellent steering committee, have organized four of the panels below (and are helping to support and promote the book panel). I am posting these here so that I can point to all the Animals and Religion sessions in one place. If you’re an AAR-goer consider attending some of these virtual panels!

Buddhism and Animal Ethics :: Monday, November 30th, 4p–5:30p EST

Animal Ethics has recently emerged as a focus of philosophical and religious inquiry. Scholars have debated how much responsibility humans have for animals, how best to promote animal welfare, and what the precise difference between human and non-human animals actually is. Buddhism has ideas and perspectives that can contribute to all of these questions. This panel explores Buddhist perspectives on Animal Ethics in both historical and contemporary philosophical perspectives. On the historical side, some contributors examine how Buddhist thinkers have understood animals and animal ethics at specific times and places. On the philosophical side, other contributors will suggest ways in which Buddhist perspectives might respond to and influence contemporary philosophical debates over animality and Animal Ethics. Taken together, these papers reflect the diversity of Buddhist approaches to animal ethics, as well as some of the ways Buddhism might help shape ongoing debates over animals.

Presenters: Daniel Capper, Alka Arora, Rachel Pang, Jeffrey Nicolaisen, Guangshuo Yang, and Geoffrey Barstow (also presiding). 

Book Panel: Theological Ethics through a Multispecies Lens by Celia Deane-Drummond :: Wednesday, December 2nd, 11a–12:30p EST

This book panel has been organized by the International Society for Science and Religion (ISSR) with the support of the Animals and Religion Group. 

There are two driving questions informing Celia Deane-Drummond’s latest book, Theological Ethics Through a Multispecies Lens (2019). The first is where does human moral life come from? The author argues against the assumption that different virtues are bolted onto a vicious animality, red in tooth and claw. By weaving in evolutionary theories and debates on the early evolution of compassion, justice and wisdom, she aims to show a richer account of who we are as moral agents. The second driving question concerns human relationships with animals. Deane-Drummond argues that animal rights frameworks are limited and presses instead for a more complex community-based multispecies approach to the moral life as such. A more radical approach is a holistic multispecies framework for moral action that is deliberately engaged with evolutionary debates, ethological research and evolutionary psychology.

Panelists: Norman Wirzba, Christopher Southgate, Grace Kao, John Berkman, Celia Deane-Drummond (responding), and Christopher Carter (presiding). 

Animality Racialized: Rethinking the Pedagogies of Subjectivity :: Thursday, December 3rd, 1:45p–3:15p EST

This session continues conversations from the 2018 and 2019 annual meetings on the mutual implication of racial difference and species difference. This year’s session focuses more explicitly on links between animality and whiteness. The first paper explores ways to use comics to teach indigenous conceptions of animal personhood to non-indigenous students. The second paper analyzes animality as foundational to Christian articulations of whiteness, not only as a lens for racializing “others” but, as a way of conceiving and practicing whiteness itself. The third paper attends to the “hookworm crusades” of the early twentieth-century to show that the white-supremacist “color-line” was simultaneously a line drawn around proper Christian religion, and a line drawn by species-discourse around cleanliness and filth. These papers will be followed by a response and open conversation.

Presenters: David Aftandilian, Eric Daryl Meyer, Timothy Burnside, Jeania Ree Moore (responding), and Adrienne Krone (presiding). 

Roundtable on Critical Animal Studies and Jewish Studies: Intersections, Open Questions, New Directions :: Monday, December 7th, 11a-1p ESTCo-Sponsored with the Study of Judaism Unit

Critical Animal Studies and Jewish Studies are not the strangers to each other that they once were. The “question of the animal” has been raised for the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud, medieval pietists, kabbalah, and modern Jewish literature, among other Jewish cultural phenomena. The aim of the roundtable on Critical Animal Studies and Jewish Studies is therefore less to bring the two fields into dialogue than to deepen the relationship by probing the gaps that remain. What questions have not yet been asked, texts not read, perspectives not aired? Which critical terms in animal studies (e.g., vulnerability, kinship, captivity) have not yet been adopted, what bodies of theory (e.g., affect, trans, crip) not yet taken up? The roundtable will thus address how to further the scholarship already in place. At the same time, participants will also consider how to reach scholars of Jewish Studies not yet fully engaged in critical animal studies who are working in areas in which animals and animality in fact play a central role. Roundtable participants will together think through the possibilities that could emerge were animals to be made more visible within Jewish culture.

Panelists: Jay Geller, Alex Weisberg, Beth Berkowitz, Mira Wasserman, Aaron Gross, Naama Harel, Ken Stone, Noam Pines, David Shyovitz, and Carol Adams (presiding) 

Ritualizing and Remembering Animal Death :: Wednesday, December 9th, 11a–1p EST

Business meeting in the last 30m. of the session

This panel explores the ritualization and remembering of animal death. The first paper investigates the commemoration of companion animals in religious communities across the U.S. that have employed discourses of creation and life to justify new practices while still re-affirming ontological differences between humans and other animals. The second paper draws connections between genocide denial and the obliviousness to human responsibility for ongoing mass extinction during the Anthropocene and utilizes notions of ‘disavowal’ and ‘haunting’ to illuminate the ideological stakes and the im/possibility of “redemption.” The third paper argues that the decimation of the once great Pte Oyate (Buffalo Nation) was a form of systematic oppression of both the Native Americans and the buffalo themselves, and should therefore be referred to as a form of genocide. We hope that the intersections of these papers will shed light the concrete implications of spiritual and religious practices for living animals.

Presenters: Barbara Ambros, Wendy Wiseman, and David Aftandilian (presiding). 

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