J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace: Professors of Desire, the Grace of Animals, and the Soul of South Africa
Neil Besner, Professor of English, University of Winnipeg
Coetzee’s 1999 Booker Prize winning novel frames its stark questions about contemporary relations between human beings and animals amid its stories of the strained history of South African race relations and the strained politics of current gender relations. Rather than provide answers to these and other dilemmas, the novel engages readers in the protagonist’s struggle to understand his own complicity in his nation’s, his family’s, and his own internecine dualities of flesh and spirit, body and soul.
King Nebuchadnezzar and the Animal Mind (Daniel 4)
Jared Beverly, Doctoral Student, Chicago Theological Seminary, Chicago, Illinois
The case of King Nebuchadnezzar’s animal episode in Daniel 4 has inspired much speculation, typically leading interpreters to read it medically as a case of lycanthropy (or possibly boanthropy) or psychologically as a case of madness. All of these interpretations pathologize animality. In this paper, however, I argue that the Hebrew Bible has a complicated relationship to animality, demonstrating at least two views about animals and knowledge: one which casts them as ignorant and stupid (e.g., Ps 73:22; Job 18:3) and one which celebrates their knowledge, especially knowledge of the divine (e.g., Prov 30:24–28; Ps 148:7, 10). Rather than reading Nebuchadnezzar’s experience through the former tradition that is negative toward animal intelligence, I offer an alternative reading in which nonhuman animals are seen as having knowledge and, particularly relevant in Nebuchadnezzar’s case, even a special knowledge of the divine. Thus, drawing on Hebrew Bible scholars as well as voices from animal studies, especially scholarship around animal cognition, I show that the king’s animalization need not be read as punishment or madness but rather as an experience that is meant to educate him. When Nebuchadnezzar is given the “mind of an animal” (4:13 MT), this need not be a reduction to insanity; on the contrary, the end goal of his experience is to reach a better knowledge of the “Most High” (4:29 MT) through the animal mind. Finally, I briefly conclude with thoughts about how this interpretation avoids the pitfalls of conflating animality with madness and its relevance for rhetoric around mental health and animal ethics today.
An Edenic Rebirth: Becoming-Compost through Natural Burial
Sarah Bezan, Research Affiliate (University of Manitoba Institute for the Humanities)
Focusing on the natural burial initiatives of Jae-Rhim Lee and Katrina Spade, this paper makes a case for a rebirth of the human through the inter-species collaborations made possible in natural burial. As the agents of necrophagous processes, organisms like blowflies, beetles, fungi, and worms facilitate the corporeal breakdown of the dead into the constitutive parts of new bodies and environments. As such, Lee and Spade’s projects remind us of our embeddedness in a riotous community of nonhuman organisms. Natural burial initiatives thereby signal a shift in cultural perspectives of life and death: where we once hygienically sequestered the corpse from the natural elements through the use of vaults, grave liners, embalming fluids, and lead coffins, natural burial initiatives are now embracing the organic contribution of the human corpse to the ecosystem.
Lee’s Mushroom Burial Suit is infused with detoxifying mushroom spores, transforming the dead body “into vital nutrients that enrich the earth and foster new life.” Similarly, Katrina Spade’s Urban Death Project is an award-winning compost-based renewal system that literally metamorphosizes dead bodies into mulch. Inaugurating a necroecological assemblage out of bodies, fungi, and other organisms, both projects compose a narrative of bodily rebirth, thereby installing a new vision of death that initiates an intensive web of belonging with the environment. Fostering an ethics of enclosure, natural burial systems imagine death as a regenerative and affirmative inter-species relationship with nonhuman life.
Divine Canines: Victorian Sentimental Dog Poetry and the Argument for the Inclusion of Dogs in Heaven
Vivi Dabee, Doctoral Student, English, Film and Theatre, University of Manitoba
During the rabies panic of the nineteenth century, conflicting responses towards dogs in Victorian society were well documented in a variety of discourses. Specifically, letters appearing in the London Times illustrate a pervasive fear of dogs among Victorians incited by the potential risk of lethal, rabid infection. In contrast, poems about dogs also published at this time sentimentalized canines as beloved pets. While critics such as Teresa Mangum discuss the many ways in which Victorians memorialized their pets, including the writing, she only gives brief mention to sentimental dog poetry. I, however, will delve deeply into the Victorian tradition and argue that the canine love and loyalty depicted in these poems provide an alternative response to the portrayal of dogs as demons perpetuated by the press and redeems the intimate bond between pet dogs and the humans who cared for them. Furthermore, I will assert that the argument for the admission of pet dogs into heaven articulated in these poems demonstrates the early presence of post-humanist thinking that challenges the human/non-human animal hierarchy that prevailed both in life and in death for Victorians and calls for the deconstruction of this hierarchy in favour of a more inclusive attitude towards interspecies connection. Thus, poetry becomes a petition for the inclusion of dogs into heaven.
An-Archy and Kenosis: Non-violent Options for Violent Ecologies
Matt Eaton, Assistant Professor, Religious Studies, Fordham University
A criticism against pan-incarnational theologies is that if divinity incarnates all existence, everything, including violence—whether of human, animal, or elemental origin—is good. I suggest that such criticism is unwarranted and that it is possible to think pan-incarnationaly without baptizing violence. I suggest that pan-incarnational theologies sufficiently call violence into question when they understand material resistance to suffering as synonymous with divine expression, thus calling violent ecologies into question. I explore this position in relation to interspecies animal violence—specifically between domestic cats and birds, observed from human horizons—in the context of a theological kenosis that takes on an an-archic temporal structure. An-archic kenosis calls violence into question by the authority of the animal vulnerability that resists death and, following philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, makes ethics possible. This inevitably leads to difficulties insofar as different bodies offer contrary ethical claims when violence against one becomes necessary for another’s vitality. In these contexts, an an-archic kenosis wherein divinity faces and calls itself into question suggests the impossibility of establishing hierarchies of suffering and useless to construct theodicies that apologize for violence as unambiguously good. Consequently, violent ecologies are called into question despite making vibrancy and life possible. Violence may be necessary to have a world, but it is not necessary to consider it good. Thus, a theological ethic arises wherein we might question anthropogenic violence toward other animals, beings, and Earth itself, and rebel, insofar as possible, against systems that exacerbate violence without seeking the greatest peace possible.
Cultivating Empathy: The Photojournalism of Jo-Anne McArthur
Jason Hannan, Associate Professor, Rhetoric, Reading and Communications, University of Winnipeg
This paper explores the work of the Canadian photojournalist Jo-Anne McArthur. A prominent global voice for animals, McArthur is best known for her 2013 book, We Animals — a collection of photographs of both wild and domesticated animals in different human environments. Her collection has been widely praised both for its extraordinary beauty and for capturing the tragic character of animals living under various forms of human subjugation. McArthur’s work raises critical questions about the rhetorical power of visual images for shaping emotion and judgment. What is it about a photograph that enables us to empathize with its subject? What is it about animal photography in particular that enables us reach across the biological divide and empathize with the non-human? How does animal photography transform our ethical relationships with non-human animals? Drawing from the work of the Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, this paper performs a visual analysis of McArthur’s photojournalism. I argue that We Animals, by inviting the reader to confront the faces of its non-human subjects, signals a moment of what Levinas calls “interruption”: when the seamlessness of our everyday social relationships is broken by the ethical force of the Other. We Animals, in capturing the faces of non-human animals living under human power and domination, enables those faces to speak to us and to make ethical demands upon our conscience.
Our Intertwined Animality: Merleau-Ponty and Eschatological Conceptions of Flesh
Timothy Harvie, Associate Professor, Philosophy and Ethics, St. Mary’s University, Alberta
Questions pertaining to non-human animals have gained momentum in academic theology. Recent attempts to make sense of the theological significance of the more-than-human world, and other animals in particular, have worked to help theologians reconceive of the moral implications of human interactions with other species and the theological significance of the growing body of literature on animal intelligence, culture, morality, and even animal religion. In particular, the relationship between incarnational themes (Clough, 2012) when articulating the importance of a common evolution history and the evolutionary development of both the human and non-human have resulted in creative syntheses of Christian ideas and currents in animal studies. This paper seeks to critically expand upon these through an analysis of the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty and his development of a chiasmic notion of flesh in what he called “the intertwining” of humans, animality, and nature. This analysis will draw out the relationality of animal flesh in the perceptual field of the natural world. Such a relational account explicates the entanglements between humans and other animals as relational beings set in a natural world that is revelatory. The account developed by Merleau-Ponty is brought into conversation with ethological studies examining morality and relationality in the more-than-human world. In bringing contemporary studies together with Merleau-Ponty’s thought, the paper follows the French phenomenologist’s own method and uses this as a launching point to discuss the temporality of human and animal flesh. In exploring the entangled relations between humans, other animals, and nature, this paper concludes in arguing that evolving animal flesh indicates the eschatological dimensions nascent in incarnational thought, but receives scientific and philosophical expansion through Merleau-Ponty’s embodied relational ontology. Thus, eschatology maintains its temporal dimensions, but is newly revelatory as an animal reality through nature’s differentiated flesh. Such eschatological participation reorients human perception of other animals as moral beings in relationship with the divine.
Beastly Virtues? ‘Second Nature’ in Human and Non-Human Animals
James Helmer, Assistant Professor, Theology Department, Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH
In a series of articles and in her recent book, The Wisdom of the Liminal, systematic theologian Celia Deane-Drummond has sought to articulate a theological anthropology that is sensitive to continuities in thought, emotion, language, and morality between human and non-human social animals. In situating “the human” in this way, Deane-Drummond proposes a “performative” interpretation of the Image of God that both locates the evolutionary process of human becoming within the dynamic process of salvation history (and hence, in relation to the mysteries of Creation and Redemption), and also preserves traditional emphases on the Imago Dei - understood in terms of the possession and exercise of various (cognitive and/or relational) capacities - while recognizing the distinctive ethical and spiritual vocations of both human and non-human animals.
In this paper, I engage critically with Deane-Drummond's constructive proposal, focusing more specifically on her comparative discussion of human and non-human animal moral agency and its relation to evolutionary and cultural processes. Deane-Drummond is not unique among Christian theologians in considering questions related to the moral cognition and moral affectivity of non-human animals; however, her sustained treatment of the question of “non-human animal culture” (i.e., behavioral traditions exhibiting social patterns of imitative learning in non-human animals) renders her account distinctive. Although the idea of non-human animal “culture” remains controversial – in that advocates (such as Frans DeWaal, William McGrew, Andrew Whiten, and Christophe Boesch) selectively argue for the analogous extension of the concepts of “culture” and “tradition” to non-human primates, and critics (such as Michael Tomasello) object to this analogous extension on the basis that non-human primates lack some particular cognitive capacity required for such attribution – critical engagement with the ongoing debate concerning the nature of animal culture can serve, first, to deepen our understanding of human cognitive-linguistic distinctiveness (while not precluding altogether the possibility of recognizing a non-human analogue), but second, and more critically, to illustrate how the evolutionary phenomena of prosociality and of human cooperation can be further analyzed and (non-reductively) explained in terms of these distinctive cognitive-linguistic capabilities.1 While neither identifying normative patterns of cultural activity applicable to the human context, nor providing direct insight into the nature of processes of human ethical formation, given that there appears to be an ineliminable link between cognition, language, and the patterns and processes of cooperation in the human instance, a deeper comparative understanding of cultural behavior in human and non-human social animals is nevertheless of value in arriving at a deeper understanding of human being in theological and evolutionary perspective.
Beyond Preaching to the Birds: Catholic Traditions, More-Than-Human Animals, and Deep Green Participatory Politics
Christopher William Hrynkow, Associate Professor, Department of Religion and Culture, St.
Thomas More College, University of Saskatchewan.
This paper will map the support for a political ethic of deep green participation as it can be sourced by drawing upon Catholic traditions. More specifically, what will be proposed is a green theo-ecoethical praxis of participation that has a goal of fostering spaces for the interests of more-than-human animals to enter political processes in a tangible and mutually-enhancing manner. Building upon the premise that St. Francis’ preaching to the birds was not a mere analogy, of particular concern to this paper will be the roles of more-than-human animals within a proposed Catholic ethic of deep green participatory politics. To situate the Catholicity of its arguments, the present paper will name some antecedents for its proposal drawn from thinkers and mystics, many of whom served the Roman Catholic Church in vocational manner, such as Clare of Assisi, Francis of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, Thomas Aquinas, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Dianne Bergant, Anne Primavesi, Ilia Delio, Dawn Nothwehr, and Pope Francis. It will also draw upon explicit articulations of deep green politics from Catholic thinkers, inclusive of Thomas Berry’s “biocracy” and Leonardo Boff’s “socio-cosmic democracy.” These diverse sources will be synthesized with a normative goal of articulating an aspirational, Catholic, and green theo-ecoethical approach to participatory politics, which is founded upon an integral worldview that holds all things have intrinsic moral worth, are related, and inextricably exist within a sacred whole. As a result, this paper proposed participatory political approach names, acknowledges, and works to incarnate substantive roles for more-than-human animals in decision making processes on this sacred Earth. In this deep green light, a significant potential confluence between religiously-inspired ecological ethics and animal ethics, sometimes conceived as almost akin to two solitudes, will be presented to the conference participants for their consideration.
Like a Dog Returns to His Own Vomit: Ruminations on the Production of Animalizing Hate in 2nd Peter
Jeong, Dong Hyeon, Ph.D. Candidate, New Testament, Drew University
In animating his vitriol against the false prophets, the author of 2nd Peter compared his opponents with irrational animals, dogs who return to their vomit, and newly washed sows who wallow in the mud (2 Pet 2:22). Such animalization from the perspective of the author of 2nd Peter could have been warranted because the opponents’ teachings/lifestyle apparently represented the blots and blemishes to the pure and perfect eternal kingdom of God. The author of 2nd Peter denied and replaced the supposed “human” ontology of the false prophets with nonhumans’ for their lawlessness and unrighteous ways. In a certain sense, the author of 2nd Peter could have intended to keep his animalizing rhetoric in the stratum of the literary. And yet, this paper argues that the walls that divide the ontologies of humans and nonhumans in 2nd Peter are porous and transgressive. Working with Jacques Derrida’s animality concept called limitrophy (a strategy of complicating the Cartesian human-nonhuman dichotomy by questioning what feeds the limits of separation), this paper first delves into the multiplicity of animalizing rhetoric spewed against the false prophets in 2nd Peter as a way to demonstrate the complexity and fluidity of human-nonhuman ontologies already transgressing in the text. Moreover, this paper explores the ontological fragile grounds in which the listeners of 2nd Peter or “the beloved” (2 Pet 3:1,14) are measured due to the strict qualifications for being a follower of Jesus Christ. If the false prophets were once stalwarts of the way of righteousness but reverted back to lawlessness due to entanglements with corruption (2 Pet 2:20-21), then the beloved are warned to not fall into lawlessness or into recidivism (2 Pet 3:17) because they are not exempt from receiving the penalty of animalization. In all these, this paper argues that 2nd Peter has a verso side to its chapters in which the hidden blueprint for what feeds the transgressions of human-nonhuman ontologies is found in between the vitriols. Working also with Sara Ahmed’s exposition on the affect of hate, this paper infers that the blueprint of the production of animalizing hate in 2nd Peter does not reside with the author of 2nd Peter. Rather, it is produced and circulated by the Roman Empire’s bodily materialization of colonial neurosis on the colonized. That is, the colonized mind of the author of 2nd Peter is affectively ingrained to animalize the other in order to survive.
From “That All May be One” to “All My Relations”: A Model for Postcolonial Eco-Political Justice in the United Church of Canada
Sheryl Johnson, Ph.D. Candidate, Theology and Ethics, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA
The historical relationship between the nation of Canada and the United Church of Canada is important to consider with regard to the church’s present response to issues of animality, ecology, and Indigenous rights. Drawing on the work of Phyllis Airhart, I will argue that historically the denomination performed a prominent role in Canada’s nation-building process and throughout its history has enjoyed, at times, an influential role with respect to the state while at other times the relationship has been more conflicted. I will argue that how this history is understood and presented shapes the way that animality is approached in the present context with respect to these ethical concerns. A constructive image that I will propose as a framework for responding to these concerns is that of the denomination’s crest. The original version of the crest was adopted in 1944 and contains the Latin phrase ut omnes unum sint from John 17:21, commonly translated as “that all may be one.” This desire for unity was not as benign as it might seem and the reasons for the church’s union also involved fear of “the other” and colonizing and missionary impulses. In 2012, the crest received its first major revision as part of the church’s Indigenous reconciliation work to include the four colors of the Medicine Wheel and the phrase "Akwe Nia’Tetewá:neren” which is generally translated as "all my relations,” from the Mohawk language, inclusive of relationships with other than human animals. I will argue that these changes can serve as a positive image to support the denomination’s prophetic ethical engagement on pressing ethical issues.
All Our Relations: An Indigenous Perspective on Domestication
Julie Pelletier, Associate Professor, Indigenous Studies, University of Winnipeg
As inhabitants of particular biomes, human and non-human animals have affected one another through a web of relationships. Whether understood as shaped by the happenstance of biological evolution or as intentionally created by supernatural forces and deities, physical and behavioral variations in non-human animal species have profoundly shaped human societies. An example is the paucity of Indigenous domesticable species in the New World as compared to the Old World. In our rush to designate the current age the Anthropocene – the Age of the Human – we risk overlooking the continuing effects of non-human animals on human societies.
The Morality of Non-Human Animals in the Wisdom Literature of the Hebrew Bible
Timothy Sandoval, Associate Professor, Hebrew Bible, Brite Divinity
This paper argues that the virtue oriented Wisdom Tradition of the Hebrew Bible insists on human moral distinctiveness vis-à-vis non-human animals. But this distinctiveness is not regarded as absolute uniqueness. Not only is the moral status of non-human animals in wisdom literature largely predicated on their sharing of the human ecological niche, non-human animals are regularly regarded as possessing wisdom or morality in their own right, though in a form appropriate to their kind. Distinctively human moral possibilities in biblical wisdom traditions revolve around (potential) human capacities to engage in a robust practical wisdom that exceeds that of non-human animals.
The Gift of the Bear
Christopher G. Trott, Associate Professor, Native Studies Department, University of Manitoba
This paper considers the relationship between Inuit and polar bears in both a traditional and contemporary context. One must assume that along with other hunting peoples, that the polar bear is understood to give itself to a hunter, rather than the hunter pursuing the bear. Among Inuit the bear is then accorded respect by giving it the same funeral rites as humans, and it is said that those who have eaten human flesh cannot eat bears since they taste the same. There seems to an analogical equivalence between bears and humans such that both cannibalism and the self-sacrifice of humans become foregrounded. This paper places the hunting of bears into the context of ongoing gift exchanges between bears and humans that will allow clarification around notions of sacrifice.
Indigenous Trickster Discourse and All Our Relations
Chris Wells, Doctoral Student, Toronto School of Theology, University of Toronto
As long as humans continue exercising significant controls to life a Copernican shift from an anthropocentric vision of life to an oikos-centric one is essential for a healthier planet. In the current and harmful age of the Anthropocene, a centering vision of the harmony and balance of all things could counter destructive anthropocentricism. Indigenous visions of life often point to a potential of the harmony and balance for all relations in particular places. Trickster discourse is central to many Indigenous expressions of what it means to live well with all our relations. They are also illustrations of human behaviour in a world where ‘personhood’ extends far beyond human persons. This is evident as some primary forms of Trickster are other-than-human (Spider, Raven, Coyote), and human Tricksters are often able to transform into other beings. These features blur clear lines of division between humans and animals, lines that often justify human destruction of animals. Also, as Trickster interacts ambiguously with the world—at times as greedy destroyer, and at other times as sensitive maker—Trickster can provide important lessons for helpful human behaviour in an oikos-centric world.