The featured keynote speakers of the "Polar Bears, Pets, Ponies, and Religion" Conference are leading experts in Human-Animal Studies, Theology, Religious Studies, and Literary and Cultural Studies.

 

Celia Deane-Drummond

Professor of Theology at University of Notre Dame

   
  
 
 
  
    
  
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     Born to be Wild: Emergent Wisdom Through Human-Horse Encounters’. In  Encountering Earth: Thinking Theologically With a More Than Human World    
  
 
 
  
    
  
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    Humanity’s relationship with the horse goes back almost as far as that of dogs, but it is rather less often commented on in the academic literature. Drawing on my childhood experiences that involved ownership of two ponies, and (as a teenager) a horse, I will propose that human-horse encounters help shape who we are as moral persons.  The evolution of morality as portrayed by evolutionary psychology has come under intensive scrutiny in so far as it tends to presuppose a naturalistic ethic and even weaken any ontological basis for moral agency. I will argue that while reductionist evolutionary accounts of morality are problematic from the perspective of Christian theology, new insights into the evolution of inter-species relationships are highly illuminating in order to understand the human moral condition. What emerges in human communities is therefore  inter-morality  in so far as it is premised on interaction with other creatures and is formed in the light of moral worlds characteristic of particular kinds and individual beings. I will also draw on a preliminary discussion of anthropological inter-species research that is currently underway at Notre Dame, investigating specific roles of horse-human encounters in the development of a particular community in Africa. More explicitly, I will suggest that a theological anthropology that excludes the presence of subjects other than humans makes little sense. Further, a form of natural wisdom emerges through such encounters, and arguably also prepares for transcendent wisdom through receptivity to the divine.  In other words, in a more general sense, the immanent presence of God in the natural world makes itself felt through the liminal spaces opened up in encounters with specific animals.       

Born to be Wild: Emergent Wisdom Through Human-Horse Encounters’. In Encountering Earth: Thinking Theologically With a More Than Human World

Humanity’s relationship with the horse goes back almost as far as that of dogs, but it is rather less often commented on in the academic literature. Drawing on my childhood experiences that involved ownership of two ponies, and (as a teenager) a horse, I will propose that human-horse encounters help shape who we are as moral persons.  The evolution of morality as portrayed by evolutionary psychology has come under intensive scrutiny in so far as it tends to presuppose a naturalistic ethic and even weaken any ontological basis for moral agency. I will argue that while reductionist evolutionary accounts of morality are problematic from the perspective of Christian theology, new insights into the evolution of inter-species relationships are highly illuminating in order to understand the human moral condition. What emerges in human communities is therefore inter-morality in so far as it is premised on interaction with other creatures and is formed in the light of moral worlds characteristic of particular kinds and individual beings. I will also draw on a preliminary discussion of anthropological inter-species research that is currently underway at Notre Dame, investigating specific roles of horse-human encounters in the development of a particular community in Africa. More explicitly, I will suggest that a theological anthropology that excludes the presence of subjects other than humans makes little sense. Further, a form of natural wisdom emerges through such encounters, and arguably also prepares for transcendent wisdom through receptivity to the divine.  In other words, in a more general sense, the immanent presence of God in the natural world makes itself felt through the liminal spaces opened up in encounters with specific animals. 

 

Susan McHugh

Professor and Chair of English at The University of New England

   
  
 
 
  
    
  
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     Animist Returns   
  
 
 
  
    
  
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    Said to be the oldest form of religion, animism is gaining new relevance through contemporary novels featuring Indigenous perspectives on settler history. In part fictionalizations of historical Christian missionary atrocities in North America, Louise Erdrich’s  The Plague of Doves  (2008) and Alissa York’s  Effigy  (2007) show how animist belief informs critiques of acts of genocide and extinction, and more. Expressed through creative engagements with animal life that range from storytelling to taxidermy, Indigenous characters’ sense of connections to nonhuman and spirit worlds is grounded in highly localized human-animal interactions. Read through current debates about the relational implications of animist beliefs (Harvey 2006), even the animality of religious affect itself (Schaefer 2015), their reconstructions of animist perspectives through human-animal relationships come to concern not simply comparisons of different faiths but more importantly negotiations of returns to cultural and ecological crime scenes.      

Animist Returns

Said to be the oldest form of religion, animism is gaining new relevance through contemporary novels featuring Indigenous perspectives on settler history. In part fictionalizations of historical Christian missionary atrocities in North America, Louise Erdrich’s The Plague of Doves (2008) and Alissa York’s Effigy (2007) show how animist belief informs critiques of acts of genocide and extinction, and more. Expressed through creative engagements with animal life that range from storytelling to taxidermy, Indigenous characters’ sense of connections to nonhuman and spirit worlds is grounded in highly localized human-animal interactions. Read through current debates about the relational implications of animist beliefs (Harvey 2006), even the animality of religious affect itself (Schaefer 2015), their reconstructions of animist perspectives through human-animal relationships come to concern not simply comparisons of different faiths but more importantly negotiations of returns to cultural and ecological crime scenes.