The animal and religions dialogue has been growing over the last 25 years, the aim of this conference is to bring this broadening area of scholarship to dialogue with the science-religion arena through two broad strands
The committee invites submission of papers that address the significance and symbolism of non-human animals within the science and religion dialogue. The committee welcome submissions from all faith perspectives and authors are invited to address the theme from a range of perspectives.
The animal and religions dialogue has been growing over the last 25 years, the aim of this conference is to bring this broadening area of scholarship to dialogue with the science-religion arena through two broad strands:
Strand 1: Perhaps viewed as the most prevalent interaction of science, religion and human-animal interactions, this strand focuses on ethical and environmental issues raised by anthropocentric views of the relationship. This strand focuses on animals in science and religion as the direct area of interest and thus includes but is not limited to matters of ecology, stewardship, and animal ethics (broadly construed and may relate to matters of urbanisation and conservation as well as animal-human relations).
Strand 2: The second strand recognises the broader implications of scientific and interdisciplinary approaches to non-human animals on wider areas of theological enquiry. This strand examines the new perspectives that can be bought to the science-religion conversation through critical engagement with “the animal” adding further depth, theory, or methodology to our theological discussion. Areas of enquiry for this strand may include (but aren’t limited to) the matter of bestiaries, mythology, and fables, the relationship(s) between humans and animals, Incarnation and embodiment, Ritual / proto-religious behaviour in animals and textual and ritual meanings of animal bodies.
Keynote Speakers and Titles
31st August 2023
Opening Keynote by SRF Vice President Dr Celia Deane–Drummond: We See in a Glass Darkly: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Virtue and Vice Beyond the Species Boundary
This lecture will argue that a close analysis of animal ethology enables a richer understanding of humanity’s basic tendencies for good or ill, expressed in the twin concepts of virtues and vices.
Human morality is not added on to an otherwise brutish nature, rather, it has co–evolved with other animal species, many of whom have sophisticated social lives and associated rules for that behaviour.
By way of illustration, I will consider fairness/justice and deception/lying as just two examples of virtue and vice, which illuminate the distinctiveness yet commonality between species. I will also discuss both the risks and benefits of anthropomorphizing to try and understand animal behaviour alongside the philosophical issues that arise when doing so.
The Gowland Public Lecture 2023 by Dr Suzanna Millar (responder tbc) From larvae to Leviathan: Living with animals in the book of Job
In the beginning, God created humans to have dominion over other animals… This simplification of Genesis 1 is sometimes thought to epitomise the “biblical” perspective on human–nonhuman relations. But later in the Bible comes another depiction of the cosmos and its faunal life, one which radically decentres humanity. In the Book of Job, a creation–loving God celebrates the wild creatures beyond the human ken, including the monstrous Behemoth and Leviathan. Earlier in the book, Job himself ruminates on the maggots which infest his deteriorating body, the wisdom of birds and fish, and the lion–like predilections of his God. This paper will explore this animal menagerie, discerning a
tension in Job between identifying with other creatures and recognising their radical otherness. Guided by Job, it imagines alternative possibilities of living with other animals, from larvae to Leviathan.
1st September 2023
Dr Margaret B. Adam: Should Commodities Flourish? Farmed Animals, Christian Ethics, and Veterinary Behavioural Science
What counts as high, poor, or good–enough farmed animal welfare? How much improvement in welfare is worth paying for, especially when these are animals who exist only because of their value for human consumption?
Recent research in Christian Ethics draws on biblical, theological, and political Christian resources to argue that farmed animals should be cared for in ways that promote their flourishing, even as they are commodified for human benefit. Christian Ethics also draws on recent research in Veterinary Behavioural Science that assesses farmed animals’ cognitive processes, preferences, and expressions of comfort and stress, and identifies what animal husbandry practices help animals thrive. These theological and scientific descriptions of farmed animal flourishing undermine justifications for good– enough welfare standards. Farmed animals should flourish. The commodification of animals for
human pleasure should not take precedence over ethical and behavioural recommendations for animal—and human—flourishing.
Dr Alexander Hall: Explorations of the non–human in global histories of evolution and religion
Across diverse national and religious contexts, the depiction of animals has been central to how both evolution and religion have been communicated in popular media. Whether being used to popularise harmony or conflict between science and religion, or simply to communicate evolutionary science to religious communities, in this keynote talk, the historian of science, Dr Alexander Hall will reflect on the function of the non–human in popular representations of evolution and religion.
Drawing on cutting–edge scholarship from an exciting forthcoming volume, Most Adaptable to Change: Evolution and Religion in Global Popular Media, Dr Hall will introduce diverse case studies from considering evolution/religion in Japanese anime, to the history of feral children in India. By connecting these case studies to wider trends in scholarship on the history of science and religion, Dr Hall will argue that for global histories of science and religion to incorporate complexity, while also remaining comparatively useful, scholarship must centre local cultural perspectives, whether through the nuance of local religious denominations, media structures, or a societies’ cultural affinity with animals.
Dr Peter Altmann: Learning from the Crows: Worship and Wisdom with the Birds in the Hebrew Bible
This paper reflects on the variable roles of animals, especially birds, take as models, mentors, and intermediaries between humans and the divine in the Hebrew Bible. Beginning with the murky dietary prohibitions of various flyers, it investigates this heightened human–animal relationship as a topos for imagining divine presence and guidance (and their limits) in the rejection and embrace of various types of human engagement with animals.
Conference Dinner with Speaker TBC
Saturday 2nd September
Dr Louis Caruana SJ: Future togetherness: drawing inspiration from Teilhard de Chardin
Current literature on transhumanism explores technological innovations that impact the individual and society. Questions deal with enhancement, extended lifetime, cyborgs, the transfer of minds into mechanical bodies, super machine intelligence, and so on. What is typically missing in such accounts are attempts to foresee the kind of future togetherness that is not limited to human society but includes other species. Accordingly, this paper begins to fill this gap by drawing some insights from the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. After clarifying some of his philosophical presuppositions, the paper focuses on two keywords: cephalization and socialization. The former refers to the evolutionary trend in which, over many generations, the mouth, sense organs, and nerves become concentrated at the front end of an animal, producing a head region. For Teilhard, this trend indicates that humans are like the head of the biosphere, taken as a whole. The second keyword, socialization, refers to the direction human betterment must take, given the empirical evidence. This paper argues that these two positions can be brought together by highlighting how the responsibility associated with being the head of the biosphere entails accepting a kind of communitarian progress that includes other species. The paper concludes by proposing some innovative concepts to articulate what is at stake in such responsibility.
Dr Anne Solomon: Animals and ancient religion: What can prehistoric art tell us?
Images of animals predominate in Palaeolithic cave paintings in Europe and are prominent in rock arts worldwide. Initially the Palaeolithic art was regarded as secular, but that changed in the late nineteenth/ early twentieth century when thinking shifted, to understand it in relation to ‘magic’ –and religion. No longer were animal images seen as pictures of dinner. Investigations of the significance of animal depictions has invoked various types of religious systems and practices, such as shamanism and totemism. In recent years, many researchers have embraced ‘new animism’ in interpretation. Researchers have long relied on accounts of hunter–gatherer religions (such as that of indigenous Australians). But how apt is this? This can be evaluated by considering the well–documented hunter–gatherer rock art of southern Africa and the extensive allied ethnographies that illustrate the particular role(s) of animals in the imagination of the rock artists.
Deadline for abstract submission MIDNIGHT 16th June 2023
Deadline for RESIDENTIAL conference registration MIDNIGHT 6th August 2023
Deadline for NON-RESIDENTIAL conference registration 23rd August 2023
ABSTRACTS should be between 150- 500 words and submitted by email to Finley Lawson. Subject to sufficient submissions the committee will aim to have even representation across the three strands. Please note in your submission which strand you are submitting under.