Assistant Professor of Religion and Paideia
I am a visiting assistant professor of religion and Paideia at Luther College and adviser to the Luther student group called Animal Allies. I also am the new director of the Institute of Critical Animal Studies (ICAS), Asia Region. I have developed units in my Paideia I courses on animal rights and welfare and taught two courses that specifically address animal issues: "Religion, Ethics, and Animal Welfare" and "Buddhism, Animals, and Animal Welfare." For several years now my research has focused on the application of Buddhist teachings to animal rights issues, human-nonhuman animal relations, and graphic narratives as social critique, particularly as they apply to nonhuman animal exploitation. The theoretical approaches I use to examine these issues derive from work in critical animal studies, the intersection of oppressions, and the "humanity" and "animality" distinction (or lack thereof). Finally, my intellectual interests have been deeply influenced by the work I do with nonhuman animals outside of academia. I'm a professional dog trainer, co-owner of a dog training and grooming business, and Board President of the Humane Society of Northeast Iowa.
The "Considering Animals" seminar will allow me to learn about a wide range of topics regarding nonhuman animals from perspectives that fall outside my area of academic training. Currently, my research focuses on the ways that Buddhist teachings like emptiness, dependent origination, and no-self can elucidate the processes that contribute to the "othering" of nonhuman animals as well as deconstruct the hard and fast distinctions regularly made between what is human and what is animal. Understanding perspectives from the sciences, such as evolutionary biology, for example, can give me insight into what are considered scientifically identifiable similarities and differences between human and nonhuman animals. I am also at the very early stages of looking at Chinese textual sources that discuss breeding and training practices of dogs and horses in classical China. In my opinion, the ways animals are used indicates how people understand their relationship to the nonhuman world. I am hoping that talking with colleagues in the social sciences will help me to better understand the economic and social significance of raising, breeding, and training nonhuman animals.
The interdisciplinary nature of the "Considering Animals" seminar will contribute easily to the creation and teaching of a Paideia II course at Luther College. It will also provide the opportunity to discuss pedagogical strategies for teaching a course on nonhuman animals with colleagues interested in the topic. Finding the time to have conversations about "best practices" in teaching at Luther is difficult; finding colleagues that share the same interests to have them with is quite rare. This seminar explicitly allows for these kinds of conversations.
Because I regularly work with nonhuman animals (mainly dogs) outside of Luther College, I recognize the value of "hands-on" experience for learning about and reflecting on animal issues. Nonhuman animals are living and breathing creatures, not abstract entities without any grounding in the real world. Though obvious, it is important to remember this when we think about whether or not they have rights, their behavioral capacities, or their connection and value to the ecosystem. This seminar provides site-based visits wherein participants can talk to people that work with nonhuman animals and hear from them about what issues they think are most important. These experiences will help to clarify the legal, economic, and political contexts in which organizations like the Humane Society of the United States and the National Zoo do their work.