Professor: Roxann Prazniak
Do animals make us human? How has this relationship changed over time and varied by social setting? Is separation from “the animal world” a general trend in human evolution? What can spindle cell research tell us about the capacity for empathy in whales and humans? The human-animal bond is a complex relationship, often a mix of emotional attachment and dissociation surrounded by philosophical, religious, and practical considerations. Examining historical, scientific, and artistic representations, our main goal is to understand the interplay of factors that can shape this relationship and the range of resulting consequences for both natural and social environments. Crickets were honored pets inspiring poetic expression in imperial China. Augustine argued that animals had no reason and hence their suffering was of no consequence. Jungian dream psychology associates animals with human instincts suggesting an archetypical bond. The Jataka Tales told for educational purposes recount the story of the Buddha offering his body to a starving mother tiger, so she could feed her cubs. Although Animal Planet episodes, therapy animals, and environmental crises have raised popular awareness of the animal-human bond, we hope to delve deeper, examining recent scientific work, environmental studies, cultural studies, and animal studies among other sources to find new questions and perhaps new insight.
Beyond our common readings, art and film exploration, and brief written work, everyone will have the opportunity to write and present a research paper on a relevant topic of his/her choice.