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What Is Animal Studies?

The Drury University Forum on Animal Rights is entirely funded by the Bob Barker Endowment Fund for the Study of Animal Rights. The Centerpiece of the Forum is the new multidisciplinary Animal Studies ANML 212 course.

Animal Studies is a recently recognized field of study in which animals and human-animal relationships are examined from an array of academic disciplines, such as anthropology, art history, biology, criminology, environmental studies, history, literature and literary criticism, philosophy, psychology, religion, sociology, and women's studies. Scholars of Animal Studies seek to understand the current and historical relationships between nonhuman animals[1] and human beings.

Drury University's 18-hour minor in Animal Studies provides students with a specialized, in-depth understanding of animals' lives and the intersection of their lives with humans, historically and in contemporary societies. Students evaluate critically how animals have been and are currently treated and represented across different cultures and societies.  This interdisciplinary minor is comprised of six courses including Animal Ethics (the foundational, team-taught, interdisciplinary course), Animals and Society, Animal Law I, Social Movements, Animals in Literature, and an Animal Studies Internship.

Animals are significant in the lives of humans, but our relationships with animals teem with inconsistencies.  Some religions revere animals, while others perform animal sacrifices in their ceremonies.  Many people have pets and visit zoos and circuses, but pets are often abandoned, abused, and neglected, and animals used for our entertainment suffer in ways that most of us never know.  Some pets are acquired from puppy mills or through exotic animal trading, adding to the complexity human-animal relationships.  Growing segments of the population are becoming vegans and vegetarians, while most still consume dairy, meat, and seafood products.  Some prefer foods that are organic and produced through sustainable farming, but purchases at grocery stores suggest most consumers are content with food products derived from commercial agriculture.  Some hunters like to kill their food, while others enjoy hunting endangered species in order to collect trophies.

Animal Studies is a new and exciting area of study that examines these types of human-animal relations and others.  At Drury University, the Animal Studies minor is designed for those who are interested in gaining an in-depth understanding of diverse ways in which the lives of animals and humans intersect.  The interdisciplinary nature of the minor, which consists of six classes (18 hr), allows students to consider historical and contemporary interactions between humans and animals from a range of perspectives.

The foundational class in the minor, for instance, is team-taught by instructors from the fields of biology, criminology, philosophy, psychology, religion, and sociology.  Ethics is the focus of the course, and some of the topics explored include animal assisted therapy, animal cruelty, animals as research subjects, animals and religion, the animal rights debate, hoarding, and the impact of confined animal farming operations on the environment.

A literature course exposes students to representations of animals in American, English, French, and Latin American writings, while a law class is concerned with representations of and protections for animals on the legal front.  Federal and state laws are discussed, along with various city ordinances, such as prohibitions of cat declawing and bans on pit bull ownership.  Meanwhile, the sociology-based Animals and Society course offers students with opportunities to think critically about controversial practices, like dog fighting.  Emphasis is placed on how cultures and subcultures construct meanings for animals and how those meanings shape human identity.

Animal rights activism is one of several historical and contemporary protest movements that are explored in a course called Social Movements.  Relying heavily on case studies, this class enables students to understand how protesters on the left and right of the political spectrum seek social and political change.  The Animal Studies minor culminates in a hands-on internship experience, and students are permitted to select instructor-approved sites of interest. Some students may wish to complete their internship abroad, others may want to travel to a different state, and still others may desire to intern at a local or state organization.  Internship opportunities are expansive and diverse.

[1] Although most scholars use the term "nonhuman animals," for the sake of brevity, the term "animal" will be used in this proposal.