Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Peter Singer and 'animal studies'

Not long ago, the words "animal studies" would probably have suggested lab animals -- that is, animals used in lab experiments. But now, the phrase often refers to a new, growing but still undefined academic field: "animal studies."

Harvard, Dartmouth and NYU are among the colleges and universities offering courses that have to do with "the way humans and animals interact," according to one prof. That could include art, literature, sociology, anthropology, film, theater, philosophy, religion -- all of which include animals.

The six-year old Animals and Society Institute lists more than 100 courses in animal studies offered around the country. Its website,, describes it as "where knowledge and science meet ethics and compassion." (Yea!)

Why "animal studies"? Increasingly over the years, according to the NYTimes story where this was reported on Jan. 2, similarities between humans and other animals have become clear. Language, tool use, even the roots of morality -- all are characteristic of both animals and humans.

Among the reasons behind this growing "animal studies" trend, philosophy is mentioned as possibly the most direct influence, with Peter Singer's Animal Liberation (1975) cited as an example.

I wonder: during the production of his seminal book, could Peter Singer possibly have foreseen the effect it would have on individuals and organizations? Could he ever have dreamed it would become the cornerstone of a major new academic area of study? Then I wonder: how much more his book may yet affect human and animal life for the better.

Talk about a ripple effect -- say rather a positive tsunami!


No comments: