Animals, Culture, and Society

Alan Rauch, Ph.D., Professor of English, UNC Charlotte

This seminar will explore the ways that animals are both conceptualized and utilized in various cultures. The object of the Seminar is to develop a fuller understanding not only of what animals “mean” to humans and how humans respond to animals, but how we address the “post-human condition.” Though this is NOT a biology class, we won’t shy away from zoology and physiology, as they are central to any approach to animals, whether ecological, historical, or behavioral. The seminar will draw on the cultural and metaphoric use of animals (in literature, art, and philosophy), the consumption of animals (as food and clothing), the scientific status of animals (in experiments and as objects of study), the recreational use of animals (in hunting, zoos, aquariums, safari parks, and as pets), and, in a broader context, the emblematic use of animals.  The overarching issue in the seminar, however, will be animal cognition, a thorny philosophical and zoological topic that has been the subject of a great deal of discussion in cultural studies, psychology & neurobiology, and philosophy. How do we evaluate the quality of animal thinking or the nature of awareness, sense of self, or experiential processes?  Participants in the seminar will find a wide range of issues that will suit teachers at ALL levels, and the texts (films, etc.) that we’ll consider, will address every age group.