We believe that non-human animals and the relations between human beings and the other animals are topics peculiarly appropriate for an interdisciplinary focus. Philosophers, psychologists, biologists, and anthropologists, among others, all think about human/animal differences as well as the human/animal continuum; those who study the cultural history of human beings’ relations with animals as well as moral philosophers and students of the environment think about human/animal relations. We believe that the work of those who address questions about animals within their disciplines can and should be enriched and informed by a knowledge of what is going on in these areas in other disciplines.
Like African-American Studies or Women's Studies, the idea of Animal Studies has a certain moral and political edge. Part of what makes a focus on Animal Studies appropriate just now is the crisis in human/animal relations associated with mass extinctions, factory farming, habitat encroachment, and the rise in meat-eating. But behind all this are enduring questions about what human beings are, what makes us both different from and like the other animals, and how both our shared animal nature and our distinctive attributes bear on our understanding of ourselves and the world we live in.
Undergraduates, in particular, are acutely aware of the crises in human/animal relations produced by the growing human population and want to know how to think about animals and the way they relate to them. Students trying to think about their own relationships with the other animals and human relationships with other species need to know something about the state of knowledge of animal cognition, the evolutionary relationships between human beings and other animals, and the cultural attitudes towards animals that have informed treatment of the other animals.
At the same time, psychological questions about animal cognition, philosophical work on ethical questions related to the treatment of animals, anthropological work on human/animal differences, and cultural studies of human/animal relations are all, at present, vibrant areas of research.
We are a group of faculty, students and staff that aim to work together to create a conducive environment at Harvard for animal studies. We plan to establish institutional frameworks to pursue and explore all associated questions and debates.