The Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics held its Eighth Annual Oxford Animal Ethics Summer School in early August. This year’s theme was Animals and the Media: Communicating Ethical Perspectives on Animals. Merton College at the University of Oxford provided the perfect environment for scholars from all over the globe to meet, learn, and discuss ethical issues involving animals.
The Oxford Centre is “pioneering ethical perspectives on animals through academic research, teaching, and publication” and acts as an independent think tank for the “advancement of progressive thought about animals.” Myself, along with CCS Co-founder and CEO, Aysha Akhtar, are fortunate to be named as Fellows of the Oxford Centre.
Last year was my first year attending the Summer School. From the start, I knew that it was uniquely different from other conferences I had been to before. While there were other animal lawyers and familiar faces (last year’s Summer School focused on policy), there were also faces new to me with diverse backgrounds including theologians, scientists, journalists, and artists. The mix of attendees who are all passionate about animals makes this Summer School stand out from other conferences that are dedicated to one field of study. It was a major draw that brought me back again this year.
The History & Beauty of Oxford
For those of you who have not had an opportunity to visit the city of Oxford or see the university, let me paint a picture of arriving at Merton College. Merton, founded in 1264, is one of the oldest colleges at the University, although the students of Merton may tell you it is the oldest. From the moment you enter through the front gate, you see beautiful medieval architecture mixed with some more relatively modern features like Victorian stonework. You can feel the history there and I, personally, felt smarter knowing that icons like J. R. R. Tolkien studied in the same space.
The beauty of the environment combined with living and learning at the college is another aspect of the Summer School that makes it more than just another conference. Attendees have the chance to spend the week in the dorms, eat their meals in the formal dining hall, wander the gardens, or grab a drink in the college bar. From the moment attendees of the conference check in, there are opportunities to socialize and get a preview of what is to come the rest of the week.
Not So Dystopian
On the first night, we were welcomed by Reverend Andrew Linzey and Dr. Clair Linzey, the Director, and Deputy Director of the Oxford Centre, followed by the first of many delicious vegan meals. Then we had the opportunity to see the upcoming documentary “The Animal Thing: Linzey the Movie“ before it is headed to film festivals. This film told the story of Andrew Linzey and his life-long work for animals.
The next morning the sessions began. I was lucky enough to present on the first day. My presentation, ‘Not so dystopian: Zoonotic disease and human-animal interaction bring us closer to a feared narrative‘, discussed how we can use the success of the dystopian horror genre movies like 28 Days Later (2002) and Contagion (2011), video games such as Left4Dead, and books like Tender is The Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica, to show the urgency needed in changing policy to protect public health. Industries that harm animals and increase the risk of zoonotic disease like industrial agriculture and wildlife trade also need to change their practices.
My presentation along with the others throughout the week began discussions among the attendees on work that needs to be done in order to create a better present and future. I think it is safe to say my presentation had the most discussion on zombies out of everyone! The Center for Contemporary Sciences supports policy initiatives that advance the health and well-being of humans, animals, and the planet.