International Conference in Animal Studies to be Hosted at Southwestern College

On Thursday and Friday, Oct. 22 and 23, Southwestern College will host an international conference on animal suffering. The two-day inter-disciplinary conference featuring 20 national and international scholars will focus on animal studies, an emerging field of research in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences that investigates and questions past and present relations between human and non-human animals. 

The conference, titled “Animal Suffering: Interdisciplinary Investigations in Animal Studies,” is organized by Southwestern College scholars Alice Bendinelli, associate professor of English, and Jacob Goodson, assistant professor of philosophy. Two internationally-known keynote speakers, Susan McHugh and Bernard Rollin, will deliver lectures that consider the ethical, political, social, literary, philosophical, religious, and ecological implications of what it means to serve as witnesses to animal suffering. 

All the panels and the keynote lectures will be held in the reference room in Deets Library on the main Winfield campus. There is no admission charge and the public is invited to attend. A complete list of presentations and abstracts can be found at the conference website (            

“This is an important conference that talks to the entire community, on campus and beyond,” explained Bendinelli. “Animals are a pervasive and essential presence in our lives and community, but they also enter our classroom as literary representations, subjects of philosophical enquiry, or of scientific observation. By attracting scholars from several states and even from another continent, this conference also provides an important opportunity for Southwestern College to place itself within a larger academic community of scholars who, in a non-anthropocentric gesture, are capable of overcoming geographical and species boundaries.”                         

Conference presentations include discussions of the portrayal of dogs and other animals in literature and media; examinations of the voices of animals themselves; and ethical and philosophical issues surrounding the portrayal and treatment of animals. Topics encompass vegan boycotts, the ethics of fishing, treatment of animals on factory farms, dogs as our friends and companions, and the many attempts--real and imagined--to solve the problems of animal harm. 

“This conference matters because all of us rely on animals for our own livelihood,” says Goodson. “Some of us rely on animals for our daily nutrition; some rely on animals as companions and pets; while others use animals for recreational purposes.  Because of our rural setting, Southwestern College has an opportunity to be a place where scholarly questions about animals can and should be addressed.”         

The scholars coming to SC are from research institutions in Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, North Dakota, and Massachusetts, as well as from Australia. They represent a wide range of disciplines, from literature, gender studies, and literary theory, to philosophy and theology, according to Bendinelli.  

Susan McHugh’s keynote lecture on Thursday at 5 p.m. will raise important questions about the human response to the representation of animal suffering in a talk titled “Can We Co-Suffer? Speciesism, Racism, and Multitudes.” Reviewers of “White God,” a movie by Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczo, praise its non-CGI execution of a mass street-dogs’ revolt, but express confusion about its meaning: Is the uprising metaphorical or is it just more evidence of the impossibility of animal revolutions? This talk examines how attention not only to content but also to formal aspects helps to track the halting emergence of a discourse of multitudes appropriate to intersectional analysis of race and species.

McHugh is a professor and the chair of English at the University of New England, where she teaches courses in writing, literary theory, and animal studies. She is the author of “Animal Stories: Narrating across Species Lines,” as well as “Dog,” a volume in Reaktion Books' groundbreaking animal series that has been published in eight languages. She recently co-edited “The Routledge Handbook of Human-Animal Studies” and “Literary Animals Look,” a special issue of “Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture.”  

On Friday at 5 p.m. Bernard Rollin will conclude the conference with a keynote lecture titled “Beyond Pain: Controlling Suffering in Laboratory Animals.” Rollin has drafted prospective legislation for laboratory animals and demonstrated to Congress in 1982 why “laboratory animal analgesia” was needed. His research found an absence of knowledge of analgesia, which among other things denied the awareness of animal pain. While the use of analgesia represents a major step forward, it does not cover other forms of suffering that affect laboratory animals. He contends that taking cognizance of these negative states requires a change in metaphysics.

Rollin serves as the University Distinguished Professor, professor of philosophy, professor of animal sciences, professor of biomedical sciences, and the university bioethicist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo. He is one of the leading scholars in animal ethics, animal psychology, and animal rights. He is the author of “Animal Rights and Human Morality,” “The Unheeded Cry: Animal Consciousness, Animal Pain and Scientific Change,” “Farm Animal Welfare,” “The Frankenstein Syndrome,” “Science and Ethics,” and “Putting the Horse Before Descartes.” 

For more information on the conference, email Bendinelli at or Goodson at

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