"Man and Beast: A Symposium in Honor of Naomi Schor (1943-2001)", November 15-16, 2002

On November 15-16, the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale will host “Man and Beast,” a symposium that will gather scholars from many disciplines to explore the complex relationship between Homo sapiens and other members of the animal kingdom.

What exactly is it that makes humans different from other animals? And what do we have in common? Historically, the attempt to determine what it means to be human has been at the core of Western philosophical and scientific inquiry, while animal imagery has figured prominently in artistic and religious expression at least since our ancestors painted cave walls. Until fairly recently, humanity in the Western tradition understood and defined itself in opposition to the animal kingdom, adducing rationality and language as clearest evidence of our difference from the beasts.

The process of defining the proper relationship of man and beast has aroused controversy in numerous fields of inquiry, such as medicine, law and bioethics. To what extent are results obtained from research on animals applicable to human beings? Is it legitimate to use animals to test products and procedures designed to benefit mankind? “Speciesism,” which tends to privilege the human, has come under increasing attack from the ranks of animal-rights advocates.

Recent research has challenged the conviction that the use of symbolic representations is a uniquely human attribute. Linguists and ethnologists now study the language of animals, their distinctive modes of symbolization and their mimetic abilities.

Genome research has forced us to confront a new realization: genetically speaking, Homo sapiens is surprisingly similar to the fruit-fly. Even before the mapping of the human genome exposed this close biological kinship, legal scholars, bioethicists and animal rights advocates had already taken up the cause of creatures of less than human rank.

Organized by Yale faculty members Howard Bloch, Karen Polinger Foster and William Summers, the symposium lists among its participants David Graham Burnett, Princeton University; Judith L. Goldstein, Vassar College; Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Duke University; Harriet Ritvo, MIT; Duane Rumbaugh, Georgia State University; Marc Shell, Harvard University; Steven Wise, Center for the Expansion of Fundamental Rights, Inc.; and Yale faculty members Paul Fry, Daniel Kevles, Bettyann Holtzmann Kevles and Stephen Stearns.

The symposium was originally scheduled to take place last December but was called off after the sudden and untimely death on December 2 of its motive force, Naomi Schor, the Benjamin F. Barge Professor of French. During the last months of her life, Schor was engaged in planning the conference she had conceived of, and to which she had given the name “Man and Beast.” But nearly a year later the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale has chosen to remember and honor Schor and her work by moving forward with her plans.

The symposium, which is free and open to the public, will take place at the Whitney Humanities Center, 53 Wall Street. For more information-telephone Manana Sikic at 432-0673 or e-mail: manana.sikic@yale.edu

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Media Contact

Dorie Baker: dorie.baker@yale.edu, 203-432-1345