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Professor Honored by Humane Society
January 17, 2008

Calvin philosophy professor Matt Halteman was recently honored with a 2007 Animals and Society Course Award from the The Humane Society of the United States.

Matt Halteman photoHalteman was honored in the Distinguished Innovative Course Award category for “Peaceable Kingdom: Transforming Our Relationship with Animals,” a class he teaches during Calvin’s January Interim term. The award included a $500 prize to the Calvin philosophy department to support course development and outcomes.

“Developing this course has been a rewarding experience, and I am most grateful for this vote of confidence,” said Halteman.

“Peaceable Kingdom,” which Halteman is teaching for the fourth time this year, is an examination of the philosophical, ethical, environmental and socio-economic issues surrounding the treatment of animals by contemporary agribusinesses and other industries. Halteman stressed that he was passionate about infusing “Peaceable Kingdom” with the Calvin mission.

“What attracted me to teaching this class in the first place was Calvin’s emphasis on the creation-fall-redemption triad and the idea of transforming fallen structures,” he said.

Accordingly, during the first part of the course, the class spends a week building a scriptural foundation for understanding animals as an integral part of God’s creation, emphasizing the inherent dignity of animals as creatures of God. “A lot of us who live in cities and suburban communities don’t have a lot of experience with animals,” said Halteman. “We use readings, films, and a visit to a small local farm to try to cultivate a richer appreciation of the intellectual, emotional, and social capacities of animals.”

During the second section of the class, which stresses the fall of creation, Halteman and his students focus critical attention on the wide spectrum of ways that human beings use animals for human purposes. “We look at the pet industry , the food industry, the clothing industry, the entertainment industry—such as circuses and rodeos—as well as animal research, both consumer and medical,” he said, “and ask questions about whether the ways in which we currently use animals are compatible with our mandate to be responsible stewards of creation.”

At the redemption stage of the course, the class ponders a variety of responses, both personal and public, to the problems of industrial animal agriculture.

Some of these responses are long-lasting in their effects. In its first year, the “Peaceable Kingdom” Interim did all the legwork to create Students for Compassionate Living (SCL), a Calvin organization that advocates the just and merciful treatment of animals through on- and off-campus educational workshops, films, speakers, dinners, and weekly meetings.

The class also hosted a mini-conference in its second year, which grew into Wake Up Weekend. Now in its second year, Wake Up Weekend, a non-Calvin- sponsored event held January 18 and 19, 2008 in Grand Rapids, will draw a whole array of organizations from Michigan and beyond for sessions on animal advocacy, an art auction, a vegan chili cook-off and a vegan potluck. This tendency of the “Peaceable Kingdom” to spread the message of animal compassion to a wider community is one of the reason’s the Interim garnered the award.

"The judging panel was particularly impressed with the conceptualization of the course, which cast the treatment of animals as an important question not simply within Christian theology but as a matter of serious concern for the Calvin College community,” said Bernard Unti, a senior policy advisor at The Humane Society of the United States. “Its innovative character was evident in other respects, too, but most prominently in its requirement to raise broader awareness within the student body.”

Halteman shares all the honors of the award with his students: “The passion and conviction of my students played a key role in motivating me to teach this course, and it is their exemplary commitment to seeking a more just, compassionate and sustainable world that makes the class work.”

~written by Calvin staff writer Myrna Anderson

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