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Justus George Lawler appointed Honorary Fellow

27th May 2010

The Centre is delighted to announce that Justus George Lawler, Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Saint Xavier University, Chicago, has accepted our invitation to become an Honorary Fellow of the Centre.

Professor Lawler is a leading Catholic scholar who has pioneered moral thinking about the status of animals. He traces such thinking to his early fascination with St. Paul’s text, “creation itself will be delivered from the bondage of corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Romans 8). This resulted in his publishing as an undergraduate an article on the passage in the quarterly Thought (September, 1948), titled “Transfigured Universe” — a universe that could not be envisioned without animals. Ten years later, as University of Chicago Exchange Fellow to the Sorbonne, he discovered the relationship of St. Paul’s statement to the vision of Teilhard de Chardin, about which he wrote in “Chardin and Human Knowledge” (The Commonweal, April 11, 1958). Also while in Paris he and his wife acquired their first cats which accompanied them back to the U.S. in 1959. The following year he was named Professor of Humanities at Saint Xavier University (then a college), and three years later he founded Continuum, the journal after which the international publishing firm has been named.

As the editor of Continuum he published a stream of articles on animals including: “The Pains of Animals II” (Vol. 2, No. 2, Summer 1964, 286-291); “Life in the Vivi Sector”, (Vol. 3, No 2, Summer 1965, 254-258); “A Response [to Daniel C. O’Connell and Anthony Morandi on animal experimentation]” (Vol. 3, No. 4, Winter 1966, 485-495), but it is his groundbreaking 1965 article “On the Rights of Animals” (Anglican Theological Review, April 1965) that heralded modern sensitivity to animals.

Six months later, he followed that up with “Do Animals Have Rights? The Morality of Vivisection” in Jubilee (November, 1965). Three years later when he himself became Editor of Jubilee, he continued his efforts with a theological meditation on Christmas in the December issue, “The Animals at the Crib.” This was accompanied by reproductions of paintings by Fra Angelico, Marc Chagall, Franz Marc, and Henri Rousseau. In the June issue he published “The Upside Down Morality: Slaughtering Innocence,” which began: “Last month fifty thousand new born seals were clubbed or kicked to death  …” On each of the four verso pages that followed was a photograph of a professional model wearing a sumptuous designer coat or jacket under a headline reading: “In a World of Inverted Values Evil Stands Erect.”. On the facing pages were inverted photos of the stalking of the mother and her pup—the latter too young to swim away from the predator, and the former too devoted to her offspring to flee. At the bottom of the last page, where was depicted the actual killing of the baby seal, was a shaded rectangular box stating in caps: “All of the furs pictured here are man-made. They are synthetic. But their manufacture has not affected the traffic in animal fur nor have they gained a place in the world of haute couture.”

Professor Lawler has published more than 15 books including: The Range of Commitment: Essays of a Conservative Liberal (which includes his essay “Towards A Theology of Animals”), Celestial Pantomime: Poetic Structure of Transcendence (which treats of Henry Vaughan’s poem, “Rom. Cap.8. VER 19,” which is explicitly about the mystery of animal existence as adumbrated by the passage from the Epistle to the Romans that had motivated his concern for animals as an undergraduate.) Hopkins Re-Constructed: Life, Poetry and the Tradition, (where he devotes several pages to the contrast between Gerard Manley Hopkins and the above-mentioned Henry Vaughan, and concludes: “But the Anglican tradition has a greater sense of the mystery of animal existence, as represented, first, by its emphasis on the texts of St. Paul in Romans alluded to by Hopkins, and explicitly referred to by Vaughan’s ‘expect and groan,’ and, second, by its emphasis on the centrality of ‘brutes’ in the divine economy, as when Mark’s gospel says of Jesus that at the beginning of his ministry he lived among wild beasts and was ministered to by angels.”) and, more recently, Popes and Politics: Reform, Resentment, and the Holocaust.

“Always a fearless investigator and an independent thinker, Professor Lawler has challenged traditional religious thought about animals, daring to prick the consciences of church hierarchies, and raising questions which other theologians haven’t dared to ask” commented Professor Linzey. “I am personally indebted to his 1965 article which first helped me to think theologically about animals; without it, I doubt whether I would have written my own book on animal rights eleven years later or begun my own work in this field. There are some people whose work has been seminal in influencing others, but who seldom receive the recognition they deserve: Professor Lawler is one of these people”.

Each year, the Centre invites one or more outstanding individuals to become Honorary Fellows. Professor Lawler is the fifth Honorary Fellow of the Centre. The others are the Nobel Laureate for Literature, Professor J. M. Coetzee; the distinguished philanthropist, Dr Irene W. Crowe; the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Winchester, Professor Joy Carter; and the Founder and Director of the Marchig Trust for Animal Welfare, Madame Jeanne Marchig.

Professor Lawler is a prophetic voice who pioneered Christian thought about animal suffering at a time when it was deeply unpopular to do so. It is an honour for the Centre to be able to include him within its Fellowship.