Faculty Mentor

Dr. Brandi Denison, Associate Professor

Faculty Mentor Department

Philosophy and Religious Studies


Nonhuman animal trials are ridiculous to the modern sensibilities of the West. The concept of them is in opposition to the idea of nonhuman animals—entities without agency, incapable of guilt by nature of irrationality. This way of viewing nonhuman animals is relatively new to the Western mind. Putting nonhuman animals on trial has only become unacceptable in the past few centuries. Before this shift, nonhuman animal trials existed as methods of communities policing themselves. More than that, these trials were part of legal systems ensuring they provided justice for all. This shift happened because the relationship between Christian authorities and the nature and consciousness around them changed significantly. As this piece argues, this relationship was based on an underlying personification that was lost due to two key theological/philosophical ideas, being the status of nonhuman animal’s rationality and the status of their diabolical nature. This personification—this personhood—formed the basis for allowing nonhuman animals to be tried. According to some legal systems and lawyers, the capability of being on trial, of being part of a legal proceeding, is essential to personhood.1 The concepts are inextricably linked; the marker between property and person. Knowing why this shift occurred can allow for a greater understanding not only into the ethics of human beings' relationships with nonhuman animals, but also how Christianity has interacted with nature.