Unique opportunity sees Ruby add to globally important work on food choices

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The awareness and responsibilities of people to the common good when making food choices will be the focus of student Ruby Cotter’s globally important work after being awarded a unique research-degree opportunity.

Ruby volunteering at a farm in Israel
Ruby volunteering at a farm in Israel.

Ruby is the successful recipient of a fully-funded PhD studentship for a project engaging religious perspectives on animal consumption.

Ruby’s work will contribute to the ethical discussion and global transformation of the way humans use animals for food, which has been heightened with increasing questions being posed on the subject in response to the coronavirus.

The doctoral research degree – the highest award available at UK universities – has been offered under the University’s Sustainable Futures scheme and is co-funded by CreatureKind, a US non-profit working to engage Christians with concern for animals.

Ruby’s research will propose an ethical framework of human food choice in the light of the integral ecology outlined in Laudato Si – the second encyclical of Pope Francis and one of the highest forms of communication by the Pope. The integral ecology recognises the human as integral to nature rather than nature as subject to human domination.

Ruby said: “It’s a real honour to have been chosen as the recipient of this studentship, and I’m excited to be embarking on research which is extremely close to my heart. This opportunity builds on work I’ve completed to date and my passionate inclination towards systematic theologies and ethics, specifically relating to ecology and animals.

“This research will seek to promote a human consciousness of food choice which proposes different responsibilities, according to each path, to the common good – socially, politically, and ecologically.

“The project aims to yield practical results through a theoretical analysis of human food choice, aiming to provide a simultaneous flourishing space for the cries of the earth, the poor and the animal. The latter is the missing link in the conversation of integral ecology but I aim to show that every creature must have a voice.”

Professor David Clough will supervise Ruby in her research with support from Theology and Religious Studies (TRS) colleagues.

Professor Clough has published the landmark two-volume work on the place of animals in Christian theology and ethics, On Animals, 2012/2019, and is Principal Investigator on the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)-funded Christian Ethics of Farmed Animal Welfare project.

He said: “We’re thrilled to be able to award this PhD studentship to Ruby.

“Her application stood out in its careful consideration of the issues and the contribution she can make in the global transformation we need in the consumption of animals.

“I very much look forward to working with Ruby and seeing the project develop.”

Prof Clough added that resourcing the next generation of scholars in this field was a key part of effecting change and the Department hoped to be able to offer more opportunities for study in this area.

Ruby completed Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Theology and Religion before travelling and volunteering, allowing her to experience religious festivals and environmental work across Europe and Africa, and embarking on a postgraduate research role.

She joins a thriving TRS postgraduate community at Chester, which now numbers around 50 MA (Master of Arts) students and 60 doctoral students. The Department has an active postgraduate student body, with opportunities for postgraduate training events, symposia, and research seminars featuring visiting academics.

Prof Clough co-founded the organisation CreatureKind in 2015 with Sarah Withrow King, who is now co-director with Aline Silva.

CreatureKind is a US non-profit organisation working to encourage Christians to recognise faith-based reasons for caring about the wellbeing of animal creatures used for food, and to take practical action in response. It provides resources for Christians who want to learn more about Christianity and animals, works with organisations seeking to align food policy with Christian commitments, and recently welcomed the first cohort of CreatureKind fellows who are working with mentors on projects to engage their communities with farmed animal welfare. This is the first time CreatureKind has funded a PhD studentship.

Sarah Withrow King added: “CreatureKind works for a world in which Christians have a deep and vibrant understanding of what it means to be Christian in relation to other creatures.

“We are glad to support scholars like Ruby, alongside activists and labourers who, together, help Christians honour the call to care for the whole earth, to anticipate the peaceable Reign of God, to share the peace of Christ with all of God’s beloved creation, and to love our neighbours well.”