Colouring Outside the Lines: Animals, Nature, and Spirituality in Social Work


This paper introduces an autoethnographic inquiry into a social work educator’s experience of integrating the subjects of natural environments and all of their animal inhabitants, and spirituality into social work curriculum and research. In Canada, as elsewhere, social work programs like education and nursing, are human-centered professions that aim to engage with individuals holistically yet these programs, fail to incorporate spiritual and ecological beliefs that are integral to how people, connect, converse, and ultimately commune. Moreover, in social work, a profession orientated towards people in context, an approach encapsulated by ‘person-in -environment’ theory. Yet, a great many contexts are at once highly secularized and replete with religious diversity and simultaneous discrimination. Still, many societal contexts are anthropocentric and speciesist to the exclusion of the more-than-human world. This study begins by describing the ways in which personal spirituality and ecological attunement with the more-than-human world bolster resilience against broader academic resistance to both animal matters and to spiritual inquiry, acknowledging the deleterious effects of moral distress and injury. Discussion will center on presenter’s efforts to address environmental concerns and spirituality within conventional social work culture of teaching and learning in Canada. Colouring Outside the Lines offers a beginning conversation about liberating a profession from the bounds of secularism, humanism and anthropocentrism, in hopes of inviting new ways of thinking about humanity, our place and relations with/in the web of life, and a new global ethics in which sustainability, justice, peace are guiding values rather than add-on social agendas.


Cassandra Hanrahan
Associate Professor, School of Social Work, Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, Canada


Presentation Type

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


2024 Special Focus—Spaces, Movement, Time: Religions at Rest and in Movement


Spirituality and Social Work, Ecospirituality, More-than-Human-World, Moral Distress

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