Can humanrights accommodate pluralism?
There are many ways to approach the topic selected for this year’s Oxford
Amnesty Lectures. I have chosen to examine it from the following angle: Can humanrights accommodate pluralism? I am especially interested in two questions: (1) Do
humanrights transcend cultural and religious differences? (2) What does the
answer to this question imply for our understanding of democracy in a global context? I will begin by examining the supposedly universal relevance
Humanrights in the Roman Catholic tradition
Charles E. Curran
This essay will discuss the understanding of humanrights in the Roman Catholic
tradition. One essay or even one book cannot pretend to cover the entire topic
in any depth. This article will focus especially on the ofﬁcial teaching of the
hierarchical magisterium. The hierarchical teaching in the general area of the
social order has been called Catholic Social Teaching which traces its origins to
the encyclicals of Pope Leo XIII in the latter part of
This book addresses the relationship between human rights and religion. The original blurb for the Oxford Amnesty Lectures of 2008 invited speakers and audiences to ponder arguments for the God-given source of human rights. The book explains how biblical inspiration (both Old and New Testament) fuelled the anti-slavery protests and later the civil rights movement in the United States. It develops the particular relevance, for arguments over human rights within Islam, of the writings of the medieval philosopher Muhammad al-Ghazali who justified an openness towards constructive engagement with other traditions. The book shows where the philosophical worldviews that inform the religion of Islam and the rights discourse may be distant from each other. It illustrates the challenge of taking the real world of human practice seriously while avoiding simplistic arguments for pluralism or relativism. The book focuses on Simon Schama's evocation of the religious fervour which helped feed the long struggles for liberation among American slave communities. It discusses the understanding of human rights in the Roman Catholic tradition. The book also shows that the Christian experience of Pentecost and what it means to learn to speak as well as understand another's language, is a continuing resource God has given the church to sustain the ability to suffer as well as respond to those who suffer for the long haul. The book argues that moral progress consists in the universalisation of Western liberal democracy with its specific understanding of human rights.
Terror and religion1
The Oxford Amnesty Lectures have by now a longish and distinguished history.
The topic that dominates discussion shifts year by year, as it should, reﬂecting
contemporary urgency. Sometimes the focus falls on implementation: we know when
humanrights are being violated en masse, and we struggle to ﬁnd ways to end the
horror. Sometimes the focus is more theoretical: when new national constitutions
or humanrights covenants are proposed and debated, for example, we
Symposium: Freedom of belief, freedom
7.1 The tolerance policy: way out or compromise?
It is an honour and a privilege to be invited to speak at the Oxford Amnesty Lectures.
Amnesty International has been a longstanding friend of human-rights defenders
everywhere. In Pakistan the protection it extended to us kept our spirits up.
Oxford University, too, has a special signiﬁcance for Pakistan. It gave us our ﬁnest
and most cherished politician – Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. Her assassination
subsequently turned to revolutionary activity, for most it was simply a restatement of the old idea of men and women as made ‘in the image of God’ and deserving of respect and proper treatment by political rulers. In consequence religious leaders and institutions increasingly found themselves in conflict with rulers whom they had hitherto supported, a role that was reinforced by the transnational nature of the Catholic Church which reinforced the commitment to humanrights and made it harder for regimes to appeal over the heads of local church leaders to what they hoped
Response to Ronald Dworkin
I ﬁnd myself in agreement with a great deal in Professor Dworkin’s elegant lecture.
In particular, I agree with his main negative contention: that divine authority is not
a credible foundation for humanrights, largely for the reasons he gives – reasons
which, as he rightly implies, ﬁnd a responsive echo in the thought of philosophers
such as St Thomas Aquinas. But I shall focus, instead, on Dworkin’s positive views
regarding the nature and justiﬁcation of humanrights
Response to Chantal Mouffe
The question is not merely whether the idea of ‘humanrights’ can accommodate
‘pluralism’, but whether, or to what extent, it should. Chantal Mouffe claims that
there is at present a dominant conception of humanrights which is closely tied up
with one conception of the legitimate polity, that of ‘liberal democracy’. The idea of
humanrights needs revision to accommodate a wider range of legitimate polities.
There is no doubt that Mouffe is exploring a key problem for human
the importance of human dignity and the rights of all, whether Catholic or not. In consequence, the Church began to play a key role in promoting humanrights and civility in public life. Central here was the activity of Pope John Paul II who strongly emphasised the importance of humanrights, although the extent to which he can be said to have promoted a transformative view of democracy may depend upon one’s own ideological preferences. Yet whilst democracy might be favoured, it always tended to be seen as provisional and as a lesser evil, and the Church retained
, ‘religions’ as singular, self-deﬁning and separate phenomena. The
Religion and rights
cultural relativism of which anthropologists have long stood accused has also been
a stumbling block for historians dealing with periods and regions over-determined
by the conventional narratives of the major World Religions. In introducing an
earlier volume of essays on humanrights, culture and context, the anthropologist
Richard Wilson points to the pragmatic circumstances in which questions about
rights arise, initially as part of