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Do Human Rights Have Religious Foundations?

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image of Religion & Human Rights

AbstractDo human rights have religious foundations? Among philosophers and theologians, the question tends to invite two standard replies. Some accept the boundary between the secular and the religious, and say that the universal protection of freedoms, possessions, and duties associated with human rights extend beyond any religious system. Others are impressed by arguments suggesting that the moral standards within human rights are inherently religious. In this paper I propose a third position. By taking the perspective of relative universalism, I draw a distinction between the conceptualization and implementation of human rights. The former is a historical process that is arguably bereft of religion, while the latter is a dynamic process that often embraces it. This distinction motivates my central thesis: although religion is absent from the normative and historical foundations of human rights, the realization of human rights in some regions of the world today often requires it.

Affiliations: 1: University of Connecticut Storrs, CT USA, URL:


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