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Dignity and Human Rights Education

Exploring Ultimate Worth in a Post-Secular World


Robert A. Bowie

This book addresses the question of human rights education in a world that is witnessing a resurgence of religion in public life, and a continuation of religion across much of the globe, long after secularization theories predicted its decline. Promoting a universal vision of human rights while acknowledging religious diversity is a challenge for schools. This book starts with the basic premise that human rights are grounded in a belief in the dignity and ultimate worth of the human person. Drawing on key philosophical and theological sources for understanding dignity, it builds a vision of human rights and religious education that seeks to square the impossible circle of universal human rights education in a religiously diverse world.


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A recontextualized human rights education is education for a post-secular society. This conclusion is reached through a recognition of the essentially ambiguous role religion plays for human rights. Religion can play the role of abuser of rights, or victim of rights abuses. Religion can offer an ethic that is opposed to human rights, or provide a motivation for campaigners or rights. It may even provide some grounding for human rights in seeking to sustain their ultimate status. Religion and belief play every part in the cast. To distance human rights from theological and philosophical narratives in education, weakens critical dimensions of learning. The links between those narratives and rights will always be contested but the tension is a reality to be lived with. This is the reality of the combination of a universal hope for human rights and the hope for recognition and respect for diverse ways of being, including religious ways of being. In the end human rights rest on a belief in the ultimate worth of the human person and questions about why human beings should have this ultimate worth draw on sources that include religious and philosophical narratives. This book has been written against the background view that religion is an obstacle to human rights and the HRE project and the analysis of international documents, educational writings and a study of English secondary school curriculum documents revealed a reluctance to make connections with the religious experience of life. There is an implicit sense of an awkwardness about...

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