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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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Chapter 2: Post-secular human rights education


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Post-secular human rights education

Human rights education needs a different relationship with religion. HRE specifically aims to encourage understanding and friendship between people of different religions, and given the prominence of religion in a range of conflicts and tensions within society and between societies, this aim is essential. The human rights expression of a core belief in human worth at the centre brings belief into focus. Believing in human rights, as a secularizing enterprise, has the potential of creating a particular strain on the ambition of religious friendship and understanding: a strain that is caused by human rights being an essential competitor against religion, rather than a collaborating or cooperating dynamic.

Discounting or not acknowledging religion as a force which might have significant relationships or dynamics with human rights is questionable in a world where religion is increasingly prominent in society. This advances a strong hint of some presumed separation of sacred and secular domains, a presumed secularization thesis lending weight to accusations that human rights are an expression of (secularizing) western imperialism. Perhaps this is part of a broader narrative that sees a dichotomy between rights (good, uniting and growing) and religion (bad, dividing and declining).

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