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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 9: Exclusive and inclusive approaches to dignity


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Exclusive and inclusive approaches to dignity

Whilst theological and philosophical sources of dignity help to explain the senses in which dignity is used in human rights they do not feature in HRE literature, perhaps because of an anxiety that ideological differences would damage the HRE project. The separation between religious beliefs and human rights in HRE, in both the international documents and the English curriculum, deprives it of an important resource out of a possible fear of divisiveness or a fear these traditions are incompatible with human rights. It weakens the conceptual clarity around the foundational values at the heart of the human rights project. We have also seen that dignity is an important idea that is not easily discarded but for which conceptual clarity matters. Within the diverse treatments of dignity there are key common elements. Though the distancing of theoretical understandings of dignity in HRE is probably due to a fear of the damage done by engaging with different narratives, in so doing essential ideas within dignity are endangered, and possible alignments between the different narratives and traditions are missed.

To include different meaning-giving narratives (religious and philosophical) when making sense of dignity presents an important question about the universal culture of human rights that HRE is supposed to be promoting. It has been suggested here that such links between theology, philosophy and human rights are important for helping with conceptual clarity, and reflect the reality of...

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