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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 study in dignity, human rights and education

There is a hope that international human rights will bring together different nations under a common moral vision, a perspective for all, irrespective of religious or non-religious worldview. This hope is beset with problems and challenges but out of that hope, human rights education (HRE) has become a pedagogical force advancing a universal culture of rights. Part of that culture aims to encourage friendship between people of different religious and philosophical traditions, an aim that seems unlikely to succeed in a world where identity is increasingly, sometimes violently, associated with fundamentally differing philosophical and religious accounts of the nature and worth of a human being. Human rights are regularly cast in arguments and debates as standing in opposition to religion. Two polar arguments articulate the depth of the crisis: on the one hand, human rights are part of a secularizing vision of the modern West to replace the backward, religiously grounded, exclusivistic and morally corrupt past; on the other, human rights are a deviation from God’s law – a human, and therefore sin-centred response. Both arguments profess an irreconcilability of visions. This tension or even crisis for human rights is also one for HRE. For plural and diverse societies, moral education in schools must address this context. How can schools avoid taking sides? What should be expected from schools of a religious character where they exist, such as in England?

Motivation and inspiration

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