The Rock Ethics Institute


Human Rights

The ethics interest group on Human Rights was dedicated to fostering interdisciplinary dialogue and innovative research concerning human rights. The goal of the group was to create a productive environment for research, teaching, curricular development and outreach related to human rights.

We are now in what has been called the "era of human rights" and global attention to human rights is on the rise.  But this increased attention brings a number of challenges.  Costas Douzinas explains in Human Rights and Empire (2007) that "the rhetoric of human rights has triumphed because it can be adopted by the right and the left, the north and the south, the state and the pulpit, the minister and the rebel" (33).  Today the rhetoric of human rights is used by both victims and perpetrators, making it increasingly difficult to distinguish between the genuine defense of rights and the deployment of rights rhetoric to justify abuses of state power.

In order to navigate this increasingly complex field, this interest group is organized around two key premises regarding human rights research, teaching, and outreach. First, academic scrutiny of human rights should be truly interdisciplinary and the strength of the group will come from the variety of perspectives offered by faculty and students who are trained in different fields such as law, philosophy, history, rhetoric, communication, literature and culture, art, theater, anthropology, sociology, political science, medicine, business, media and more.

Second, understanding human rights requires both cross-cultural and global perspectives. Cultural diversity is often perceived as a threat to notions of universal rights.  However, cross-cultural perspectives can help to alleviate some of these tensions, especially when these perspectives reveal theories of rights that do not originate in the West.  Cross-cultural perspectives demand that we acquire detailed knowledge of other cultures and their social practices. But the rewards are palpable:  they enhance ethical critiques of globalization, and enrich our understanding of cosmopolitanism.

Our goals are to provide faculty and students working on human rights with a dynamic and supportive environment. This interest group will encourage collaborative research as well as provide a forum for strengthening individual projects.  Part of this research energy will come from bringing human rights scholars and activists to campus, and creating opportunities for presentations by members of the Penn State community. By creating institutional visibility for human rights work at Penn State, we also hope to draw attention to the courses we teach, encourage cross-disciplinary connections among our faculty and students, and promote curriculum development.