Introducing openGlobalRights’ newest debate: Religion and human rights

Today’s human rights networks are sophisticated, dense, and multifaceted. Access to the debates shaping these networks’ activities, however, is still restricted by language, money, ideology, and power.

openGlobalRights (oGR) is a multilingual, online forum dedicated to debating human rights work from all perspectives. On it, editors cultivate new and established authors, highlight cutting edge disagreements, and publish work by advocates, practitioners and scholars worldwide. They take special care to highlight perspectives from the global South, and encourage debate across global cleavages of all kinds.

Since its launch in June 2013, oGR has cultivated several debates including, emerging powers and human rights, human rights: mass or elite movement?, R2P and the human rights crisis in Syria, and most recently, funding for human rights.

This week, editors James Ron and Archana Pandya introduce a new debate theme on religion and human rights: what are the potentail points for collaboration?

Introducing our contributors

In many circles, “religion” and “human rights” are opposing concepts, and for many activists concerned with defending the rights of women, children, LGBT persons, and more, faith organizations are the problem, not the solution.

This view, however, underestimates existing and potential points of collaboration between faith communities and human rights. Although there are indeed many challenges and tensions, this is not the whole story.

To explore the pros and cons of religious/human rights collaboration, we launch this new oGR debate. We begin with a week of signature pieces from commentators around the world. In the months to come, we will follow up with numerous responses, commentaries, arguments, and elaborations. We invite readers to submit their own thoughts, in 700-1000 words, for consideration. 

We began the debate this Monday with long-time human rights activist Larry Cox, co-director of Kairos: the Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice, arguing that despite serious challenges, human rights movements must view religion as a potential ally, and cannot ignore the potential for improved legitimacy and impact through religion. International relations scholar Jack Snyder took the argument one step further, suggesting that global human rights movements would have more impact if they operated like charismatic, evangelizing religions.

On Tuesday, Arvind Sharma, a scholar of comparative religion, argued that Hindu philosophies of moral agency, duty and universal truth can and do support universal human rights values. Muhtari Aminu-Kano, Ayaz Ali and Atallah FitzGibbon of Islamic Relief Worldwide, similarly, describe common ground between human rights and Islamic values.

On Wednesday, however, Pakistani sociologist Nida Kirmani and Wai Yan Phone, editor-in-charge of the Journal of Human Rights and Democracy in Myanmar, explored the darker sides. Kirmani notec that religion has led to the exclusion and persecution of minority groups in India and Pakistan, while Phone chronicled the rise of anti-Muslim strains of Buddhist nationalism.  

On Thursday, the practical intersections between human rights, Islam and Judaism were explored by Marie Juul Petersen, researcher at the Danish Institute for Human Rights, and Rabbi Arik Ascherman, president and senior rabbi at Rabbis for Human Rights in Jerusalem. Drawing on her studies of Muslim aid organizations, Petersen described how these groups both do, and do not, engage with universal rights. Rabbi Ascherman, similarly, explored how the Jewish faith can, and must, be a force for human rights in Palestine/Israel.  

We end the week with a piece by Jill Olivier, research director at South Africa’sInternational Religious Health Assets Programme, who argues for a more complex understanding of the synergies between Catholicism, human rights, health, and condoms in Africa. 

In the months to follow, we expect to publish many articles, from commentators worldwide, that agree, disagree, and extend these arguments in multiple directions.