Conference Commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The Department of Religion and the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights will sponsor a conference commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The conference will take place Friday, October 27, 2023, in the Broad Auditorium at the Claude Pepper Center. Religious scholars from around the world will discuss the ongoing importance of the UDHR to the modern human rights movement. 

Conference Schedule

8:45 AM: Welcome and opening remarks from John Kelsay (FSU)

9:00 AM: Sujata Gadkar-Wilcox (Quinnipiac University), "Critical Consciousness and Community - Revitalizing the Spirit of Education in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights"

Abstract: While conceptualizing education as a fundamental right has increased access to education for many, it has done so by centering a more technical framework of education listed in the first clause of Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) without simultaneously ensuring the spirit of education described in the second clause as one “directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.” This article suggests that focusing primarily on guarantees of accessibility as mandated by the first clause of Article 26 of the UDHR does not protect the right to education from being coopted and commodified. Instead, it is the second clause and the conceptualization of education as a process of struggle and critical consciousness that enables the spirit of the right to education to be realized. Looking at comparative insights from leading educational thinkers like Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in India, John Dewey in the United States, and Paulo Freire in Brazil, we must build a framework for education that centers process, consciousness, and community. This reformulated notion of education is vital to enhancing democratic engagement, establishing meaningful social communities, and ensuring what Amartya Sen describes as a flourishing life, one measured by human capabilities rather than economic standing. 

10:00 AM: Gene Zubovich (University of Buffalo), "Race, Decolonization, and the Transformation of Christian Human Rights"

Abstract: In 1970, the World Council of Churches, then the largest international Protestant and Orthodox body, embarked on a massive human rights mobilization it called the Programme to Combat Racism (PCR). Rooted in the values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the PCR supported movements for freedom across the world, while focusing on liberation of Southern Africa from European colonialism and white minority rule. From 1970 until the end of apartheid in 1994, the World 
Council of Churches promoted self-determination as the heart of human rights activism by sending financial aid and symbolic support to Marxist anticolonial rebels in places like Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola, and South Africa. This paper interrogates the history of the PCR in order to better understand the past, present, and future of religious human rights mobilizations. It asks: what conceptions of human rights were left behind as the World Council of Churches centered anticolonial epistemologies in its human rights practice in the late twentieth century? What new understandings of human rights arose in global Christian networks as a result of (and in competition with) the PCR? 

11:00 AM: Kate Temoney (Montclair State University), "A Past and Future of the UDHR: A Tandem Exploration with the Genocide Convention"

Abstract: Forged during the same historical moment with intertwining deliberations that impacted their draftings, the UN General Assembly approved the first human rights treaty--the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention)--one day before the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) on December 10, 1948. Their invocations and commemorations are windows into the circumstances and events that continue to shape their relevance and the efficacy of their mutually reinforcing premises. Given the documents' commingled origins and developments, a viable avenue for exploring a future direction of the UDHR is to consider its past and present in tandem with the Genocide Convention and within a context of contemporary and anticipated human rights crises, such as climate change and statelessness.

11:45 AM: Response by Rosemary Kellison (FSU)

1:30 PM: Linda Hogan (Trinity College Dublin), "Resisting ‘the Endtimes’: Critical Religion and the Future of Human Rights"

Abstract: We are living in a time of unprecedented crisis, facing a host of interrelated challenges that, if not addressed, threaten to destroy our planetary home and bequeath to future generations a world of turbulence, conflict and profound inequality.  Some of these challenges, like climate change and artificial intelligence, pose radically new questions about the place of humans, our rights and the scale of our responsibilities in and for our planetary home. Others like the crises of global inequality, exclusionary populism and the culture wars are, in part, the result of the blind-spots of liberalism, and expose the limitations of contemporary human rights politics.  Since the promulgation of the UNDHR human rights have been the primary ethical and legal means of addressing these challenges.  However, today their capacity to do so is called into question, with critics arguing that human rights categories are fatally anthropocentric and ethnocentric, and that, held captive by neoliberal capitalism, can no longer provide the ethical resources to address our entangled crises.  This paper argues that while these criticisms have merit, they do not signal “the endtimes of human rights,” but rather allow us to identify the blind-spots and provide a spur for renewal.  I focus on the role of religion in this renewal and argue that religious discourses provide essential support for the ethics and politics of human rights, particularly when they challenge misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic and racist interpretations of these traditions. I make this case by focusing on the contribution that the Catholic ethical tradition can make to this renewal, particularly in its decolonial, feminist and liberationist modes. 

2:15 PM: Jenna Reinbold (Colgate University), "Human Rights and Religion: An Enduring Question" 

Abstract: One of the most vexing questions faced by the drafters of the UDHR was the question of “religion.” How should human rights interact with the world’s religions? Do they draw upon particular religious ideas, or are they secular in nature? If human rights favor one particular worldview, whether religious or secular, can they truly be universal? This presentation will explore the complex question of the relationship between religion, secularism, and human rights – a question that the First Human Rights Commission wrestled with in a particular way, and that human rights advocates continue to wrestle with today.

3:15 PM: Simeon Ilesanmi (Wake Forest University), "Protecting Dignity: An Examination African Cultural and Legal Appropriation of a Global Moral Vision" 

Abstract: One explicit way in which African states sought to respond to the internationalization imperative in article 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is by making the latter’s language of human dignity the main anchor for their human rights agenda. This paper will examine the various efforts, in both the cultural and legal spheres, to pursue and institutionalize changes through policies and strategies that are undergirded by dignitarian visions of society. I will focus on selected issues and countries as case studies.

4:00 PM: Response by David Little (Georgetown University’s Berkley Center)

4:45 PM: Closing Remarks by Terry Coonan (FSU)