Accessible Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter October 28, 2004

Beyond Universalism

Heidi Morrison

The field of human rights scholarship has traditionally been dominated by legal experts, political scientists, and sociologists. While historians have played a somewhat minor role in tracing human rights intellectual history, few have actually engaged in the central debate that has engrossed human rights scholars of other disciplines over the last few decades, i.e. the debate on theory. In this paper, I investigate the possibility for historians, or scholars of any discipline for that matter, to contribute to the ongoing debate on human rights through adopting a method of literary analysis. Through this investigation , I argue that scholars are missing the mark in focussing the debate on human rights theory around the concept of universalism. My paper relates particularily to traditionally Muslim societies.I first give an overview of what has been written by human rights scholars on theory, then I justify a literary analysis approach for studying human rights, and lastly I apply this approach to two texts, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam. In the end, this approach points scholars to the need to focus less on the meaning of the concept ``universalism" and more on the meaning of ``the human".

Published Online: 2004-10-28

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