Upper-Division Seminar : Human Rights and Literature

Course Number: ENGL 197
Prerequisites: Upper-division standing, English majors only
Advisory Enrollment Information: This course cannot be repeated and is limited to upper-division English majors only.
Catalog Course Entry: ENGL 197
Quarter: Fall 2010
Day(s): TR
Time: 9:30 - 10:45 AM
Location: SH 2617
Description:

This course will explore human rights discourse, foregrounding the humanities-based contributions made to human rights study. Given the considerable attention garnered by Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilizations" thesis, it is clear that deep-rooted cultural assumptions have played a tremendous (at times very problematic) role as analysts and the general public alike have struggled to evaluate U.S. international policy in the context of evolving ideas about global justice and governance. For those not inclined to embrace the "clash of civilizations" thesis, the difficult process of realizing a "transcultural" basis for human rights often leads to a rethinking of cosmopolitanism, or to a renewed exploration of universal standards of human behavior (for example, the condemnation of torture). However, much remains to be done in terms of studying the impacts and implications of such "transcultural" standards, as is exemplified in current debates regarding the religious practice in which women wear burkhas. Conflicts between strongly-held cultural beliefs and prescribed universal standards become even more complicated when human rights initiatives are yoked to neoliberal economic polices by organizations like the WTO, and the IMF, institutions that control the flow of financial aid to countries in need. A sophisticated analysis of human rights issues and institutions exists in the humanities--in humanistic objects of study as well as in humanistic methodologies, theories and extant criticism--and this resource has the potential to contribute significantly to future scholarship, activism and policy making. Questions that we will pursue include: what definitions of the "human" does one find in the literature? Does a human rights orientation promote certain notions of the human over others? How does one negotiate between different conceptions of rights (including national, international and universal versions)? What are the limitations of rights discourse? When there are injuries that necessitate a response from the larger culture of a community, a response that is beyond the mechanisms provided by the rule of law, how do the law and culture interact? How might the law support or inhibit redress or healing? In what ways does a human rights focus invite us to rethink U.S. race politics? Students will write two papers, and an in-class final exam. We will also screen and discuss several films.