Religious Diversity and Human Rights

By Irene Bloom; J. Paul Martin et al. | Go to book overview
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7
RELIGION AND LOCKEAN
NATURAL RIGHTS

RICHARD ASHCRAFT

In this essay, I propose to discuss the relationship between religion and human rights as it is presented in the political thought of John Locke. On the basis of that discussion, I will offer a few observations as to how some of our human rights came to be established, and the role played in that achievement by (Lockean) liberalism as a political theory. Before offering a more detailed account of the specific theses I wish to defend, however, it would be helpful to sketch, briefly, the general dimensions of a widely held perspective which calls into question the presumptive validity of the endeavor I have described.

At first glance, it might seem odd that one should speak conjunctively of religion and human rights. To many in the West, the historical record of the relationship between religion and human rights is far from being an unequivocally positive one. Indeed, not a few juridical claims which we now recognize as "rights" were first advanced against the intolerance and persecution practiced by those imbued with religious authority. And, in a larger sense, the development of our modern concept of "rights" appears to be an outgrowth of those same beliefs and social forces which are generally associated with the process of secularization. The language of rights, that is, establishes a prima facie case for the importance of political and legal relationships, and might, therefore, best be viewed as part of a comprehensive historical shift away from a reliance upon a network of meanings drawn from the sphere of religion toward a viewpoint more centrally rooted in the practical concerns of social

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