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23 September 2022 - 23 September 2022

12:00PM - 5:00PM


  • Free

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Recent debates in the Humanities and Social Sciences have highlighted again and again that the separation of religion and modern politics is more permeable than often postulated.  This workshop seeks to examine the 18th and 19th Century history of human rights, which was inextricably intertwined with religious language and/or values.

The debates around human rights are notoriously challenging and multifaceted, as they revolve around different theories of their genesis, application, reach, and justification; moreover, various concepts of natural law, legality, sacrality, recognition, and dignity underpin and drive these discussions.

The workshop will look at human rights narratives and discourses which emerge in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. We investigate the pertinent rhetorical strategies, discourses, narratives as well as semantic shifts in fictional and non-fictional German-speaking texts during that time: how do these texts juxtapose, merge, synthesize, and deconstruct the notion of rights and religion in the context of, for example, emerging concepts of sovereignty; religious freedom within and beyond German territories (the latter in the context of emigration); the global context and the system of slavery; notions of race; definitions of human beings and humanity; German abolitionism; the reception of the American and French Revolution; the coalition wars and the Napoleonic occupation; political rights in the Vormärz, etc.; the performativity of the law; the juxtaposition of procedures vs. rituals etc.

Organisers: and

Online Workshop, Durham University -  23 September 2022

12.00pm-12.10pm - Welcome and Introduction

Yael Almog and Claudia Nitschke (Organisers)

12.10pm-1.40pm - Panel 1: Personhood and Diversity

Tanvi Solanki (Yonsei University): Who Sounds Most Worthy of Human Rights? Aural Cultural Diversity, Human Rights, and their Religious Investments in 18th- and 19th-Century German Intellectual History

Ian Cooper (University of Kent): The Subject of the Person

1.50pm-3.20pm - Panel 2: Natural Law

Kyung-Ho Cha (University of Bayreuth): Human Rights between Biblical Law and Natural Law in the Age of Secularization

Christoph Schmitt-Maass (University of Oxford): ‘Singing the Song of Songs of Human Rights’: The Religious Implications of the Human Rights Argumentation of Natural Law in Early Enlightenment (Thomasius; Wolff; Pufendorf)

3.30pm-5.00pm - Panel 3: In Defence of the Deprived

Yael Almog (Durham University): Moses Mendelssohn and J.G Herder on the Living Script

Sebastian Wogenstein (University of Connecticut): ‘Die Menschenrechte haben kein

Geschlecht’: Hedwig Dohm’s Feminist Conception of Human Rights