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The History and Philosophy of Human Rights


Thursday 25 January - Thursday 25 January 2024, 6pm-7.30pm

1 sessions - Check class timetable
Availability limited


On this short course, The History and Philosophy of Human Rights, we examine various philosophical perspectives to help us understand different aspects of the operation and rhetorical and political force of human rights. 

Human rights have their roots in a variety of philosophical, historical and institutional sources. More often than not, they are the result of struggles against rulers, imperial powers and structures of domination. There can be no single theory of human rights because the term refers to many and different institutions, laws, campaigns, struggles and people. 

Human rights are often presented as the culmination of social ordering and as the platform to decry the modern condition: of imperialism, abandoned refugees, massacres and genocide. We are thus faced with a paradox: human rights are among the greatest of modern achievements, and the expression of the worst aspects of modern capitalist society. 

On this postgraduate-level short course, we provide you with sources of modern optimism about rights, and the conditions and intellectual traditions that have offered their most incisive critiques. We move from the modern origins of rights in liberal social contract theory, through their highest expression in crimes against humanity and trials on the perpetration and denial of genocide. 

The examination of contemporary imperial formations of sovereign violence attests to the fact that the history and philosophy of human rights is not a linear teleological one. We consider the condition of exile and the plight of the refugee in a number of jurisdictions to point to the exclusions that ground modern political formations of rights. 

This course is ideal if you have a professional or personal interest in the field of law. You will also find it of particular interest if you wish to enhance your career through Continuing Professional Development in this area. 

This short course is assessed by a 4000-word essay.

30 credits at level 7

  • Entry requirements

    Entry requirements

    Most of our short courses have no formal entry requirements and are open to all students.

    This short course has no prerequisites.

    As part of the enrolment process, you may be required to submit a copy of a suitable form of ID.

    International students who wish to come to the UK to study a short course can apply for a Visitor visa. Please note that it is not possible to obtain a Student visa to study a short course.

  • How to apply

    How to apply

    You register directly onto the classes you would like to take. Classes are filled on a first-come, first-served basis - so apply early. If you wish to take more than one short course, you can select each one separately and then register onto them together via our online application portal. There is usually no formal selection process, although some modules may have prerequisites and/or other requirements, which will be specified where relevant.