The story I recounted in Rooted Cosmopolitans centered on nationalism, not religion, as the forgotten engine of Jewish human rights activism. Religion was not completely absent. Rather, Jewish ethics and theological beliefs were filtered though larger categories of politics. To clarify what that meant, I went back to the story to examine what religious human rights looked like for three key figures –Amnesty International founder Peter Benenson; Rabbi Maurice Perlzweig; Christian philosopher and diplomat Charles Malik. The result is this new article, “The Religions of Human Rights,” in the Harvard Theological Review:
Here’s the abstract:
The modern human rights movement arose during a moment of unprecedented encounter between global religions in the mid-twentieth century. Yet attempts to parse the historical relationship between human rights and religious thought have almost exclusively taken the form of case studies of individual religious traditions. This focus on intellectual genealogies obscures the fact that much of human rights doctrine emerged from interreligious contacts and conflicts between Judaism and Christianity, particularly in the context of the decolonizing Middle East. This article retraces this interreligious encounter through the writings of Amnesty International founder Peter Benenson, diplomat and theologian Charles Malik, and rabbi and activist Maurice Perlzweig. Together they represent three different theopolitical responses to the problem of religious pluralism after global empire: minoritarian human rights, majoritarian human rights, and cosmopolitan human rights. Recovering these interrelated human rights conceptions exposes the frames of religious difference embedded in the modern Western human rights imagination.