module specification

GI7002 - History and Theory of Human Rights (2017/18)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2017/18
Module title History and Theory of Human Rights
Module level Masters (07)
Credit rating for module 20
School School of Social Sciences
Total study hours 200
172 hours Guided independent study
28 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Coursework 100%   Two 2,500 word essays
Running in 2017/18
Period Campus Day Time Module Leader
Autumn semester North Tuesday Evening

Module summary

This module aims to provide a sound intellectual basis for the study of human rights. It is designed in particular to unsettle and challenge the preconceptions which all students bring with them concerning human rights and their importance in the contemporary world.

Module aims

Four themes in particular are addressed:

  • the historicity of the theory and practice of human rights;
  • the contested subject matter of human rights;
  • philosophical and critical theories of the very idea of human rights, and rivalry between versions of the idea;
  • human rights as an established feature of contemporary international political and legal discourse.


Nature, Right, and History
Critiques of Human Rights
United Nations, Power Politics
Theoretical Approaches to Human Rights
Human Rights as Political Practice
A Responsibility to Protect, the War on Terror, and the Recent History of Human Rights

Learning and teaching

Lectures and seminars, maximizing discussion.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module students will be able to:

  • differentiate and evaluate competing interpretations of the idea of universal human rights;
  • outline and explain the philosophical, political, economic and legal developments that have shaped the pursuit of human rights in Western history;
  • identify and evaluate the cultural and political effects of contemporary human rights discourse in the light of that discourse's particular history and institutional universalization;
  • critically analyze the main texts of international human rights law.

Assessment strategy

Two essays of approximately 2,500 words each, submitted together, requiring students to demonstrate their understanding of the history of the theory and discourse of human rights and its contemporary significance and, also, their ability to critically evaluate the premises and logical structure of at least one argument for human rights.


An-Na‘im, Abdullah, Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari‘a, Harvard University Press, 2008.
Beitz, Charles R., The Idea of Human Rights, Oxford University Press, 2009.
Freeman, Michael Human Rights: An Interdisciplinary Approach, Polity Press, 2011 (2nd edn.).
Irwin, Terence, The Development of Ethics, 3 voll., Oxford University Press, 2007-09.
Joas, Hans,The Sacredness of the Person: A New Genealogy of Human Rights,Georgetown University Press, 2013.
Morsink, Johannes Inherent Human Rights: Philosophical Roots of the Universal Declaration, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009.
Moyn, Samuel, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History, Harvard University Press, 2010.
Rawls, John, The Law of Peoples, Harvard University Press, 1999.
Tasioulas, John, Human Rights: From Morality to Law, Oxford University Press (forthcoming).