Read what the College’s updated Spring 2020 Pass/Fail policy means for Human Rights minors.

Our Human Rights curriculum includes introductory courses on the philosophical foundations and contemporary issues in human rights, as well as elective courses with disciplinary, thematic, and/or regional perspectives. College students can enroll in our Human Rights in World Civilizations Core sequence, the Spring Quarter study abroad in Vienna, or the September study abroad course in Hong Kong

The College Course Catalog contains a list of undergraduate Human Rights courses offered each year. View all past courses (2001 to Spring 2020).

Current Courses

The Human Rights courses we’re offering during the 2020-21 academic year are included below: 

Autumn Quarter 2020 courses
Winter Quarter 2021 courses
Spring Quarter 2021 courses

Courses and cross-lists will be updated as details become available. For the most current information about schedule and classroom details, use the Class Search on the Academic Information System.  

Please contact Kathy Scott with questions about Human Rights course administration. 

Autumn Quarter 2020 | Human Rights Courses

Human Rights in World Civilizations I

HMRT 10100
Instructors: TBA
Time/Date/Sections: TBA
Cross list: SOSC 24900

The first quarter begins with a set of conceptual problems and optics designed to introduce students to the critical study of human rights, opening up questions of the universal, human dignity, and the political along with the practices of witness and testimony. It is followed by two thematic clusters. "Anti-Slavery, Humanitarianism, and Rights" focuses on the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries to historicize notions of dignity, sympathy, and witness. "Declarations as a Human Rights Genre" examines revolutionary eighteenth-century rights declarations in France, the United States, and Haiti against the aspirations of the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This sequence meets the general education requirement in civilization studies. These courses must be taken in sequence.

Human Rights: Contemporary Issues

HMRT 21001/31001
Susan Gzesh, Senior Lecturer (The College)
Lecture: M, 3:00 - 4:20 PM
Discussion Section 1 - 3, W, 3:00 - 4:20 PM, Discussion Section 4, W, 4:30 - 5:50 PM
Cross-lists: HIST 29304, LLSO 21001, LACS 21001

This interdisciplinary course presents an overview of several major contemporary human rights problems as a means to explore the use of human rights norms and mechanisms. The course addresses the roles of states, inter-governmental bodies, national courts, civil society actors including NGOs, victims, and their families, and other non-state actors. Topics are likely to include universalism, enforceability of human rights norms, the prohibition against torture, U.S. exceptionalism, and the rights of women, racial minorities, and non-citizens.

Human Rights: Philosophical Foundations

HMRT 21002/31002
Ben Laurence, Associate Instructional Professor (Pozen Center)
Lecture: T/Th, 12:30 - 1:50 PM
Discussion Sections: Fri, Time: TBD
Cross-lists: HIST 29319/39319, INRE 31602, LLSO 21002, MAPH 42002, PHIL 21002/31002

In this class we will explore the philosophical foundations of human rights, investigating theories of how our shared humanity in the context of an interdependent world gives rise to obligations of justice. In the first weeks of the course, we begin by asking what rights are, how they are distinguished from other parts of morality, and what role they play in our social and political life. We will consider two theories of rights in general: the interest theory of rights and the second-personal theory of rights. But rights come in many varieties, and we are interested in human rights in particular. In later weeks, we will ask what makes something a human right, and how are human rights different from other kinds of rights. We will consider a number of contemporary philosophers who attempt to answer this question, including James Griffin, Joseph Raz, John Rawls, John Tasioulas, and Martha Nussbaum. Throughout we will be asking questions such as, “What makes something a human right?”; “What role does human dignity play in grounding our human rights?”; “Are human rights historical?”; “What role does the nation and the individual play in our account of human rights?”; “When can one nation legitimately intervene in the affairs of another nation?”; “How can we respect the demands of justice while also respecting cultural difference?”

Militant Democracy and the Preventative State

HMRT 21005
Kathleen Cavanaugh, Executive Director, Senior Lecturer (Pozen Center)
M/W: 2:30 - 3:20 PM

Are states of exception still exceptional? The current debates and developments as well as the existential governmental crises has led to a securitization of rights. State security discourse narrates how states understand and mediate their legal obligations and has been used justify pre-emptive actions and measures which otherwise would not fit within an international law framework. When narrated in the public square, States often construct a discourse around a necessity defence—measures that may be extra-legal but argued to be necessary to protect democratic values and the democratic ‘way of life.’ This typifies what we refer to as ‘militant democratic’ language of the ‘preventive state’ and has been most visible in the raft of antiterrorism measures that were introduced after the events of September 11, 2001 and remain to date. This course will examine the impact of militant democracy and the preventative state on the current human rights landscape. It will look specifically how the narrative of prevention and protection has impacted normative changes to fundamental human rights and how the permanence of emergency is beginning to give the concept of ‘securitization of rights’ legal legs.

The Politics of Law

HMRT 21007
Kathleen Cavanaugh, Executive Director, Senior Lecturer (Pozen Center)
M/W: 11:30 AM - 12:20 PM

In contrast to the notion that international law is a ‘stable set of normative demands opposed to international politics,’ it is ‘better understood as an aspect of hegemonic contestation, a technique of articulating political claims in terms of legal rights and duties’ (Koskenniemi 2004:197). As a hegemonic technique, law is a surface over which political struggles are waged, reflecting back the political uncertainties of the time. That international law is situated within, not apart from political realities is not in question and before we can begin to explain universal international law, we must first clarify ‘what or whose view of international law is meant’ (199). This course challenges a traditional reading of international law by examining the politics of law. Specific attention will be paid to the interface between emergency powers and international law. When are international law principles relevant? What guidance or constraints does international law impose on emergency powers? What is the relationship between national and international control mechanisms? How do international law mechanisms supervise or monitor the exercise of emergency powers—from the “global war on terror” to Covid19-- and how effective are they? The course will provide students with a toolkit to [re]conceptualise international law in order to better understand the hegemonic contestation over the rights-based discourse.

Constitutional Rights to Liberty and Procedural Due Process in Chicago

HMRT 22304
Kyla Bourne, Graduate Lecturer (Sociology)
T/Th: 11:00 AM - 12:20 PM

This seminar explores constitutional rights to fair policing with a focus on Chicago. It builds toward the draft of a viable research project on how constitutional rights to liberty and procedural due process have been historically applied (or ignored) in Chicago. Over ten weeks, you will learn how the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution relate to local law enforcement practice. Today, debate is fierce as to whether, and to what extent, these procedural rights are upheld or ignored in criminal law enforcement at the local level. You will be expected to join this debate in your own Chicago-focused research projects.

Human Rights Research and Writing I

HMRT 22241
Nathaniel Gonzalez, Alec Wang, Social Science Teaching Fellows (Sociology), (History)
Date and Time: TBD
Consent Required

This course provides an introduction to human rights theory and method for students working on disciplinary or interdisciplinary BA thesis projects that examine human rights topics.

Autumn 2020 | Cross-Listed Courses - TBA

Winter Quarter 2021 | Human Rights Courses

Human Rights in World Civilizations II

HMRT 10200
Instructors: TBA
Time/Date/Sections: TBA
Cross list: SOSC 24901

Four thematic clusters structure the second quarter. "Migration, Minorities, and Refugees" examines minority rights, the evolution of legal norms around refugees, and human trafficking. "Late Twentieth Century Human Rights Talk" explores the contestations between rights claims in the political-civil and socio-economic spheres, calls for sexual rights, and cultural representations of human rights abuses. "Global Justice" considers forms of international criminal law, transitional justice, and distributive justice. "Indigenous Rights as Human Rights" takes up the relatively new domain of the rights of indigenous peoples and how they relate to contemporary human rights practice.

This sequence meets the general education requirement in civilization studies. These courses must be taken in sequence.

Health and Human Rights

HMRT 21400
Renslow ShererEvan Lyon (UChicago Medicine and Heartland Alliance)
Letcure: T: 11:00 AM - 12:20 PM, Discusssion: Th, 11:00 AM - 12:20 PM
Cross-lists: HMRT 31400, MEDC 60405

This course attempts to define health and health care in the context of human rights theory and practice. Does a “right to health” include a “right to health care"? We delineate health care financing in the United States and compare these systems with those of other nations. We explore specific issues of health and medical practice as they interface in areas of global conflict: torture, landmines, and poverty. Readings and discussions explore social determinants of health: housing, educational institutions, employment, and the fraying of social safety nets. We study vulnerable populations: foster children, refugees, and the mentally ill. Lastly, does a right to health include a right to pharmaceuticals? What does the big business of drug research and marketing mean for our own country and the world?

Justice At Work

HMRT 22210
Ben Laurence, Associate Instructional Professor (Pozen Center)
Lecture: M/W: 1:30 – 2:50 PM
Discussion: Section 1, Fri, 11:30 AM - 12:20 PM, Section 2, 12:30 - 1:20 PM
Cross-lists: PHIL 21606

In this class we will explore questions of justice that arise in and around work. We will consider concepts such as exploitation and domination as they apply to workers under capitalism. We will examine the foundation of the right to strike, and the right to form a union. We will consider the case for workplace democracy and worker control. We will examine proposals for a universal basic income as a way of freeing us from the need to work. We develop these topics using a variety of normative lenses, drawing on (often cutting edge) work ranging from Chicago School economics to Marxism, from liberalism to radical feminism, from human rights traditions to neo-Republicanism.

Reimagining Justice in the Chicago Police Torture Cases

HMRT 22217
Alice Kim, Director of Human Rights Practice (Pozen Center)
T/Th: 2:00 - 3:20 PM 

From 1972 to 1991, former Chicago police commander Jon Burge and white detectives under his command systematically tortured over 117 Black people in police custody. In May 2015, 43 years after the first known instance of torture, Chicago became the first municipality in the U.S. to provide reparations to those harmed by racially-motivated law enforcement violence, passing legislation for survivors of the Burge police torture regime. This course explores the evolution of decades of community activism and creative organizing undertaken in the Jon Burge torture cases. We will consider the following questions: What do these cases and the activism surrounding them reveal about policing and the criminal legal system? What role did torture survivors and those directly impacted by Burge torture play in struggles for justice? How can we reimagine systems of justice and accountability? How can society reckon with legacies of state violence and their ongoing impact in communities today?

Human Rights Research and Writing II

HMRT 22242
Nathaniel Gonzalez, Alec Wang, Social Science Teaching Fellows (Sociology), (History)
Date and Time: TBD
Consent Required

This course provides an introduction to human rights theory and method for students working on disciplinary or interdisciplinary BA thesis projects that examine human rights topics.

Ethnic Conflict in Comparative Perspective

HMRT 23214
Nathaniel Gonzalez, Social Science Teaching Fellow (Sociology)
M/W: 1:30 - 2:50 PM

This course introduces students to contemporary debates on the significance and implications of group identification within the context of ethnic conflict. Specifically, students will come away from the course with a deep understanding of theories of group identity and will be able to use these theories to examine and compare contemporary cases of group-based violence. We will use these theories to ask questions like: are diverse societies more prone to group violence? what is the relationship between the economy and group conflict? and, what causes neighbors turn on each other? Throughout the course students will be exposed to research from around the globe, encouraging a deeply local but constantly comparative approach to social science. Note that we will grapple with difficult issues in this course such as lynching, ethnic riots, and genocide.

Human Rights in East Asia

HMRT 24007
Johanna Ransmeier (History), Teng Biao, Visiting Professor (Pozen Center)
Day and Time: TBA
Course Description: TBA

Human Rights: Migrant, Refugee, Citizen

HMRT 24701
Susan Gzesh, Senior Lecturer (The College)
T/Th, 2:00 - 3:20 PM
Cross-lists: HMRT 34701, LACS 25303/35303

This course addresses how international human rights doctrines, conventions, and mechanisms can be used to understand the situation of the "alien" (or foreigner) who has left his or her country of origin to work, seek safe haven, or simply reside in another country. If human rights are universal, human rights are not lost merely by crossing a border. We use an interdisciplinary approach to study concepts of citizenship and statelessness, as well as the human rights of refugees and migratory workers.

Pain and Representation

HMRT 27312
Amy Krauss, Postdoctoral Instructor (Pozen Center)
Th: 2:00 - 4:50 PM

How do people make sense of loss and pain? What is the relationship between bodily (somatic) and spiritual (psychic) forms of suffering? Why and how do we consider them separately? What languages do we have for expressing pain and how do we “read” or share the suffering of the others?
This course draws from anthropological approaches in dialogue with literature, philosophy, feminist theory, film, and photography to defamiliarize the category of suffering as a universal human experience and to think critically about how different modes of representation generate ethical and political responses (or fail to). For instance, we will consider the de-politicizing effects of humanitarian depictions of suffering in the context of war and immigration, the relationship between art and violence, and how histories of racism and colonial domination shape empathetic imagination. Addressing a wide range of issues and contexts, we will pay special attention to the creative genres people engage in order to live with pain and loss, often in the margins of “strong languages” of law, medicine and religion.


What’s Law Got To Do With It? Human Rights In Times of Crisis

HMRT 31009
Kathleen Cavanaugh, Executive Director, Senior Lecturer (Pozen Center)
T: 2:00 - 4:50 PM

This course will examine the concept of human rights and the political forces that have shaped the international human rights legal regime as well as the larger human rights project. The course is designed to challenge the notion that within international relations there exists an institutional framework of legality and a rule of law that is pre-political. It will examine unde the security and pushbacks on the liberal framing of the rights discourse and provide students with a greater understanding of why the human rights project has been fraught with conflict. In mapping out a re-narration of international law within an IHRL regime (shifting the focus from the rules to the broader themes) this course will begin by providing an overview of foundations and primary sources of international law as well as the various interpretive approaches. Part two addresses the question of enforcement in which an increasingly diverse network of acctors--international institutions, governments, non-governmental organizations and individuals--participate. Part three then breaks down the impact on the securitization of rights before turning to the theoretical and empirical critiques of human rights. The course will conclude by revisiting these broader debates about the development and language of international law, looking specifically at the question of universality.

Winter Quarter 2021 | Cross-Listed Courses - TBA

Spring Quarter 2021 | Human Rights Courses 

Incarceration and Justice

HMRT 22235
Alice Kim, Director of Human Rights Practice (Pozen Center)
T: 2:00 - 4:50 PM

This course explores the impact of long-term sentencing practices in Illinois and nationwide. Largely neglected, even amid a robust and ongoing national conversation about mass incarceration, more than 200,000 people are serving life without parole (LWOP) or virtual life sentences in the United States. Current efforts to decarcerate often pit “non-violent offenders” against “violent offenders,” those deserving versus those undeserving of mercy or second chances. Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for twenty-seven years in South Africa, said: "no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones." We will deploy Mandela’s standard to explore the long reach of long-term sentencing as we engage multiple mediums (memoir, personal testimony, poetry, film, art) to take an up-close and personal look at the lived experiences of those who have faced long-term removal from their communities into prison and how individuals, groups and communities are challenging what has been termed “death by incarceration.”

Human Rights Research and Writing III

HMRT 22243
Nathaniel Gonzalez, Alec Wang, Social Science Teaching Fellows (Sociology), (History)
Date and Time: TBD
Consent Required

This course provides an introduction to human rights theory and method for students working on disciplinary or interdisciplinary BA thesis projects that examine human rights topics.

A Kind of Wild Justice: Vengeance, Justice, and the Law

HMRT 23114
Agatha Slupek, Gradaute Lecturer (Political Science)
T/Th: 2:00 - 3:20 PM

How do we, in liberal democracies, distinguish between vengeance and justice? Does the law operate as an instrument solely of the latter, or of both, in turn? How do claims to human rights and towards the repair of historical injustices come to be cast as harboring a spirit of resentment and vengefulness? In this course, we consider the vexed relationship between vengeance, justice, and the law as these concepts have been understood in democratic theory and politics, with a particular focus on how claims to human rights come to register as either just or vengeful.

Cold War, Religion and Religious Freedom in East Asia

HMRT 23216
Sandra Park, Graduate Lecturer (History)
M/W: 1:30 - 2:50 PM

“Religious freedom” is enshrined in not only liberal democratic constitutions but also in constitutions of socialist nation-states such as North Korea, although the latter are frequently dismissed by the West as veneers of democracy. The concept of “religious freedom” has been used by the West (i.e. United States) to categorize the world into “modern” and “anti-modern,” “free” and “communist” throughout the Cold War. Yet, how did “religion” emerge as a category in East Asia? What did “religious freedom” mean in the context of occupations, divisions and hot/cold war? How was religion managed by states, and how did religious communities negotiate with local and global political currents? By pivoting to East Asia as a privileged site of analysis, this course will interrogate the notions of “religion” and “religious freedom” as they were articulated and mobilized for various motives. Core areas of analysis will include the relationship between religion and state-building, religion and human rights, and religion and empire. Moreover, this course decouples the temporal qualifier “Cold War” from “East Asia” to challenge conventional demarcations of the Cold War (1945-1991), for its “end” is still a contested discussion.

Reproductive Justice Beyond Rights

HMRT 24108
Amy Krauss, Postdoctoral Instructor (Pozen Center)
T/Th: 2:00 - 3:20 PM
Cross list: HMRT 34108

This course surveys major debates and tactics of feminist and queer movements between global norths and souths, comparing visions of reproductive and sexual rights based on ideals of liberal individualism and private property with traditions of collective rights claims, practices of care and solidarity, and more expansive visions of reproductive wellbeing and justice. Some of our case studies include the Zika epidemic in Brazil, Mothers Reclaiming Our Children in the U.S., and movements for abortion access in Latin America. Hearing from guest speakers who work as lawyers, healthcare practitioners, activists and community organizers, we will consider reproductive and sexual rights in a field of contestation that involves diverse state interests and social movement histories.

Disability in East Asia: Past and Present

HMRT 24506
Alec Wang, Social Science Teaching Fellow (History)
T/Th: 12:30 - 1:50 PM 

Why does disability matter to East Asia? This course uses this overarching question to anchor discussions on the role disability plays in historical and contemporary issues of social inequality and human rights in China, Japan and Korea. Students will think critically about disability identities, institutions, theories, experiences, and interactions that have made disability what it is today. We will learn to narrate disability from a wide range of sources that represent bodily impairments (blindness, madness, autism, trauma, deformities etc.) in medicine, literature and film, and to relate disability narratives to theoretical debates over stigma, medicalization, the politics of inclusion and exclusion, and human rights. We will also to look more closely into the lives of “disabled persons”—who they are, how they are disabled and by what circumstances, how they identify themselves and are represented in different media. More broadly, this course unsettles the concept of East Asia by making sense of disability as “difference” and to think about how it may expand our “mainstream” assumptions of body, culture and society.

Spring Quarter 2021 | Cross-Listed Courses - TBA