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 or the Spring Quarter study abroad in Vienna.
The College Course Catalog contains a list of undergraduate Human Rights courses offered each year. You can also browse our previous course offerings (Autumn 2001-Spring 2020).
Read what the College’s updated Spring 2020 Pass/Fail policy means for Human Rights minors.
The Human Rights courses we’re offering during the 2022-23 academic year are included below:
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.
At the bottom of each course description, you will find information on what distribution requirements the course satisfies for Human Rights Majors:
Required: This is a required course for the major.
Hum Foundation: This course satisfies the Humanities Foundation requirement.
Soc Foundation: This course satisfies the Social Sciences Foundation requirement.
Context: This course satisfies an elective requirement in the Context Stream.
Crisis: This course satisfies an elective requirement in the Crisis Stream.
R2HR: This course satisfies an elective requirement in the Right to Have Rights Stream.
Theory: This course satisfies an elective requirement in the Theory Stream.
Transition: This course satisfies an elective requirement in the Transition Stream.
Please contact Kathy Scott with questions about Human Rights course administration.
Human Rights in World Civilizations I
Section 1: T/Th: 9:30 - 10:50 AM, Jennifer Pitts, (Political Science)
Section 2: T/Th: 9:30 - 10:50 AM, Johanna Ransmeier, (History)
Section 3: T/Th: 2:00 - 3:20 PM, Kathryn Brackney, (Pozen)
Section 4: T/Th: 3:30 - 4:50 PM, Savitri Kunze, (History and Pozen)
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. If not used to satisfy the civilizations requirement, this course may be used to satisfy electives requirements in any of the five streams.
Human Rights: Contemporary Issues
Susan Gzesh, Senior Lecturer (The College)
Lecture: M/W, 4:30 - 5:50 PM
Cross-lists: HIST 29304, LLSO 21001, LACS 21001,SOSC 21001
This course examines basic human rights norms and concepts and selected contemporary human rights problems from across the globe, including human rights implications of the COVID pandemic. Beginning with an overview of the present crises and significant actors on the world stage, we will then examine the political setting for the United Nations' approval of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights in 1948. The post-World War 2 period was a period of optimism and fertile ground for the establishment of a universal rights regime, given the defeat of fascism in Europe. International jurists wanted to establish a framework of rights that went beyond the nation-state, taking into consideration the partitions of India-Pakistan and Israel-Palestine - and the rising expectations of African-Americans in the U.S. and colonized peoples across Africa and Asia. But from the beginning, there were basic contradictions in a system of rights promulgated by representatives of nation-states that ruled colonial regimes, maintained de facto and de jure systems of racial discrimination, and imprisoned political dissidents and journalists. Cross-cutting themes of the course include the universalism of human rights, problems of impunity and accountability, notions of "exceptionalism," and the emerging issue of the "shamelessness" of authoritarian regimes. Students will research a human rights topic of their choosing, to be presented as either a final research paper or a group presentation.
Hum Foundation, Soc Foundation, Crisis
Militant Democracy and the Preventative State
Kathleen Cavanaugh, Executive Director, Senior Lecturer (Pozen Center & The College)
T/Th: 11:00 AM - 12:20 PM
Cross lists: PLSC 21005, HMRT 31005
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.
Ecocentrism and Environmental Racism
Bart Schultz, (Philosophy)
M/W: 1:30 - 2:50 PM
Cross lists: PHIL 21207, MAPH 31207, PLSC 21207, ENST 21207, CRES 21207, CHST 21207
The aim of this course is to explore the tensions and convergences between two of the most profoundly important areas of environmental philosophy. "Ecocentrism" is the view that holistic systems such as ecosystems can be ethically considerable or "count" in a way somewhat comparable to human persons, and such a philosophical perspective has been shared by many prominent forms of environmentalism, from Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic to Deep Ecology to the worldviews of many Native American and Indigenous peoples. For some prominent environmental philosophers, a commitment to ecocentrism is the defining test of whether one is truly an environmental philosopher. "Environmental Racism" is one of the defining elements of environmental injustice, the way in which environmental crises and existential threats often reflect systemic discrimination, oppression, and domination in their disproportionate adverse impact on peoples of color, women, the global poor, LGBTQ populations, and Indigenous Peoples. Although historically, some have claimed that ecocentric organizations such as Greenpeace have neglected the problems of environmental injustice and racism in their quest to, e.g., "save the whales," a deeper analysis reveals a far more complicated picture, with many affinities and alliances between ecocentrists and activists seeking environmental justice. (A)
Human Rights Research and Writing I
Alice Kim, Director of Human Rights Practice, (Pozen)
Date and Time: To be arranged with instructor
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. Consent required.
Artificial Intelligence, Algorithims and Human Rights
Austin Clyde, Pozen Graduate Lecturer, (Computer Science)
M/W: 1:30 - 2:50 PM
Cross lists: CMSC 10450, MAAD 13450
Algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) are a new source of global power, extending into nearly every aspect of life. Recently, The High Commissioner for Human Rights called for states to place moratoriums on AI until it is compliant with human rights. This course will take the first steps towards developing a human rights-based approach for analyzing algorithms and AI. What makes an algorithm discriminatory, and is the algorithm the right place to look? Is algorithmic bias avoidable? Does human review of algorithm sufficient, and in what cases? Do predictive models violate privacy even if they do not use or disclose someone's specific data? When does nudging violate political rights? How does algorithmic decision-making impact democracy? We will closely read Shoshana Zuboff's Surveillance Capitalism on tour through the sociotechnical world of AI, alongside scholarship in law, philosophy, and computer science to breathe a human rights approach to algorithmic life. We will explore analytic toolkits from science and technology studies (STS) and the philosophy of technology to probe the relationship between worldmaking and technology through social, political, and technical lenses. No prior background in artificial intelligence, algorithms, or computer science is needed, although some familiarity with human-rights philosophy or practice may be helpful.
Water Water Everywhere?
Susan Gzesh, Senior Lecturer (The College)
Fri: 9:30 AM - 12:20 PM
Cross lists: BPRO 24193, CHST 24193, SOSC 21005, ENST 24193, ARTH 24193
This interdisciplinary course explores aesthetics, environmental racism, and a human rights approach to the Commons to inform our perspective on the politics and aesthetics of water from the local to the global. The course will look at issues of scarcity and abundance through the lenses of art and human rights. The course will incorporate work by artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, who will visit the class. Students will consider works by other artists including Mel Chin, Allan Kaprow, LaToya Ruby Frazier, and Fazal Sheikh, to understand how art can confront the 21st century's environmental challenges. Readings will include Susan Sontag's Regarding the Pain of Others, and Fred Moten & Stefano Harney's The Undercommons. The course will include visits to site specific installations by artists Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle and Mel Chin, and visits to Chicago-area natural sites such as the Big Marsh and Lake Michigan. This course is an extension of a collaborative project at the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry with human rights lawyer Susan Gzesh, artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, and curator Abigail Winograd.
Narrating Social Change
Alice Kim, Director of Human Rights Practice, (Pozen)
Cross lists: CRES 24205, CHST 24205
This course is a mixed enrollment class which brings UChicago students and incarcerated students together for a quarter of learning, dialogue and knowledge-building across the prison wall. We will examine how individuals, groups, and oppressed communities produce, reproduce and reimagine what equality, justice, agency and freedom mean as they engage in activism for social change. Throughout the quarter, we will explore contemporary and historical examples of people engaging in resistance to oppression. In some cases, people act alone or in small groups to provide themselves with limited agency. In other examples, people work collectively to build organizations and social movements that transform countries. To explore these topics, we will use materials from multiple mediums including film, poetry, memoir, and cultural works. This is the first time UChicago students will have the opportunity to participate in a mixed enrollment course with incarcerated students at Stateville. (In Spring 2020, we were scheduled to begin a mixed enrollment course when the pandemic shut down classes at Stateville Prison and UChicago pivoted to remote learning). Eight to ten UChicago students will be selected for enrollment in the course. If all goes according to plan, the class will be held on Fridays, 10:30-1:15pm at Stateville Correction Center in Crest Hill, Illinois. For UChicago students, classes may alternate between Stateville and UChicago's Hyde Park Campus.
International Human Rights Law and Practice
Kathleen Cavanaugh, Executive Director, Senior Lecturer, (Pozen Center & The College)
T/Th: 12:30 - 1:50 PM
This course will introduce students to the legal architecture of international human rights law. Whilst the legal framing of rights emphasizes universality and the common good, its application reflects the historical compromises and political uncertainties of the times. This course will explore the tensions that are produced when politics meets 'the law' and examine the issues, actors, doctrines and practices that make up the human rights project. As human rights law is evolutive, we will look at how the human rights project has changed and evolved in connection to historical movements and post-colonial politics and has developed in order to address state violence, 'terrorism', minority rights, women's rights, gender and sexuality, transitional justice, health, and responsibility to protect, to name but a few. We will draw on case studies, including the United States, in order to examine the complicated role of the state as both perpetrator and protector and promoter of human rights. Students will be encouraged to think critically about the human rights project; how does it confront the underlying issues of injustice and abuse, as well as the inherent conceptual and structural limitations of supranational human rights mechanisms in addressing and providing remedies for the problems facing the world today.
Documentary Production I
T/Th: 11:00 AM - 1:50 PM
Cross lists: CMST 23930, CMST 33930, ARTV 33930, ARTV 23930, HMRT 35106, MAAD 23930
Documentary Video Production focuses on the making of independent documentary video. Examples of various modes of documentary production will be screened and discussed. Issues embedded in the genre, such as the ethics, the politics of representation, and the shifting lines between "the real" and "fiction" will be explored. Story development, pre-production strategies, and production techniques will be our focus, in particular-research, relationships, the camera, interviews and sound recording, shooting in available light, working in crews, and post-production editing. Students will work in crews and be expected to purchase a portable hard drive. A five-minute string-out/rough-cut will be screened at the end of the quarter. Students are strongly encouraged to take Doc Production 2 to complete their work.
Documenting State Violence
Sasha Crawford-Holland, Pozen Graduate Lecturer, (Cinema Studies)
T/TH: 2:00 - 3:20 PM
Cross lists: CRES 25238, CMST 25238
Visual media have become central to activism against state violence. Throughout the past century, activists have deployed new technologies to bear witness to atrocity, record evidence, raise awareness, and promote justice. At the same time, media consistently fail to deliver lasting transformations and can even enable violence rather than counteracting it. In this class, we will explore how media practices support, undermine, and complicate efforts against state violence. How have activists employed documentary evidence?What assumptions have they made about communication, truth, difference, and justice? How do media frame what counts as violence? What are the politics of recording,seeing,and showing harm? What are the possibilities and limitations of emerging digital technologies?We will explore these issues across a range of media-such as photography, documentary film, comics, holograms, satellite and drone imagery, virtual reality experiences, social media platforms, and artificial intelligence-and case studies, including the Holocaust, the Cambodian genocide, the U.S. War on Terror, the Syrian civil war, the Movement for Black Lives, Indigenous resurgence in North America, and environmental violence in Guatemala. Students will be encouraged to think critically and creatively through assignments involving media analysis and media production.
Queer South Asia
Nisha Kommattam, Comparative Literature
T/Th: 2:00 - 3:20 PM
Cross lists: CMLT 26113, CRES 26115, GNSE 26113, SALC 2611
This course explores representations of queerness, same-sex love, sexualities and debates around them by introducing students to a variety of literary texts translated from South Asian languages as well as films, geographically ranging from India and Pakistan to Sri Lanka. We will also read scholarship that will help us place the production and reception of these primary sources in historical, political, cultural and religious contexts. In particular, we will examine questions of history and continuity (recurrent themes and images); form and genre (differences of representation in mythological narratives, poetry, biography, fiction, erotic/legal/medical treatises); the relationship of gender to sexuality (differences and similarities between representations of male-male and female-female relations); queerness as a site for exploring other differences, such as caste or religious difference; and questions of cross-cultural and transnational dialogue and cultural specificity.
Religion and AIDS
Mark Lambert, (Divinity School)
T/Th: 3:30 - 4:50 PM
Cross lists: RLST 26301, PBPL 25301, CCTS 21014, HIPS 26301, HLTH 26301, GNSE 23142, HIST 28007, SOCI 20563
"The AIDS crisis was not an epoch that we survived. It is a battle that we are still fighting…when Americans talk about AIDS they are rarely just talking about a scientific problem or a pharmaceutical solution. They are instead offering a sociology of suffering and a plan for spiritual warfare." - Kathryn Lofton Is it possible to understand current debates over public health or the role of religion in the public sphere without first examining religious responses to the AIDS crisis? This course focuses on the emergence of the AIDS epidemic during the peak of the American culture wars. As such, students will analyze the fraught intersection of political power structures, medical epistemologies, and religious views on bodies, sex, and public morality. Through a varied catalog of disciplinary frameworks, e.g., history, theology, medical ethics, sociology of religion, and history of medicine, students will weigh the accuracy of Lofton's claim that for Americans, AIDS is more than just a disease. Thus, we will scrutinize moral rhetoric surrounding contraception and its public availability. We will discuss the extent to which religious philanthropy, especially on the international stage, reshaped approaches to global health. Finally, we will revisit the role of religious communities in providing both care for the sick and theological responses to suffering. Prior knowledge of religious studies and/or medical history is not required for the course.
United States Legal History
Evelyn Atkinson, (History)
T/Th: 9:30 - 10:50 AM
Cross lists: HIST 27605, LLSO 29704, AMER 27605, CRES 27605, GNSE 27605
This course focuses on the connections between law and society in modern America. It explores how legal doctrines and constitutional rules have defined individual rights and social relations in both the public and private spheres. It also examines political struggles that have transformed American law. Topics to be addressed include the meaning of rights; the regulation of property, work, race, and sexual relations; civil disobedience; and legal theory as cultural history. Readings include legal cases, judicial rulings, short stories, and legal and historical scholarship.
The Transnational Refugee Regime
Lindsay Gifford, Assistant Research Professor, (Pozen Center)
M/W: 1:30 - 2:50 PM
The right to flee persecution and seek international protection has been codified in international Human Rights and customary law. This course will examine the contemporary transnational refugee regime that has developed around and been informed by this particular rights discourse, particularly in the aftermath of WWII. We will examine various transnational conventions and bodies intended to protect the persecuted, proposed de jure and de facto durable solutions for refugees, and how individuals and communities experience these structures during and after displacement. We also investigate the ways that the transnational refugee regime and its partners (such as NGOs and civil society organizations) are deeply imbricated in broader global power structures and dynamics, creating protections "gaps" and potential rights violations. Specific refugee case studies from around the world will be surveyed in order to contextualize and ground these inquiries.