The 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 may also enroll in the core sequence Human Rights in World Civilizations, 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 2019).

Current Courses

Human Rights courses offered during the 2019-20 academic year are included below: 

Autumn Quarter 2019 courses
Winter Quarter 2020 courses
Spring Quarter 2020 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 2019 | Human Rights Courses

Human Rights in World Civilizations I

HMRT 10100
Section 1: T/Th: 9:30 - 10:50 am, Dan Brudney, (Philosophy)
Section 2: M/W: 11:00 am - 12:20 pm, Tara Zahra, (History)
Section 3: T/Th: 3:30 - 4:50 pm, Sayantan Saha Roy, (Anthropology)
Section 4: M/W: 3:00 - 4:20 pm, Ben Laurence, (Pozen Center)
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.

Note(s): This sequence meets the general education requirement in civilization studies. These courses must be taken in sequence.

Human Rights: Contemporary Issues

HMRT 21001
Susan Gzesh (Pozen Center)
Lecture: M: 3:00 - 4:20 pm
Undergraduate Discussions: W: 3:00 - 4:20 pm
Cross Lists: LACS 21001, HIST 29304, LLSO 21001, HMRT 31001

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.

Incarceration and Justice

HMRT 24208
Alice Kim, Pozen Center
T: 3:30 - 6: 20 pm
Human Rights in World Civilizations 1 or 2 (HMRT 10100/10200); or Contemporary Issues in Human Rights (HMRT 21001); or an HMRT listed elective course is required as a prerequisite. Undergrads Only.

This course will examine long-term sentencing practices and policies in Illinois and nationwide. Policies implemented in the 1980s and 1990s-particularly life without the possibility of parole, mandatory minimums, and "three strikes and you're out" laws contributed to a prison population increase of more than 1.5 million people over the last thirty years. This seminar will explore the impact of these laws and policies, paying special attention to Illinois. In particular, we will explore who is serving life or virtual life sentences, efforts to reverse long-term sentencing policies, and a growing movement to decarcerate.

Queer and Trans Mutual Aid for Survival and Mobilization

HMRT 25002
Dean Spade, Pozen Visiting Professor
T: 11:00 am - 1:50 pm
Cross lists: HMRT 35002, GNSE 25002, GNSE 35002, CRES 25001

This course will examine contemporary and historical queer and trans-focused mutual aid projects, including support for migrants, prisoners, psychiatric survivors, people with HIV/AIDS, and violence survivors. We will look at why mutual aid projects are often under-celebrated in contemporary narratives of social change, when compared with media advocacy and law and policy reform work. Using materials created by activists engaged in building mutual aid projects, as well as scholarly analysis of such efforts, we will look at what principles and methods characterize politicized survival work and how it intentionally departs from charity frameworks.

Grey Zones: Ethics and Decision-Making in the Holocaust

HMRT 28315
Anna Band, Graduate Lecturer, (History)
M/W: 3:00 - 4:20 PM
Cross lists: HIST 22019, JWSC 28315

How do ordinary men become ruthless killers? What constitutes 'collaboration' or 'resistance' in the context of total war and genocide? How can we analyze human behavior in a world where normal rules of ethical conduct do not apply? Nearly 75 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, the Holocaust still stands as a touchstone in debates about ethics, morality, agency, historical memory, democracy, citizenship, and human rights. This course is foregrounded in the notion that human behavior during Holocaust cannot be understood through the extreme binaries of good and evil, or black versus white. Rather, we will explore the complexities and nuances of human behavior in extremis. Through a series of case studies, we will focus on the experience and behavior of six (sometimes overlapping) groups of people: perpetrators, victims, bystanders, collaborators, resisters, and rescuers. In doing so, we will pay close attention to the moral considerations and ethical dilemmas that influenced their decision-making, as well as the ways in which gender, class, age, ethnicity, and political and religious ideology influenced these choices.

Autumn 2019| Cross-Listed Courses

Philosophies of Environmentalism & Sustainability

HMRT 22201
Reynolds Barton Schultz (Philosophy)
M/W: 1:30 - 2:50 pm
Cross lists: PHIL 22209, GNSE 22204, MAPH 32209, PLSC 22202

Many of the toughest ethical and political challenges confronting the world today are related to environmental issues: for example, climate change, loss of biodiversity, the unsustainable use of natural resources, pollution, and other threats to the well-being of both present and future generations. Using both classic and contemporary works, this course will highlight some of the fundamental and unavoidable philosophical questions presented by such environmental issues. What do the terms "nature" and "wilderness" even mean, and can "natural" environments as such have ethical and/or legal standing? Does the environmental crisis demand radically new forms of ethical and political philosophizing and practice? Must an environmental ethic reject anthropocentrism? If so, what are the most plausible non-anthropocentric alternatives? What counts as the proper ethical treatment of non-human animals, living organisms, or ecosystems? What fundamental ethical and political perspectives inform such approaches as the "Land Ethic," ecofeminism, and deep ecology? Is there a plausible account of justice for future generations? Are we now in the Anthropocene? Is "adaptation" the best strategy at this historical juncture? How can the wild, the rural, and the urban all contribute to a better future for Planet Earth?

Trust after Betrayal: Society-Building in the Aftermath of Atrocity

HMRT 24720
Erin McFee, (Comparative Human Development)
T/Th: 2:00 - 3:20 PM
Cross lists: HMRT 34720, ANTH 24720, ANTH 34720

In this course, students will learn about the moral philosophy and anthropology of trust, mistrust, and betrayal. The course will be structured through four cases: the Colombian Peace Process, Germany's Stasi, the Cultural Revolution in China, and the United States 2008 Financial Crisis. The class will tend towards the discussion seminar format with some short lectures to help students bridge the theoretical and empirical materials. Students will analysis of laws, public discourses, literature, and ethnographic materials to write a final term paper on one of the four cases. As part of the course pedagogy, students will also learn how to form and manage productive writing groups and to write literature reviews that draw from multiple disciplines. The midterm will consist of a their literature review for their final term paper. Authors will include, but are not limited to the following: Baier, Benedict, Carey, Corsín Jimenez, Darwall, Fauklner, Fukuyama, Gambetta, Govier, Hawley, Holton, Jamal, Jones, Kleinman, Lewicki, Luhmann, McAllister, Möllering, Simpson, Tilly, and Widner.

Documentary Production I

HMRT 25106
Judy Hoffman (Cinema and Media Studies)
W/F: 10: 30 am - 1:20 pm
Cross lists: CMST 23930, CMST 33930, ARTV 33930, ARTV 23930, HMRT 35106, MAAD 23930

This course is intended to develop skills in documentary production so that students may apply for Documentary Production II. Documentary Production I focuses on the making of independent documentary video. Examples of various styles of documentary will be screened and discussed. Issues embedded in the documentary genre, such as the ethics and politics of representation and the shifting lines between fact and fiction will be explored. Pre-production methodologies, production, and post-production techniques will be taught. Students will be expected to develop an idea for a documentary video, crews will be formed, and each crew will produce a five-minute documentary. Students will also be expected to purchase an external hard drive.

Hong Kong and Human Rights in Asia

HMRT 25203
Johanna Ransmeier, History
Time/Date: TBA
Cross lists: HIST 24311,EALC 24311
Additional Notes: Admission to Hong Kong September Program

The dynamic city of Hong Kong-a multicultural, special economic zone and a contested democracy with a vibrant popular press and a long history of support for regional grassroots politics-provides the setting for three weeks of investigation of human rights locally and across Asia. Students will become familiar with the human rights challenges facing Hong Kong and the region today. Topics as diverse as labor rights, gender and sexuality, democracy, access to health care and education, and freedom of expression will command our attention. We will also explore the relationship between art, exhibition practices, the media, and human rights. The University of Chicago's new Hong Kong campus will serve as our home base, but much of our time will be spent undertaking short field excursions to speak with human rights actors, journalists, curators, and artists in Hong Kong along with a tentative short trip to southern China. As the capstone of this intensive course, students will create digital, multimedia documentary projects to showcase their engagement with a particular regional or local human rights problem. These projects may combine interviews, photographs and videos, and the production of an original text or artwork.

Humanitarianism: Anthropological Perspectives

HMRT 25270
Sayantan Saha Roy, (Anthropology)
T/Th: 12:30 - 1:50 PM
Cross lists: ANTH 25270

Humanitarianism has emerged as one of the key principles used by states and non-state agencies to justify or call for interventions in contemporary global crisis situations. From health crises, natural disasters and even political instability, humanitarianism has gained an unprecedented global currency as a language of justice. In the last two decades, anthropologists have shown the complexities of humanitarian interventions and its intended and unintended effects. In this course we trace what humanitarianism means, its moral and ethical underpinnings and what are the consequences of humanitarian action. The course will interrogate some of the philosophical, conceptual underpinnings of the idea and their implications in the real world. We will read a range of ethnographies including refugee rehabilitation in France, military interventions in Iraq, philanthropy in India to understand the ways in which humanitarianism has emerged as a global language of justice. The course will help students understand the problem of humanitarianism at both the global and the local levels and also bridge the gap between the normative and the actual.

The Ethics of Immigration

HMRT 27380
Tyler Zimmer, Philosophy
M/W/F: 11:30 am - 12:20 pm
Cross lists: PHIL 27380

In this course we'll investigate philosophical problems underlying contemporary political controversies about immigration. Together, we'll discuss questions such as the following: What gives one group of people the right to forcibly exclude other people from coming to reside somewhere? Is there such a right at all? What moral authority do existing borders have? What role should the idea of "the nation" play in our thinking about immigration? Indeed, what exactly are nations? And is there a compelling case for the exclusion of immigrants that depends on a commitment to preserving a national culture? All of these questions touch on fundamental issues in political philosophy: the nature of citizenship and its relationship to culture, the source of legitimate authority, the justifiability of state coercion, the content and ground of human rights.

United States Labor History

HMRT 28600
Amy Dru Stanley, History
T/Th: 2:00 - 3:20 pm
Cross lists: HIST 18600,LLSO 28000,GNSE 28603

This course will explore the history of labor and laboring people in the United States. The significance of work will be considered from the vantage points of political economy, culture, and law. Key topics will include working-class life, industrialization and corporate capitalism, slavery and emancipation, the role of the state and trade unions, race and sex difference in the workplace.

Structuring Refuge: U.S. Refugee Policy and Resettlement Practice

HMRT 46922
Jessica Darrow, SSA
T: 9:30 am - 12: 20 pm
Cross lists: SSAD 46922,SSAD 26922

At the end of 2017 there were over 68.5 million forcibly displaced people around the world, the highest number ever recorded (UNHCR, 2019). The number of newly displaced people in 2017 alone was 16.2 million, which is the equivalent of 44,400 new displacements every single day. Over 25.4 million registered refugees were among those displaced, and of these just 102,800 were admitted to third countries for permanent resettlement. Historically the United States has been the largest resettlement country in the world: since 1975 the US has resettled more than 3 million refugees. Refugees in the U.S. are entitled to an array of federal, state, and local supports that other immigrants must do without. At the same time, refugees in the U.S. are arguably subject to greater scrutiny and systems of social control than most other un-incarcerated domestic populations. However, the terrain of U.S. refugee resettlement has shifted dramatically as a result of the Executive Orders introduced by the Trump Administration. This course asks the central questions: How is refugee status constructed as a political process; what are the interrelationships between institutional actors and refugee policies and what are the implications of these interrelationships for service delivery to refugees in the U.S.; what does research tell us about the resettlement outcomes of refugees in the U.S. and what drives these outcomes; and finally, what are the points of intervention for social workers in the refugee.

Human Rights and Social Work: Opportunities for Policy and Practice

HMRT 47812
Yanilda Gonzalez, SSA
M: 2:00 - 4:50 pm
Cross list: SSAD 47812

This course will explore how international human rights law and principles provide a foundation for repairing the harms done by collective human rights trauma. The course focuses on Peace-building and Human Rights in an applied manner endeavoring a comprehensive approach to peace-building through humanitarian effort, human rights, and participation built on social work perspectives. In addition, it will examine the role social workers have both internationally and locally from policy to practice. The psychological impact and treatment of torture and trauma will be evaluated, particularly as experienced by people marginalized by the larger (privileged) society because of their gender, race and age. Various reparation and remedies used to recover from human rights trauma will be reviewed, as will, social work perspectives that can enhance such efforts. This course will apply an ecological perspective, examining how these efforts affect individuals and communities.

Workshop: Law and Philosophy

HMRT 51301
Martha C. Nussbaum, Law
M: 4:00 - 6:00 pm
Cross lists: GNSE 50101,RETH 51301,PHIL 51200,PLSC 51512,LAWS 61512

Substantial Writing Requirement.The theme for 2019-20 is "Migration and Citizenship." This is a seminar/workshop many of whose participants are faculty from various related disciplines. It admits approximately ten students. Its aim is to study, each year, a topic that arises in both philosophy and the law and to ask how bringing the two fields together may yield mutual illumination. Most sessions are led by visiting speakers, from either outside institutions or our own faculty, who circulate their papers in advance. The session consists of a brief introduction by the speaker, followed by initial questioning by the two faculty coordinators, followed by general discussion, in which students are given priority. Several sessions involve students only, and are led by the instructors. Students write a 20-25 page seminar paper at the end of the year. The course satisfies the Law School.

Winter Quarter 2020 | Human Rights Courses

Human Rights in World Civilizations II

HMRT 10200
Section 1: T/Th: 9:30 - 10:50 am, Instructor: TBA
Section 2: M/W: 11:00 am - 12:20 pm, Instructor: TBA
Section 3: T/Th: 3:30 - 4:50 pm, Instructor: TBA
Section 4: M/W: 3:00 - 4:20 pm, Instructor: TBA
Cross list: SOSC 24900

Course description: TBA

Note(s): This sequence meets the general education requirement in civilization studies. These courses must be taken in sequence; students must have taken HMRT 10100 to enroll in this course.

Health and Human Rights

HMRT 21400
Renslow Sherer, MD, (Infectious Diseases and Global Health, University of Chicago, Biological Sciences Division), Evon Lyon, MD, (Pozen Center)
Lecture: Tuesday, 11:00 AM - 12:20 PM
Discusssion Sections 1- 4: Thursday, 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?

Human Rights: Migrant, Refugee, Citizen

HMRT 24701
Susan Gzesh, (Pozen Center)
M/W: 3:00 - 4:20 PM
Cross lists: HMRT 34701, LACS 25303, LACS 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 Lecturer, (Pozen Center)
Tuesday: 2:00 - 4:50 PM

This course draws from anthropological approaches in dialogue with history, journalism, literature, philosophy, religion, film and visual arts to explore how people diversely experience and represent pain, injury and illness. We will query the genres through which suffering is named, and the different frameworks of causality that allocate responsibility, as well as determine what counts as an appropriate response. Throughout the course we pay special attention to the ways that law and medicine as “strong” cultural institutions make some aspects of suffering visible while erasing or silencing others. Our central questions are as follows: How do individuals and collectives make sense of loss and uncertainty? How do we witness the pain of others who are close to us and from far away? What are the relations and thresholds between biomedical and legal frameworks of illness and injury and other forms of suffering, healing and care in unequal social worlds?

Winter Quarter 2020 Cross Listed Courses - TBA

Spring Quarter 2020 | Human Rights Courses

Human Rights: Philosophical Foundations

HMRT 21002
Ben Laurence, (Pozen Center)
Lecture: M/W: 3:00 - 4:20 PM
Discussion Sections 1-6: Friday, Time: TBD, Discussion Section 7: To Be Arranged
Cross lists: HMRT 31002, PHIL 21002, PHIL 31002, HIST 29319, HIST 39319, LLSO 21002, INRE 31602, MAPH 42002

Human rights are claims of justice that hold merely in virtue of our shared humanity. In this course we will explore philosophical theories of this elementary and crucial form of justice. Among topics to be considered are the role that dignity and humanity play in grounding such rights, their relation to political and economic institutions, and the distinction between duties of justice and claims of charity or humanitarian aid. Finally we will consider the application of such theories to concrete, problematic and pressing problems, such as global poverty, torture and genocide.

Sovereign Rights: Decolonization and the Cold War in Image and Word

HMRT 23406
Eilin Rafael Pérez, Graduate Lecturer, (History)
T/Th: 10:30 - 11:50 AM

The goal of this course is to discuss historical threads that connect the cold war and decolonization, which are often processes discussed in isolation. This class provides an overview of some of the social, economic, and geopolitical events in the second half of the 20th Century, as well as the cultural productions that emerged from them.

Challenging Transitional Justice

HMRT 25503
Alejandro Azuero, Graduate Lecturer, (Anthropology)
M/W, 1:30 - 2:50 PM

This course investigates transitional justice (TJ) as one of the dominant discourses of accountability of our times; one that is often understood as an exceptional regime of accountability that is relevant over there (far from the North-Atlantic) in places lacking peace, democracy or order. In contrast, this course will offer conceptual and critical tools to analyze – and problematize – TJ as a project that is essential to the reconfiguration of the paradigm of liberal justice in the 21st century.

Reproductive Rights as Human Rights

HMRT 27205
Amy Krauss, Postdoctoral Lecturer, (Pozen Center)
Thursday: 2:00 - 4:50 PM
Cross list: HMRT 37205, GNSE 27205, GNSE 37205

This course examines human rights approaches to reproductive health and justice with critical grounding in ethnographic case studies. We will begin by surveying major debates and tactics of feminist movements in North and South Americas, comparing visions of reproductive rights based on ideals of liberal individualism and private property with traditions of collective claims for social and economic rights. Our case studies include the Zika epidemic in Brazil, immigration and reproductive health care access in the United States, the shackling of pregnant women in U.S. prisons, the politics of sterilization and birth control in Puerto Rico, and the legalization of abortion in Mexico City. Hearing from guest speakers who work as lawyers, healthcare practitioners, activists and community organizers, we will consider reproductive rights as human rights in a field of contestation that involves diverse actors, state interests, and social movement histories.

Spring Quarter 2020 | Cross listed Human Rights Courses - TBA