Human Rights Program

Bard’s introduction of a B.A. in human rights in the spring of 2003, as well as Bard’s award of a Henry R. Luce Professorship in Human Rights and Journalism, has allowed for the formal offering of an interdisciplinary undergraduate human rights degree. The Human Rights Program at Bard features student internship opportunities and opportunities for independent student research in the field of human rights.

The Human Rights Program is a trans-disciplinary program involving such diverse fields as literature, political studies, history, anthropology, economics, film and media, and art history. It emphasizes integrative historical and conceptual investigations, and offers a rigorous background which can inform meaningful practical engagements. The program seeks to orient students in the intellectual tradition of human rights and to give them the resources with which to appreciate and criticize its contemporary status.

The program encourages students to treat Human Rights as an intellectual question, and through their explorations of it to understand what is at stake in what they think and do. Being serious about human rights means challenging the new human rights orthodoxy, thinking critically about human rights as a profession rather than merely training for it, and resisting a post-Cold War triumphalism. It also means refusing to accept the claim that human rights are only matters of law and diplomacy, or a simple fig leaf for Western imperialism. Instead, the program engages openly with the history and the actuality of the idea, teaching students to explore its trajectory with attention to the arguments over its meanings, the passions it arouses, and the extent of its influences and effects.

Claude Lefort wrote, two decades ago, that the great French and American declarations of the rights of man at the end of the eighteenth-century had, “by referring the source of right to the human utterance of right, made an enigma both of humanity and of right.” Human Rights at Bard takes its point of departure from that enigma, rather than trying to avoid it.