Religion, Education and Human Rights

Theoretical and Empirical Perspectives

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
Anders Sjbörg, Hans-Georg Ziebertz
Religion and Human Rights
  • New York, NY: 
    Springer Publishing
    , April
     212 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


How does one teach universal human rights in a religiously diverse world? The collection Religion, Education and Human Rights: Theoretical and Empirical Perspectives, edited by Anders Sjöborg and Hans-Georg Ziebertz, asks this question. The first volume in a series on religion and human rights, this collection explores anew the age-old tension between the universal and the particular through the under-studied relationship between religion, education, and human rights. The volume touches on a range of topics and regions, with an emphasis on Europe. Essays are focused on Poland, Belarus, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, and Germany, and include select data from Nigeria, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and South Africa, among other countries. The book addresses issues including how young German Muslims and Christians structure human rights and “conscientious objections” on religious grounds in healthcare education. As the book’s guiding question suggests, the thrust of the volume is normative—it asks readers to join the project of human rights education, especially through religious education. Taken as a whole, the volume therefore seems to argue that universal human rights education is possible and necessary when religion is considered. 

Although there is no explicit organization to the essays, they generally progress from theoretical to practical. Readers are increasingly urged to strategize about how to implement human rights education. For the practitioner of human rights and religious education, this book offers numerous examples of programs throughout Europe that have succeeded according to various metrics. For example, Paula Gerber’s final chapter offers empirically-identified solutions in “successful” programs, which include human rights throughout the curriculum and get the whole school on board.

The volume covers a lot of territory, in both the geographical and contextual sense of the word. Drawing on disciplines ranging from law and policy to the social sciences, the volume includes essays that present impressive quantitative data, as well as legal analysis of various human rights documents. The sheer diversity of state contexts explored raises fascinating cross-national themes and problems. Among these are children’s rights, public-versus-private practices of religion, and whether rights and values can be quantified as variables. 

The volume as a whole suggests the need for universal human rights education. However, the chapters themselves differ on why, how, and even if this should be accomplished. For instance, on the one hand, Katarzyna Zielńska and Marcin K. Zwierżdżyński warn about the problematic move of naming a universal definition of human rights (27), and Dan-Erik Andersson argues that a nuanced history of human rights is needed (92). On the other hand, Saila Poulter, Arniika Kuusisto, Mia Malama, and Arto Kallioniemi suggest that human rights “exist universally across moral systems” and moral education in human rights is the only way we become free, autonomous subjects (50) and Gerber’s article makes a case for good, universal practices. The tension among the articles has the potential to produce considerable insight, but more reflection on the tension would refine the volume’s central concerns.

Along these lines, one area of clarification is the relationship among the book’s three main concepts: religion, education, and human rights. What are the various definitions of these concepts? How do the concepts relate to each other? What further questions does putting them in conversation raise? An interesting essay by Olga Breskaya, titled “Path of Belarusian Secularism: Public Debates on Religious Education,” raises the issue of terminology. However, there are many approaches to and assumptions about terminology represented in the volume. The definition on page 3 of “religious education” as both confessional and non-confessional leaves the reader with more questions: how and why are both of these instances of “religious education”? Untangling the web of ideas that support the volume would help the reader put the essays in conversation with each other. For example, the essay by Ziebertz raises the issue of the scriptural and religious origins of the concept of human rights, but this significant relationship remains unexplored in other essays (118-20). Attention to religion as already engaged with questions of human rights is but one area where articulation of the relationship between the three concepts could strengthen the volume’s contribution.

Overall, this volume will be of particular interest to those teaching or researching how to teach human rights and religious education. It may also appeal to those wanting an introduction to religion, education, and human rights, particularly in Europe.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Leslie Ribovich is a postdoctoral Lecturer in the Princeton Writing Program.

Date of Review: 
June 16, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Anders Sjöborg is associate professor of sociology of religion at the Uppsala Religion and Society Research Centre, Department of Theology, Uppsala University (Sweden). He is active as researcher and coordinator in the research program The Impact of Religion – Challenges for Society, Law and Democracy, which is established as a Centre of excellence by the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet) and Uppsala University, 2008-2018. He is one of the editors of YOUNG – Nordic Journal of Youth Research. He has recently published in journals such as British Journal of Religious Education, Nordic Journal of Religion and Society, and Journal of Religious Education.

Hans-Georg Ziebertz is professor of practical theology / religious education at the University of Würzburg (Germany). Since 2012, he is the leader of the international empirical research program Religion and Human Rights. Recent books: together with J. A. van der Ven, Human Rights and the Impact of Religion (2013), together with Gordan Črpić, Religion and Human Rights. An international perspective (2015) and recently, Religionsfreiheit (2015).


Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.