Human Rights, Religious Conflict, and Globalisation. Ultimate Values in a New World Order

James V. Spickard

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The belief in innate human rights has achieved quasi-religious status in the late-modern world. Despite its Western philosophic origins and the active opposition of some Islamic, Confucian, and indigenous anti-colonial regimes, the idea that all individuals possess inalienable rights to life, liberty, and a basic economic livelihood is widely venerated. Surprisingly, this has occurred in a time of increasing religious fragmentation and discord. Religiously based conflict is more common now than at any time since the mid-1600s, and has torn many societies apart. Why is there a simultaneous growth of both religious divisiveness and quasi-religious unity?
This article suggests that increased globalization and the growth of an international division of labour have fostered both trends. Such structural characteristics of our global late-modern social order have made plausible key themes of the human rights discourse, especially its universalism. The same characteristics have spurred religious and ethnic particularism as an anti-systemic counter-trend. If this battle between universalism and particularism – the theological battle of our age – is as much social as intellectual, then democratic governance of pluralistic societies can only succeed by paying attention to such underlying social correlates.

Suggested bibliographic reference for this article:

V. Spickard, James. Human Rights, Religious Conflict, and Globalisation. Ultimate Values in a New World Order. IJMS: International Journal on Multicultural Societies. 1999, vol. 1, no.1, pp. 2-19. UNESCO. ISSN 1817-4574.

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