Human Rights and Literature

Course Number: ENGL 165HR
Prerequisites: Check on GOLD
Advisory Enrollment Information: May be repeated for credit providing letter designations are different.
General Education Areas Fulfilled: Check on GOLD
Catalog Course Entry: ENGL 165AA-ZZ
Quarter: Spring 2018
Day(s): TR
Time: 12:30pm - 1:45pm
Location: GIRV 2129

This course will explore a range of human rights topics while foregrounding humanities-based contributions to human rights study. As we undertake this work, we will review claims made by Lynn Hunt, Joseph Slaughter and others that literature played a crucial role in the development of modern human rights.  In this vein, Hunt has argued that such rights only became imaginable once French epistolary novelists inculcated in their readerships altogether new forms of empathy -- especially new means of connecting across class, gender and race.  According to Hunt, such new means of empathetic connection depended on the identification and embrace of shared bodily vulnerabilities, something made possible through the reading experience.  For Hunt, literature is nothing less than a revolutionary motor.  Others, like Slaughter, are more skeptical.  Although they share Hunt’s sense that literature played a crucial role in evolving empathy, they stress empathy’s ability to reinforce existing privilege and normative social goals.  We will read various examples of human rights literature (including works by Coetzee, Dorfman, Erdrich, Morrison, Solzhenitsyn, and Wiesel) with these debates in mind.  In the process, we will consider how the literature might serve as a resource for future scholarship, activism and policy-making.  Some of our questions will include: what definitions of “human” does one find in the literature? Does a human rights orientation promote certain notions of the human over others? How does one negotiate between different conceptions of rights, including national, international and universal versions? What are the limitations of rights discourse? How do the law and culture interact? How might legal approaches to injuries support or inhibit redress or healing? Course materials will include novels, short stories, films, criticism and theory. Assignments will include reading responses, a research paper, and a final exam.