The Discourse of Human Rights -- a Secular Religion?


  • John Reader Oxford Brookes University



human rights, secular religion, Habermas, Derrida, postmodernity


Human rights are a key part of the contemporary debate on creating an integrated global community. The relationship between religious traditions and the discourse of human rights has yet to be fully explored. This article argues that the structure of this discourse displays elements that suggest it should be viewed as a form of secular religion. It utilizes research carried out by the author on a reconfigured relationship between faith and reason, building upon interpretations of the work of Habermas and Derrida from within the fields of sociology and philosophy respectively. In particular, the text offers the ideas of the ‘messianic’, of a continuing tension between the universal and the particular, of an understanding of the human subject that balances the cognitive with the affective, and of the hope for a democracy to come that takes into account indeterminacy, as structures to be found both within a renewed relationship between reason and faith and in the discourse of human rights. On this basis there can be seen to be a direct link between human rights and the Christian, tradition and therefore the hope that the latter will be able to make a more substantive contribution to the contemporary debate. Becoming a more integral part of the public sphere may be a way forward for religious traditions as they search for more effective ways of engaging with contemporary culture.



How to Cite

Reader, J. (2003). The Discourse of Human Rights -- a Secular Religion?. Implicit Religion, 6(1), 41–51.