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Calvin to Host Religion and Rights Talk
March 11 , 2008
Calvin College will host two acclaimed scholars on March 31 for a symposium on human rights. The event is sponsored by the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship (CCCS), the college's Service-Learning Center, and the sociology and social work department.

"The Religious Heritage of Rights Talk" will be held in the Commons Lecture Hall at 7 pm and feature John Witte, Jr., the Robitscher Professor of Law and Director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University, and Nicholas Wolterstorff, the Noah Porter Professor of Philosophical Theology Emeritus at Yale.

Together the two will discuss such provocative topics as whether religion is opposed to rights and if justice requires curbing religious influence.

Says Calvin philosophy professor James Smith, who participated in a CCCS reading group on the topics: "Both popular and academic discussions of human rights tend to see religion as a threat. Thus 'enlightened' secularists are still given to alarmist accounts of how religious traditions squelch civil rights, or how confessional communities trample over human rights claims. On this account, only 'secular' democracy can secure justice, often precisely against the claims of religion."

But, says Smith, this version of the story has been called into question by recent research. He says both Witte and Wolterstorff have a very different story to tell. Witte will discuss the roots and origins of a modern account of human rights in early modern Calvinism, while Wolterstorff will dig back even further, arguing that modern intuitions about rights and justice are indebted to the Hebrew and Christian scriptures -- and cannot be sustained by a wholly secular ethos.

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