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Religion and Human Rights in the Thought of W. E. Hocking

In this article the writer, Muhammad Legenhausen, reviews Hocking’s thinking on the foundations of human rights and their relation to the religious traditions of mankind. In conclusion, Legenhausen offers a few reflections on Hocking’s ideas and their relevance to the issue of the relation of human rights to Islam.

W. E. Hocking (d. 1966) was an American philosopher of religion and metaphysician who also wrote on the philosophy of law, social and political philosophy, and relations among the followers of different faiths. In this article I review Hocking’s thinking on the foundations of human rights and their relation to the religious traditions of mankind. In conclusion, I offer a few reflections on Hocking’s ideas and their relevance to the issue of the relation of human rights to Islam.

In this article, I will take a step toward this reconsideration by focusing on Hocking’s ideas about rights as expressed in one of his last works, the Coming World Civilization.

Hocking observes that one of the features of modernity is the assertion that legislation is bound by standards to be found in the human individual as “rights of man.” However, Hocking insists that the claims to human rights will be detrimental to the human community if enforced by political institutions in the absence of an appropriate spirit. Finally, Hocking suggests that the appropriate spirit can only be found by drawing on the religious traditions of mankind, especially Christianity. In order to understand Hocking’s claims and suggestions with regard to human rights and their relation to religious faith, several elements of his thinking need to be set out and explored in greater detail: his attitude toward modernity, the analysis of human rights, and the role of religion in modern society. I will conclude with some reflections on the implications of Hocking’s observations for the status of human rights in Muslim societies.

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