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Human Rights Initiative

The Human Rights Initiative, a joint effort of the College of Liberal Arts and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, awarded five grants to support outstanding interdisciplinary faculty projects in 2018. 

Hassan Abdel Salam (Sociology)

Human Rights in Islamic Law: Understanding Islamic Jurists' Perceptions of Human Rights

Throughout the world, Islamic jurists and clerics are engaging in conversations about the compatibility of human rights and Islamic law. Yet the media and academic scholarship often discuss Islamic law and human rights as being in opposition. This perception may be partly due to the fact that the fatwas (Islamic legal rulings) of most Islamic jurists do not explicitly invoke human rights. Professor Abdel Salam will systematically interview Islamic jurists and clerics living in the United States on a variety of human rights questions. This study will guide human rights scholars, activists, and decision makers in their conceptualization and implementation of human rights in Muslim societies.


Sonja Kuftinec (Theater Arts and Dance) and Avigail Manneberg (Art)

A Contested Home: Memory, Commemoration and Rights around Forced Migration of Palestinians in the Galilee

This project uses artistic representation to engage with issues of forced migration and displacement. It explores how visual and theatrical storytelling can redress historical amnesia by seeking to foster dialogue between two groups who have a long and contentious history, Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and Jewish Israelis. Professors Kuftinec and Manneberg will work with eight local artists to develop an interdisciplinary body of work culminating in an exhibition and public art installation.


Howard Lavine (Political Science) and James Ron (Public Affairs)

Retooling U.S.-Based Human Rights Work for the Populist Era

Professors Lavine and Ron are partnering with the leading human rights organizations, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and The Center for Victims of Torture (CVT), to develop and conduct a nationally representative survey that will probe U.S. public opinion on human rights principles, policies and organizations. The survey will oversample conservative voters and feature a number of framing experiments to probe the sort of appeals, and source cues, that might sway this population. This data will feed directly into the advocacy and research of both HRW and CVT, and will help both organizations more vigorously defend human rights in this uncertain time.


Deborah Levison (Public Affairs) and Frances Vavrus (Organizational Leadership, Policy and Development)

Animating Children's Views: Implementing Article 12 of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child Using Innovative Survey Methods

Children have the right to be heard on matters that concern them, yet their voices are often marginalized in research. Professors Levison and Vavrus aim to change that through this project, in which they are developing a human rights-based survey methodology specifically for use with children. The focus of the research for this pilot project will be on human rights in relation to children’s education and work/chores. This new tool will allow researchers to include the voices of children in large-scale household surveys, which will in turn have a significant effect on human rights policy and programming.


Joachim Savelsberg (Sociology) and Fionnuala Ní Aoláin (Law)

Mnemonic Struggles over the Gravest Human Rights Violations: The Armenian Genocide in Griswold v. Driscoll and beyond

This project will look at struggles over denial of genocide and the role of law in regulating, remembering, and preventing genocide. Based on the understanding that genocide denial causes pain for survivors and enhances the risk of future occurrences, this project will analyze a Massachusetts court case which related to teaching guidelines concerning the Armenian genocide. Professors Savelsberg and Ní Aoláin seek to explain the legal case and the consequences this case has for teaching the history of the Armenian genocide. This project will add to a series of case studies on particularly significant human rights trials and will become an essential part of a book addressing struggles over the acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide.