If God Were a Human Rights Activist
Boaventura de Sousa Santos


Contents and Abstracts
2The globalization of political theologies
chapter abstract

Claiming religion as a constitutive element of public life is a phenomenon that has been increasingly gaining worldwide relevance in the past few decades. It challenges secularism, the paradigm of religion and state relations which is at the core of western-centric modernity and has spread across the globe through colonialism and globalization. According to this paradigm, Christian values are recognized as "universal" but institutional Christianity activism is relegated to the private sphere. This resolution of the "religious question" is being challenged in many parts of the world, the western world included, by political theologies for which the distinction between the public sphere and the private sphere is not valid. This chapter distinguishes different types of theology (pluralist and fundamentalist; progressive and traditionalist) showing that the relations among political theologies, forms of globalization, secularism and human rights are not univocal or monolithic.

3The case of Islamic fundamentalism
chapter abstract

This chapter analyzes the globalization of some forms of Islamic political theology commonly designated as Islamic fundamentalism. This is a minefield in which claims of conceptual difficulty are often mixed with implicit or even explicit assumptions about real or imagined political threats. It is thus imperative to counter the monolithic conceptions of Islam prevalent in the West today. Even when militantly anti-Western, the different Islamic political theologies differ as to what it means to be anti-Western, as the rejection of Western modernity as a cultural imperial project may or may not involve the rejection of global capitalism. This chapter gives special attention to the relations between Islam, and particularly fundamentalist Islam, on the one hand, and women's rights and the struggle against sexual discrimination, on the other.

4The case of Christian fundamentalism
chapter abstract

This chapter analyzes the globalization of some forms of Christian political theology commonly designated as Christian fundamentalism, especially in its Protestant strain. The expansion of Christian fundamentalist movements throughout the world, whether by means of proselytizing missions or through electronic resources, has significant political impact. It tends to strengthen political conservatism, if not far right politics. While liberation theologies tend to valorize grassroots, popular culture, Christian fundamentalism is becoming a mass culture phenomenon, mixing the alien and the familiar, the ancestral and the hypermodern, as if they were homogeneous components of the same religious artifact. Although a fierce defender of global capitalism, it rejects the Western society for having "liberalized" the family, education, sexual and reproductive rights, which they consider a betrayal of Christian values.

5Human rights in the contact zones with political theologies
chapter abstract

Political theologies promote conceptions of human dignity, social regulation and social transformation that often contradict those conventionally associated with human rights. New contact zones among rival conceptions are thereby generated and, with them, new forms of political, cultural, and ideological turbulence. This chapter analyzes the following dimensions and manifestations of such turbulence: the turbulence among rival principles; the turbulence between roots and options; and the turbulence between the sacred and the profane, the religious and the secular, the transcendent and the immanent. This analysis sheds new light on the limits of conventional human rights politics on a global scale and calls for a deep reconstruction, or even reinvention, of human rights, if they are to provide credible answers to the strong questions raised by global injustice.

6Toward a post-secularist conception of human rights: counter-hegemonic human rights and progressive theologies
chapter abstract

This chapter discusses the possibilities for mutually enriching interactions between counter-hegemonic conceptions and practices of human rights and liberation theologies. Since the 1960s, pluralist, progressive theologies and community-based religious practices have emerged, for which God seems to be revealed in unjust human suffering, in the life experiences of all the victims of domination, oppression, and discrimination. As a consequence, to bear witness to this God means to denounce such suffering and to struggle against it. If both revelation and redemption take place in this world, a contact zone is thereby generated with the ideals of social and political liberation underlying the utopia that another more just and free world is possible. One of the paths towards counter-hegemonic human rights lies in the possibility of connecting the return of God to a trans-modern, concrete insurgent humanism.

chapter abstract

This book identifies the major challenges that the rise of political theologies pose to human rights with the objective of exploring the possibility of transforming human rights into a much stronger instrument of emancipatory politics in an unjust, globalized, but resiliently intercultural world. In the background of the arguments developed in this book is the concrete experience of the World Social Forum in which converge activists in social struggles for socio-economic, historical, sexual, racial, cultural, and postcolonial justice who base their activism and their claims on Christian, Islamic, Judaic, Hindu, Buddhist, and indigenous religious beliefs and spiritualities. They represent a political inter-subjectivity that seems to have deserted conventional secular critical thinking and political action: the combination of creative effervescence and intense and passionate energy, on one side, with a pluralistic, open-ended, non-violent and yet radical conception of struggle, on the other.

1Human Rights: a fragile hegemony
chapter abstract

This chapter briefly traces the genealogy of the western-centric human rights conception. Nowadays, there seems to be no question about the global hegemony of human rights as a discourse of human dignity. Yet, a large majority of the world's inhabitants are not the subjects of human rights, but rather objects of human rights discourses. Thus the question is: are human rights helping the struggles of the excluded, the exploited, and the discriminated against, or, on the contrary, making these struggles more difficult? The hegemony enjoyed by human rights is commonly viewed as the product of an historic linear trajectory towards their consecration as the ruling principle of a just society. The chapter challenges this view by identifying four illusions underlying it: teleology, triumphalism, decontextualization, and monolithism. Being widely shared, such illusions constitute the common sense of conventional human rights.