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Catholic University begins master’s program in human rights

Catholic University of America

MA promises to help ensure a "Catholic voice" present in rights discussions.

A new program in human rights is being started at the Catholic University of America.

A Master of Arts in Human Rights, developed by the Institute for Human Ecology (IHE) at CUA, is designed for graduate students who wish to study human rights from a distinctly Catholic perspective.

The one-year degree will draw upon existing courses of several schools and departments at CUA, including arts and sciences, law, philosophy, canon law, theology and religious studies. The interdisciplinary degree will be awarded by the School of Arts and Sciences through a new Center for Human Rights associated with the IHE.

William L. Saunders, an attorney who has practiced in the human rights field for over 25 years, is the new program’s director. He said the program is needed because of the frequency of human rights being ignored or abused. He said the program will emphasize the Catholic dimension of human rights theory and form students who will “be the Catholic voice” in current discussions of human rights.

Early in his law career, Saunders met a bishop from Sudan and set up a non-profit to raise money for people who were suffering from the civil war there. The organization also tried to raise awareness among American legislators about human rights violations in Sudan, including slavery.

Robert P. George, the Princeton professor who has served as chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, serves on the new human rights program’s advisory council. He said the program will “really bring something new to the table… an understanding of human rights rooted in the deep tradition of thought that takes us back to Athens and to Jerusalem, an approach to human rights that really anchors human rights in the truth about the human person and the flourishing of the human person. … We need that kind of deep understanding.”

The program will strive to educate students about the international legal structure of human rights; the Catholic anthropology of the human person; the natural law of rights and the place of rights in the political order, and the intersection of human rights concepts and Catholic social thought.

Possible career applications include work for NGOs, government, Church apostolates, and international aid organizations.

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