McIvor, “Human Rights and Broken Cisterns”

McIvor, Méadhbh. 2018. “Human Rights and Broken Cisterns: Counterpublic Christianity and Rights-based Discourse in Contemporary England.” Ethnos. 

Abstract: Although human rights are often framed as the result of centuries of Western Christian thought, many English evangelicals are wary of the U.K.’s recent embrace of rights-based law. Yet this wariness does not preclude their use of human rights instruments in the courts. Drawing upon fieldwork with Christian lobbyists and lawyers in London, I argue that evangelical activists instrumentalise rights-based law so as to undermine the universalist claims on which they rest. By constructing themselves as a marginalised counterpublic whose rights are frequently ‘trumped’ by the competing claims of others, they hope to convince their fellow Britons that a society built upon the logic of equal rights cannot hope to deliver the human flourishing it promises. Given the salience of contemporary political conservatism, I call for further ethnographic research into counterpublic movements, and offer my interlocutors’ instrumentalisation of human rights as a critique of the inconsistencies of secular law.

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