Present-day society can be identified as being or becoming, global. This means that we are increasingly living in and depending on networks of relations and information processes that span the entire planet. The globalising society comprises a global economy, a global political system, a global social system and a global culture. In all these areas of globalisation another trend is emerging: a global human rights process.
An important aspect of globalising society, which functions as both one of its causes and one of its effects, is the migration of millions and millions of people between countries and continents around the planet. Global migration leads to growing multiculturalism in present-day society. As a result the majority of the various populations are increasingly confronted with beliefs, values, norms, habits and behaviour which are unfamiliar to them and which they may experience as alien, strange, offensive or even frightening.
In the long term all this may lead to severe problems in what may be called the social cohesion of present-day society. There are two key issues. The first is whether and to what extent society is breaking up into competing and conflicting groups, which may even be engaged in a life-and-death struggle. The second is whether and to what extent people live their lives so individualistically that they become monads to one another, each caring only for himself and God alone caring for everyone. In this perspective social cohesion issue poses a fundamental question: what holds present-day society together: the constitutional state and human rights as they are formulated in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), and international conventions on particular issues such as genocide (1948), refugees (1951), racial discrimination (1966), discrimination against women (1979), torture (1984) and the rights of the child (1989)?
These official human rights documents are themselves subject to discussion and dispute as regards their supposedly universal character, their interpretation and their application. Nevertheless the rule of law, including human rights law, is supposed to direct all social forces towards enhancement of the autonomy and equality of all human beings. But because the rule of law and human rights law cannot function itself as a strictly neutral umpire or even an impartial authority, all available forces in civil society need to be mobilised to prevent human rights from being subordinated to ideological interests and improve their interpretation and application to further the principles of human dignity, freedom and equality.
One of these social forces is religion. All religions claim that the ethical aspirations and moral duties they share contribute to the well-being and welfare of individual human beings, groups and communities. This applies particularly to the golden rule, which plays an important role in all religions, namely that one should treat everybody as one would wish to be treated. The principle of universal reciprocity underlying this golden rule can be seen as the very basis of all human rights law. But one could ask whether and to what extent this principle is actually observed within and between different religions, as well as in the secular world, both within and between nation-states. One might ask whether and to what extent religions contribute to the realisation of the three generations of human rights.
The aim of the empirical research program is explorative. The focus is on:
- 1) Discovering theoretically and societally relevant relations between religion (religious convictions and practices) and attitudes towards human rights;
- 2) Detecting the direction in these relations in terms of the impact of religion on human rights attitudes;
- 3) Analysing differences within and between religious groups and countries of Northern, Western, Eastern and Southern Europe;
- 3) Formulating theoretically and empirically legitimate hypotheses about the impact of religion on human rights attitudes to be tested in future research.