This unit will trace the historical development and understanding of human rights and their relation to justice. It will examine some influential contemporary theories of justice and human rights and explore how they have found expression and consensual agreement in internationally ratified documents. Particular attention will be given to the Roman Catholic understanding of justice and rights and how they found expression in official Catholic documents and in the writings of Catholic theologians. Finally, this unit will explore a range of contemporary issues such as immigration and cultural diversities; religious liberty and freedom of worship; the role of political authority vis a vis the political rights, responsibilities and participation of citizens; the tragedies of genocides and works of national reconciliation in the aftermath; torture; moral responsibility for the environment; modern forms of economic and sexual slavery and human trafficking.

Unit code: DT9012Y

Unit status: Approved (Major revision)

Points: 24.0

Unit level: Postgraduate Elective

Unit discipline: Moral Theology

Delivery Mode: Face to Face

Proposing College: Yarra Theological Union

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Learning outcomes


Analyse the philosophical and theological foundations of the various conflicting justice and human rights positions in public discourse


Analyse Catholic teachings and approaches to human rights


Evaluate diverse positions on justice and human rights issues in regard to the foundations for justice and rights


Evaluate the conflicting rights, duties, and responsibilities that public authorities face when formulating public policies that affect human rights


Critically evaluate arguments for positions taken in human rights debates using primary sources


Evaluate the claims of countries accusing other countries of violations of human rights

Unit sequence

24 credit points in Moral Theology, or Philosophical Ethics


Class presentations, discussions, lectures, films and videos

Indicative Bibliography

  • Nigel Biggar, What's Wrong with Rights? Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2020.
  • Cavanaugh, William T. Field Hospital: The Church’s Engagement with a Wounded World. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2016.
  • Groody, Daniel G., and Gutierrez, Gustavo., Eds. The Preferential Option for the Poor Beyond Theology. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2014.
  • Himes, Kenneth R., OFM., Editor. Modern Catholic Social Teaching: Commentaries and Interpretations 2nd Edition. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2018.
  • Ishay, Micheline. The Human Rights Reader: Major Political Essays, Speeches, and Documents from Ancient Times to the Present. 2nd ed. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2007.
  • Maritain, Jacques. The Rights of Man and Natural Law. New York: Gordian Press, 1971. (This book is out of print but will be provided in pdf file).
  • Massaro, Thomas., S.J. Living Justice: Catholic Social Teaching in Action 3rd Classroom Edition. New York, NY: Rowman and Littlefield, 2016.
  • Mercy in Action: The Social Teachings of Pope Francis. New York, NY: Rowman and Littlefield, 2018.
  • Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Vatican City: Liberia Editrice Vaticana, 2004.
  • Reichert, Elisabeth. Social Work and Human Rights: A Foundation for Policy and Practice, 2nd ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011.
  • Nicholas Wolterstorff, Justice: Rights and Wrongs. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2008.


Type Description Word count Weight (%)

Variant 1

Seminar or Tutorial

2100 word Tutorial Presentation

2100 30.0

4900 word Major Essay

4900 70.0

Variant 2

Essay - research project

7000-word Research Essay on a Human Rights Issue

7000 100.0

Unit approved for the University of Divinity by Prof Albert Haddad on 20 Jun, 2022

Unit record last updated: 2022-06-20 15:28:12 +1000