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Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures

The Futures of Human Rights: Moral, Legal, and Political Cultures

11th Annual Comparative Literature Conference

26 - 28 February, 2009

Human rights aspire to be uncontroversial moral claims, but they quickly become embroiled in politics when states or international institutions try to implement them. This interdisciplinary conference brings together scholars from around the world to open a dialogue about the futures of human rights. Our speakers will address a range of issues: torture, economic and social rights, rights and imperialism, media and the arts, transitional justice, children’s rights, the United Nations, rights and U.S. foreign policy, and philosophies of rights.

The conference is free and open to the public. Registration is required for those wishing to share in the refreshments and banquet. Click here for the conference registration form in Word format.

Invited Speakers: 
Chiara Bottici, University of Florence, Philosophy
Lori Damrosch, Columbia University, Law
Costas Douzinas, University of London, Law
Attracta Ingram, University of College Dublin, Politics and International Relations
Paul Kahn, Yale, Law
John McGowan, University of North Carolina, English
Samuel Moyn, Columbia University, History 
Bertram Ramcharan, United Nations
Daniel Rothenberg, DePaul, Law
John Wallach, Cuny, Political Science

Preliminary Conference Program

All sessions will take place at the Clarion Hotel, Salon A, B,C, with the exception of Lori Damrosch’s talk on Thursday at 3:30, which will take place in the Law School Auditorium

Thursday, Feb 26

9:00-9:45   Registration Clarion Hotel, Salon A,B,C

9:45    Opening of the Conference
Meili Steele, University of South Carolina
Dean Mary Anne Fitzpatrick, College of Arts and Sciences

10:00-11:30    Human Rights, Literature and the Arts

  • "André Breton and Martinique," David Seaman, Georgia Southern
  • "Surrealism and Political Engagement," Barbara Lekatsas, Hofstra University
  •  "There's no Stopping a Country Where the Truth Prevails: Narrating Human Rights in Yash Chopra's Veer-Zaara," Jana Fedtke, University of South Carolina


  •  "Terror(ism) as Bildung: Social Imaginaries and Human Rights in V for Vendetta," Catharina Wuetig, University of South Carolina


  •  "Of Memory, Forgiveness and Reconciliation: The TRC and John Kani's Nothing but the Truth," Bernard Oniwe, University of South Carolina


11:30-1:00   Lunch

1:00-1:50   "Democracy and Virtue as Future Standards for Human Rights,” John Wallach, CUNY  

2:00-2:50   “Why Anticolonialism Was not a Human Rights Movement,” Samuel Moyn, Columbia University   

*3:30  Phi Beta Appa Visiting Scholar Lecture for 2009,  “International Courts and the U.S. Supreme Court: Who Has the Final Word,” Lori Damrosch, Columbia University. [This session will be held in the Law School Auditorium]

5:30   Happy Hour and Dinner Hunter Gatherer

Friday Feb. 27

9:00-9:50   “Imagining Human Rights: Ideology or Utopia?” Chiara Bottici, University of Florence   

10:00-10:50   “Preventive Human Rights Strategies in a World of New Threats and Challenges, ”Bertram Ramcharan, United Nations

Coffee Break

11:00-12:30 Panel:   The Subject of Human Rights Discourse at the Limit of Law

  • “Sacred or Profane? The Biopolitics of Human Rights,” Penelope Pether, Villanova University
  •  “Truth in Transition,” Erik Doxtader, University of South Carolina
  •   “Dignity in the Liberal State,” Erin Daly, Widener University


  •  “A Child-soldier or a Soldier-child, Same Difference”: Kourouma’s Hyphens, Klein’s Narrative of a Child Analysis,” Mark Sanders, New York University


12:30-2:00   Lunch

2:00-2:50  “What Must We Believe in Order to Believe in Human Rights,” Attracta Ingram, University College Dublin

3:00-3:50   “Terror, Torture and the Sovereign Imagination,” Paul Kahn, Yale University

4:10-5:00   “Understanding Torture’s Logic: Lessons from a Large Scale Human Rights Documentation Project on Iraq Under Saddam Hussein,” Daniel Rothenberg, Depaul University  

Banquet   7:00
At the Clarion

Saturday Feb. 28

9:00-10:00  “Human Rights: A Pragmatist Approach,” John McGowan, University of North Carolina

10:00-10:15  Coffee Break

10:15-12:30  Conceptual Dilemmas of Human Rights

  •  “Localism and Voting Rights,” Michael Halberstam, Columbia University
  •  “The Strength of a Weak Idea: Opposable Human Rights,” Jean-Claude Dupont, Collège de France
  • “What Are Children’s Rights, Indeed If They Are Anything at All,” David Rosen, Farleigh Dickinson University  
  •  “Social Imaginaries of Women’s Human Rights,” Laurie Naranch, Siena College


12:30-2:00 Lunch

2:00-3:00 “Human Rights and Empire,” Costas Douzinas, University of London

3:00-3:15 Coffee Break

3:15-5:00  The Politics of Human Rights

  • “The UN as an Obstacle to Preventing Genocide”Allan Cooper, Otterbein College
  • “Human Rights and US Foreign Policy,” Joe Renouard, Citadel University
  •  “Heidegger and Human Rights,” Martin Woessner, CUNY
  •  “Leo Strauss and Human Rights,” William Altman

For those of you planning on attending this conference, the links below should offer some helpful information.

    • Learn About USC - This site will give you information on the history of the University of South Carolina, the University's mission statement, University Highlights as well as other interesting and important facts and achievements.
    • Weather in Columbia, SC - Just enter in our zip code, 29208, for the current weather as well as averages, rainfall and projected forecasts. In March, Columbia's average high is 71° and the average low is 47°.
    • Finding Buildings on Campus - Just type in the building or department you want and select search. You will see a campus map with Cocky, the USC Gamecock mascot, pointing to the building you selected.
    • Conference hotel-Clarion Hotel
      1615 Gervais St, Columbia, SC 29210

Phone: (803) 771-8711

If you have any questions concerning conference registration, hotels, or any information on this website, please email

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