Religion, Gender Equality and Postcoloniality

The details
Human Rights Centre (Essex Law School)
Colchester Campus
Postgraduate: Level 7
Monday 15 January 2024
Friday 22 March 2024
20 October 2023


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

The role that religions play in public life has been growing in visibility and importance in most parts of the world, impacting on a range of public policy debates and human rights standards. Even in countries where society has shifted towards secularization, globalization and its effects, including increasing immigration and rapid communications, have made the public manifestation of religion more visible.

For those engaged in promoting human rights, the nexus between the promotion of human rights and religious manifestation is almost impossible to avoid. The challenges therein can be presented as arguments based on religion to reject or restrict human rights, such as freedom of expression or gender equality; or as a basis to provide a strong emotional foundation to advance human rights, where religious scholarship and commitment can defend and reinforce human rights norms. While human rights may be defended as a secular project, this nexus makes it important that human rights scholars and practitioners develop two important literacies: literacy in religion and literacy on the human right to freedom of religion or belief. This module will enable students to develop both these literacies. It examines the international human right to freedom of religion or belief which also includes the freedom from religion. It focuses on the specific challenges posed to the promotion of human rights by Islamic law and Muslim-majority state practices, as an example of how religion and human rights interact. The module takes a multi-disciplinary approach, and examines the political, cultural and legal context of the tensions between international human rights law on the one-hand and classical Islamic doctrine and contemporary State practice on the other. It will equip students with relevant literacies to challenge restrictive practices and advance reformist projects. No prior knowledge of Islam or Islamic law is required.

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • to enable to students to develop a range of skills to engage with a number of widespread controversies in the conceptualisation and practice of human rights, and to empower them to carry out further independent research. The issues that are examined are cross-cutting and provide perspectives from a variety of disciplines.

  • to equip students with cross-cultural dialogue skills necessary for a range of careers that touch upon human rights and cultural diversity whether as diplomats, human rights advocates, journalists, or educators, among others, where interaction with peoples from diverse backgrounds and cultures and identities is needed.

Module learning outcomes

The module has five major objectives in terms of learning outcomes:

  1. to understand the foundational role of the freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief in the broad human rights framework and develop literacies to negotiate and promote human rights in de-secularised spaces;

  2. to examine critically hegemonic and postcolonial perspectives on human rights and develop the tools necessary for cross-cultural understanding and engagement and to promote societal inclusion;

  3. to analyse the inter-relationship between culture, history, religion and politics in the realisation of human rights;

  4. to develop critical reasoning, analytical writing and oral argumentation skills;

  5. to enable students to carry out independent research into the subject.

Module information

The key topics covered by this module would include:
Seminar 1. Religion, Secularism, and Human Rights: Conflicts and Synergies

Seminar 2. Religion, Racism and Post-coloniality: Decolonising Religious Freedom and Enhancing Inclusion

Seminar 3. Competing Visions of Human Rights: Critiques of Libertarian, Egalitarian and Communitarian Models

Seminar 4. Religious Freedom and its Discontents: Hegemonic and Critical Discourses and Subaltern Voices

Seminar 5. Freedom of Expression, Hate Speech and LGBT+ Rights

Seminar 6. Religion, Feminism and Gender Equality: the ‘Conscience Wars’

Seminar 7. Parental Liberties and Children’s Rights: Addressing Conflicting Rights and Interests

Seminar 8. Women and Access to Justice: the Challenge of Legal Pluralism and Structural Discrimination

Seminar 9. Social Institutions and Human Rights: Vernacularising and Localising Universal Rights

Learning and teaching methods

This module will be taught via weekly 2-hour seminars.

The module teaching team will upload all relevant teaching materials on Moodle. You will find reading lists, the textbook, weekly handouts or PPS notes on Moodle. The materials in question are designed both to help you navigate the material to be covered in the seminars and to equip you to analyse the required readings. You will be expected to have completed the required readings in advance of your seminars.


The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course.
The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students.
Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Essay (HU924 Religion and Human Rights)    100% 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Prof Ahmed Shaheed, email:
Law Education Office,



External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Available via Moodle
Of 18 hours, 16 (88.9%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
2 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s), module, or event type.


Further information

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