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The Papal Human Rights Discourse: The Difference Pope Francis Makes

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Human Rights Quarterly

February 2019

Human Rights Quarterly

Religious actors and their political concepts are commonly assumed to be conservative, static, and aligned with the private contemplative world. Popes, however, regularly stand out from this narrative. The article contextualizes the papal human rights discourse since the 1940s and contributes a hitherto neglected perspective to the debate on human rights and religion in the international realm, illustrating that religious ideas and configurations change. The research, partially derived using discourse network analysis software, points out three key findings: First, John Paul II dominates the human rights discourse, which has gained traction since the end of the Second World War. Second, although Francis takes an outside role in the papal discourse, he does not differ in principle from the mainstream trajectory of the papal human rights discourse. Finally, third, from the first evocation of human rights by a pope, there has been a persistent trend stressing both individual and collective human rights. Moreover, the article illustrates that political and religious conceptions of human rights are relational, and even contingent on each other. The results offer ample reason to anticipate future papal political conduct based on the trajectory of the papal human rights discourse.

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