This article analyzes the historical sources and forms of human rights in Western legal and Christian traditions, and it identifies key questions about the intersections of Christianity and human rights in modern contexts. The authors identify nine distinctions between different conceptions of rights correlating with at least four types of jural relationships, and they argue that leading historical accounts of human rights attribute “subjective” rights too narrowly to Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment legal thought. Earlier forms of classical Roman law and medieval canon law, and legal norms developed by Protestant reformers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries shaped Western human rights regimes in historically important ways, anticipating most of the rights formulation of modern liberals. In response to contemporary scholars who criticize human rights paradigms as inadequate or incompatible with Christian faith and practice, the authors argue that rights should remain a part of Christian moral, legal, and political discourse, and that Christians should remain a part of pluralistic public debates about the appropriate scope and substance of human rights protections.
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