November 17, 2003

Witte to give Nov. 20 Great Teacher's lecture

By Elizabeth Cloud

Can the human rights movement prevail without religion? And are modern religious traditions harming themselves by ignoring human rights?

John Witte, Robitscher Professor of Law and Ethics, will address these issues in his upcoming Great Teachers Lecture, “Religion versus Human Rights? The Choices and Challenges of the 21st Century,” Nov. 20 at 7:30 p.m. in Miller-Ward Alumni House.
Every year the Great Teachers Lecture series showcases some of Emory’s most influential faculty members. Witte is a favorite among law students, having been selected eight times as their Most Outstanding Professor since coming to Emory in 1987. Witte also directs the Law and Religion Program and the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Religion.

Witte has been working on issues of religion and human rights for more than a decade. He said the relationship between the two “has become critically important in today’s volatile climate.”

As an example, he said that since 1973, more than 30 new constitutional democracies have been created, yet during the same time more than 30 civil wars have arisen.
“These Dickensian paradoxes are particularly striking when viewed in their religious dimensions,” Witte said.

New freedoms in recently democratized communities have allowed once-oppressed religions to come forth with new strength. At the same time, local ethnic and religious rivalries once controlled by a common oppressor sometimes use their new freedoms as an opportunity to abuse power themselves, as Witte will explain through the situation in the former Yugoslavia and Chechnya.

Witte’s lecture is the second of six Great Teachers Lectures during 2003–04; the series is sponsored jointly by the Center for Lifelong Learning, the Office of Public Affairs and the Association of Emory Alumni. The event is free and for more information visit or call 404-727-6000.