Humanitarian Challenges examines human rights in geographical contexts where desperate people cross borders and confront harsh conditions in places of refuge.  Among the shared themes that link our courses are: the potential of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to harm as well as help fragile populations; the role of cross-cultural understanding in post-conflict situations; immigration debates in the USA and elsewhere; the potential for creative initiatives to inspire change; and interactions between refugees and the environments of host nations.

Drawing on the humanities and social sciences, we will identify sources of conflict as well as resources for reconciliation. Starting at the microcosmic level, we ask how ethnic and religious conflicts became institutionalized at particular sites by studying musical traditions, immigration law, prisons, climate-induced disasters, income disparity, and resource wealth or scarcity.  Literary works deepen our appreciation of activists’ and survivors’ courage.  Toolkits from demography and epidemiology reveal underlying structural causes of humanitarian crises.  Environmental science provides information about the fixed and variable components of sustainable human security.

We approach global problems from “the ground up,” beginning with individuals in particular situations, for example, street rappers, child soldiers, prisoners, sexual minorities, ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) detainees, migrant farm workers, and NGO aid workers.  On the basis of particular case studies, we ask what ethical and philosophical ideals should guide initiatives designed to help the millions of humans claim their human rights.

Our affiliation with the Borderwork(s) Humanities Lab alerts us to the importance of cultural as well as physical barriers that exclude broad categories of people from mainstream Americans’ moral universe.

The Duke Engage program in Belfast offers site-specific follow-up for students in the program to stand along this deadly line in the sand.

Please visit the FOCUS Program website for a list of 2014 Humanitarian Challenges courses and faculty.