IMG_4773The Human Rights Certificate offers students an in-depth and rigorous interdisciplinary study of human rights history, theory and practice, cultivating life-long learners and engaged citizens who have a deep and nuanced understanding of human rights. Human rights cannot be isolated into one or even a few disciplines and its study must draw on the concepts and lived experience of scholars, practitioners, journalists and communities struggling to defend their rights. Students pursuing the certificate study human rights not as good or evil but as a constellation of approaches, histories, practices and critiques.

The certificate promotes an intellectual approach that asks critical questions and teaches students how to read books, images, and media with a critical eye; how to write or communicate clearly and concisely; how to reach a non-academic audience; and how to do their own research and thus reach their own conclusions through reasoned argument. Through their studies, students engage not only with histories and ideas, but also the people who do human rights work or who see themselves as in need of human rights protection.


How to Enroll:

Students should apply to enroll in the Human Rights Certificate program as early as possible, but no later than the fall of junior year. Enrollment takes place after preparing a declaration of interest submitted to the Certificate Director Robin Kirk (, which includes a written statement of no more than 250 words, identification of the four elective courses chosen to complete the certificate, and a potential research project for the Capstone, Research in Human Rights. Once enrolled in the program, students are assigned an adviser to help plan a pathway with potential internship and volunteer experiences to prepare for the Capstone.

Goals of the Certificate:

  1. IMG_1353An integrated and in-depth course of study, including an introduction to foundational concepts and how the concept of human rights was framed and informed by moral, ethical and political thought
  2. Exposure to theories of rights and rights critiques, including an examination of Western influence, power relationships and cultural histories and biases
  3. Examples of how human rights have been developed and applied over time and across regions and cultures
  4. Histories and experiences of past human rights issues both abroad and in the United States
  5. Study of how people have worked to achieve social change across time and cultures, including in the United States
  6. Links to students’ other curricular and co-curricular rights experiences
  7. Development and analytical and strategic thinking, allowing students to apply knowledge to real-world problems
  8. Incorporation of creative approaches to human rights, including the arts, archival resources and documentary work
  9. Mentored research into a human rights-related theme or issue
  10. Preparation for a future in which students apply knowledge in their careers and lives as engaged citizens

Certificate Requirements:

The certificate includes a selection of six courses and in-depth mentored research with faculty working in human rights, providing students with analytical, conceptual, empirical and practical knowledge that prepares them to be engaged, informed and active citizens. The list of approved human rights electives for Fall 2016 can be found here.

  1. A required Gateway, Introduction to Human Rights. Gives priority to freshmen and sophomores, and has two primary purposes: to define and explore the key terms, concepts, foundations and theories of human and civil rights; and examine alternative or competing definitions of rights using a case-based approach. Includes critiques of human rights, including from conservatives, nationalist and non-western thinkers. Through the Gateway course, students can see the connections between key rights ideas, like individual vs. collective rights, Western origins of rights concepts, humanitarian challenges, rights in the arts and visual culture and rights practice. The class combines lectures, classroom discussion, films, exhibits, guest lectures and case-based work on specific rights issues.
  1. 8.14.15__4Four electives. A course can count towards the human rights certificate if it contains a preponderance of readings or other materials of inquiry that reference human and civil rights history, concepts, theory, practice, discourse, advocacy or a combination of these elements. A course can have a thematic focus on human rights, including in areas of civil rights and social justice; it can have a regional focus, examining rights in a specific location; or a disciplinary focus, as in how a specific type of study, like biology or literature, approaches a rights question. No more than two of the four courses may come from the same home department. Students can petition for a course to count toward the certificate by submitting a syllabus and rationale for the relevance, specifying how it meets the criteria listed above. This would include courses taken outside Duke, including study abroad. View the list of approved Human Rights Certificate Electives here.
  1. A capstone seminar, Capstone in Human Rights. This course is for students in their senior year who have completed the Gateway and are enrolled in the Human Rights Certificate program. It allows students to connect the intellectual themes and scholarly knowledge they have developed in the Gateway, electives and human rights-related experiences. Students pursue an in-depth exploration of a particular dimension or problem of human rights or a service-oriented project with real-world impact. Students are encouraged to take their work into other modes of expression, including the arts or documentary work.


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