Creating a Babel Fish for Rights & Religion: Defining 'Rights' Through Sacred Texts

54 Pages Posted: 1 Dec 2017

See all articles by Lua K. Yuille

Lua K. Yuille

University of Kansas School of Law

Date Written: 2016


Is there a way to reconcile the seemingly competing claims of human rights and religious faith? Or must religion modify itself to comply with and support secular universal human rights regimes? Using the scripture of the Bahá'í Faith as a case study, this Article takes up these questions to define the religious conception of rights. It argues that the answers require the recognition that the rights regimes promulgated within religions operate under a distinct paradigm that does not conform to popular conceptions of rights. The problem is not that rights are inconsonant with religion, but that the language of rights, as understood in modern political, legal, and moral discourse, is inapplicable within a religious paradigm. The languages of secular and nonsecular rights are incommensurable.

To support its incommensurability thesis, this Article outlines a broad framework under which human rights may be conceived in one religious paradigm, the Bahá'í Faith. The distinct definition of rights distilled makes possible the translation of "rights talk" within religion into a form commensurate with secular rights talk. This provides a foundation on which challenges to the critique of religion's role in the promotion of human rights can be grounded. The Article also offers suggestions as to the nature of the challenges that are possible once the language of the religious conception of rights is understood.

This Article concludes: Religion can be as deeply committed to rights as any liberal western human rights mechanism, but the very conception of rights in religion is different. The religious conception of rights may not reconcile the entire catalog of liberal rights, unmodified, within its framework, but it offers a solution to many difficult tensions among competing rights and provides a tenable reconciliation of the claims of the individual and the community.

Keywords: Rights, Religion, Bahai, Philosophy, Jurisprudence, Human Rights, International Law

Suggested Citation

Yuille, Lua Kamal, Creating a Babel Fish for Rights & Religion: Defining 'Rights' Through Sacred Texts (2016). 25 Transnational Law & Contemporary Problems 309-361 (2016), Available at SSRN:

Lua Kamal Yuille (Contact Author)

University of Kansas School of Law ( email )

Green Hall
1535 W. 15th Street
Lawrence, KS 66045-7577
United States

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