Professor Surya Subedi contributes to the discussion on the universality of human rights and decolonising the curriculum

Professor Subedi’s new book “Human Rights in Eastern Civilisations” looks at how cross-fertilisation of values between the Eastern and Western civilisations has taken place.

We spoke to the School of Law’s Professor of International Law Professor Surya P. Subedi QC, OBE, DCL about his new book.

Professor Subedi told us “There has been a great deal of debate in the recent past about decolonising the curriculum in universities around the globe and a call for the use of more inclusive and diverse sources for teaching.

“The values of Western civilisations and their contribution to the development of human rights, the rule of law and democracy have been asserted in a wide range of literature. In contrast, few studies have been conducted on the values of Eastern civilisations and their contribution to the development of human rights in the wider sense of the term. Western scholars are not usually familiar with the vast body of scholarship in Eastern civilisations; nor do they go far back in history to understand and appreciate the contribution of Eastern civilisations.

“This intellectual gap renders the work of such scholars limited in scope. It is in this context that my new book examines the values of Eastern civilisations and their contribution to the development of the United Nations Human Rights agenda.”

When discussing human rights, this study is not only referring to human rights in the modern sense of the term – that is, the human rights developed mainly after the establishment of the United Nations and within the framework of Western political thought. Rather, this study is considering human rights in a wider sense and in a much earlier historical context.

Professor Subedi’s book focuses on the norms underpinning Eastern philosophies to assess the extent to which the ancient Eastern civilisations already had human rights values embedded in them. Various chapters in the book explore the expression of values in the scriptures and practices of the Eastern philosophies, assessing their influence on the contemporary understanding of human rights. Rejecting the argument based on the so-called “Asian Values” that is often used to undermine the universality of human rights, the book argues that secularism, personal liberty, tolerance, and universalism are at the heart of the main scriptures of Eastern civilisations.

The book can be found here.

Human rights in eastern civilisations cover page