Week Six: Citizenship and Rights

I thoroughly enjoyed this week’s content as I am personally very interested in the nitty-gritty of rights discourse! Where do they come from? Do they even really exist? Are they simply western constructions? What about the tension between culture and rights? Is the international human rights agenda simply a form of neo-imperialism?

Whilst I don’t necessarily agree with all Hobbesian philosophy, I think that the social contract is a great way to conceptualise rights discourse. According to Hobbes, the creation of the social contract demands for a transfer of rights between the sovereign and the subject; in return for protection against the state of nature, the subject relinquishes a significant level of autonomy  to the sovereign. However, who is to be considered a subject is also the prerogative of the sovereign – citizenship (and the rights that come with it) may only be afforded to those selected by the sovereign. In this way, it is very often that the elite comprising a majority of governments exclude non-status quo groups such as slaves, ethnic minorities, and women from various rights such as freedom and franchise.

What really struck me as interesting in the readings was the role of religion in dictating which rights were afforded to who, how they could exercise these rights, and how far these rights extended. Christianity (Catholicism in particular) had a significant hand in the way that women were seen in society, and was used to justify their place – Pelliza de Sagasta references the words of Maria del Pilar Sinués de Marco; “No, no, God made man the natural head of the family. Work! He said to Adam. Love, He said to women in general through Eve. Console man!… Follow him wherever he goes!” Women were to be on a pedestal, “the absolute queens of the hearts of men“, and this is where their ‘strength’ lay; their true ‘natural’ place.

Similarly, colonialism and Christianity have long come hand-in-hand. Latin America is only one instance of the paternalistic tradition of Catholic missionaries, sent by their sovereigns or driven by their own convictions to ‘save’ the souls of the natives from their own ignorance and sin – such was ‘the white man’s burden.’ In this way, religion again dictated the way in which people in a certain society were to be seen – again, ‘other-ed’ by the status quo and as a result, alienated from the rights and freedoms enjoyed by those seen as legal subjects.

A missing piece in my understanding this week is the intersection between religion and slavery. How did Catholic slave-owners and contributors to the slave trade/ those that complied with it justify the practice? I myself am not too knowledgeable about this intersection, and whilst I feel that Nina Rodrigues’ document ‘The Fetishist Animism of the Bahian Blacks‘ may hold some answers, I found that document ridiculously hard to decipher.

Religion is and always has been a large part of Latin American society and culture, and whilst I am by no means suggesting that religion is the root cause of a lot of divisions in this society, I am interested to see how such things may be used to justify the distinctions between different groups. Where is the place of religion and culture in rights discourse? Returning to my earlier question, how can we navigate the occasional tensions that arise between culture and rights?






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