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Human Dignity Focus of Jan. 28 Book Discussion Led by Cook Global Professor Christopher McCrudden

By Lori Atherton
Jan. 24, 2014

In debates on torture, abortion, same-sex marriage, and welfare reform, appeals to human dignity are seldom hard to find. But what does human dignity actually mean?

Christopher McCrudden, William W. Cook Global Law Professor at Michigan LawThe concept of human dignity and its importance in political and legal contexts is the focus of Understanding Human Dignity, a new book edited by Christopher McCrudden, William W. Cook Global Law Professor at Michigan Law and professor of human rights and equality law at Queens University Belfast. Prof. McCrudden will lead a roundtable discussion of the book on Tuesday, Jan. 28, from 4:15 to 5:30 p.m. in Room 1020 South Hall. A reception will immediately follow the talk.

"Understanding Human Dignity aims to help the reader make sense of current debates about the meaning and implications of the idea of human dignity," Prof. McCrudden said of the book, published in November 2013 and featuring essays written by scholars from the United Kingdom, United States, and Europe. "The book aims to reflect on debates about dignity in law, philosophy, history, politics, and theology, through a series of essays from specialists in these fields, exploring the contested concept in its full richness and complexity."

Joining Prof. McCrudden in the book discussion are University of Michigan professors Rebecca J. Scott, the Charles Gibson Distinguished University Professor of History and Professor of Law, Joseph Vining, the Harry Burns Hutchins Collegiate Professor of Law Emeritus, and Mika LaVaque-Manty, the Arthur F. Thurnau Associate Professor of Political Science. Professors Scott and Vining are contributors to Understanding Human Dignity. Prof. Scott wrote about threats to dignity in societies after slavery and provided case studies of late 19th-century Louisiana and 21st-century Brazil, while Prof. Vining focused on the recognition of the human individual and the individual animal in legal thought.

As the concept of dignity becomes more important in political and legal contexts, Prof. McCrudden noted, it also becomes more contested. "As a result, there has been an extraordinary explosion of scholarly writing about the concept of human dignity in law, political philosophy, and theology." The roundtable discussion, he said, is aimed at furthering that discourse.

A specialist in human rights, Prof. McCrudden concentrates on issues of equality and discrimination as well as the relationship between international and comparative human rights law. He teaches in the areas of international, European, and comparative human rights at Michigan Law, and has been on sabbatical from the Law School since 2011 while completing a three-year Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship. In addition, he is a fellow at the Straus Institute for the Advanced Study of Law and Justice at New York University Law School during the 2013-2014 academic year.

(In addition to the book discussion, Prof. McCrudden will present "Transnational Culture Wars" as part of the Law School's International Law Workshop. The talk will be held on Monday, Jan. 27, from 4:15-5:15 p.m. in Room 116 Hutchins Hall. Members of the Law School and wider University community are welcome to attend.)

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