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uni'wissen 01-2012_ENG

Prof. Dr. Hans Joas was recently invited to ­dinner in the USA. His American host ­engaged him in small talk in exemplary fashion, asking the sociologist, who had just published a book about human rights, whether he believed that human rights are guaranteed today. No they aren’t, replied Joas and referred with all due ­discretion – after all, he was a guest – to the prison camp in Guantanamo and torture practices in Iraq. He wasn’t surprised at all at the American’s reac­ tion: “I beg your pardon, but in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib we are protecting the human rights of our citizens.” So all it takes is a threat to national security to render the principles referred to in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948 null and void? “This shows very clearly that it’s not enough to just make a law about something. The people must also stand behind the law and voice their disap­ proval when it is infringed upon,” says Joas. In his new book Die Sakralität der Person – Eine neue Genealogie der Menschenrechte (“The ­Sacrality of the Person – A New Genealogy of Human Rights”), he proposes a triangle with the corners values, institutions, and practices as a way of illustrating this notion. Each of the three corners can serve to initiate or block change. Stated more directly: That which is written into law (institutions) can remain without conse­ quences if it is not backed up by intellectual dis­ courses (values) and behavior in daily life (practices). Non-acceptance of two of the ­corners can cause the third to stagger. Researching the Origin of Values Thus, stabilizing human rights also involves attending to the level of values. “Since we do not choose our values consciously but rather discover them for ourselves through various intensive and powerful experiences in the course of our lives, our memories of these experiences also help us to secure values,” says Joas. In order to uphold a ban on torture in the long term, it is necessary for a country to keep the memories of torture practices in the past centuries and of how they were overcome alive in the citizenry. Among other things, Joas’ book discusses historical events, such as the abolition of torture in Europe in the 18th century and the connected emergence of values. This monograph is Joas’ first project at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS), where the sociologist is a permanent fellow of the School of History. Until March 2011 he served as director of the Max Weber Center for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies. As a ­fellow of FRIAS, he now has time to devote his undivided atten­ tion to the global theme “sacralization and “Since we do not choose our values consciously but ­rather discover them for ourselves through various ­intensive and powerful experiences in the course of our lives, our memories of these experiences also help us to secure values” Religion evidently remains a mass phenomenon in modern societies. In September 2011, for example, some 100,000 Catholics attended a worship service with Pope Benedict XVI in Freiburg. Photo: Kunz 25