“Human rights can work as a global umbrella of values”


This semester and until March next year, CRS is visited by German professor Hans-Georg Ziebertz, thanks to a grant provided by the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation. He spends most of his time in Uppsala working on a big, international project about religion and human rights.

Hans-Georg Ziebertz, visiting professor at CRS

The interview: Hans-Georg Ziebertz, visiting professor

Hans-Georg Ziebertz is a professor for practical theology and religious education in Würtzburg. But this semester he has left the Bavarian university, which dates back to the 15th century, for Uppsala and CRS. His period in Uppsala is made possible by the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation who selected him be a Humboldt Professor for 6 months 2013-14, financed by a grant from the Humboldt Foundation.

Professor Ziebertz in impressed by the research environment at CRS. He describes the PhD students and post doc researchers as “excellent and very motivated young scholars”.

– CRS is a good model for how young people should be socialized into an academic career. There is a framework with much exchange that is inspiring and that contributes to a higher quality of research, he states.


A global umbrella

Hans-Georg Ziebertz is presently working with a big international empirical research study on religion and human rights. About 30 researchers from all over Europe gather data and try to discover and analyze the relations between religious convictions and practices and attitudes towards human rights. One of the participating researchers is senior lecturer Anders Sjöborg from CRS.

Why are human rights interesting to a theologian?

– Human rights are claimed to be universal rules for societies, they guarantee a number of freedoms for every person. The interesting thing is that traditionally also most religions claim to be a universal world view. Today we can see criticism from some religious leaders to the concept of human rights or some human rights. For instance some religious lines in Islam, Judaism and partly in Christanity reject the idea of equality between men and women, Hans-Georg Ziebertz tells, and adds that some 60 years ago, many churches were just as skeptical to human rights as Muslims today.

It’s clear, though, that no religion can today work as the global umbrella of values that human rights form. There is no global religion. Human rights are in that way much better suited to fulfill that role.

– Religious people have to find a way to keep what they consider to be true, at the same time that they accept human rights, for instance to guarantee freedom of religion, Ziebertz says.

He adds:

– For researchers who work with religion, it is interesting to research how people, religious or nonreligious, deal with human rights. For instance, does it differ between different religions? Our aim is to use this data for human rights education, by getting a better knowledge of how the minds of young people work.


Minorities care about human rights

The research project will not be finished until 2017. But there is already some data from the pilot studies that have been completed.

– Surprisingly, Muslims in the European context had higher acceptance of human rights than their Christian or nonreligious in the same age, Professor Ziebertz says.

His explanation to the fact that young Muslims are more interested of human rights is that they are part of a minority in their European homelands, and therefore face the threat of discrimination.

The data also showed that young Muslims who had grown up in Western Europe had a much more positive attitude towards human rights than young Muslims in Turkey.

As a part of the research project, Professor Ziebertz and CRS are planning to bring together scholars from all countries around the Baltic Sea for a conference on the topic religious education in March 2014


Pluralism a growing challenge

Hans-Georg Ziebertz’ chair in Würtzburg is not only for theology, but also religious education, and professor Ziebertz holds a PhD in Social sciences/education. Much of his research has focused on religious education and the challenges that teachers face in tat subject today.

And there are some challenges indeed:

– One of the paradigms that we must address in religious education is pluralism. Just a couple of decades ago people grew up with religion. You could even talk about the religion. The challenge today is: how do we handle pluralism and the very varying religious experiences among the pupils? Professor Ziebertz asks.

The new situation makes it important to reflect on how religion is taught in schools, Hans-Georg Ziebertz states.

– The question for religious education is which way we should chose. Either strict neutrality, just teaching facts about the different religions, or you confront the neutrality and acknowledge that the pupils also need some religious literacy.


Zoo-approach to religion

The debate on which way to take is vivid in many European countries right now, Professor Ziebertz tells. Even in countries with a tradition of neutral education a so called “zoo-approach” to religion (where teachers are supposed to teach religion like they were telling the pupils of deer or rhinos in a zoo) is questioned. On the other hand, in countries like Poland or Croatia, with one predominant religious tradition, pluralism is challenging the confessional religious education.

Another challenge to religious education is the growing trend of secularism.

– The monopoly of religious institutions is broken or weakened all over Europe. Individuals are, to a rising degree, free to decide their own world views. That means that the world views no longer mirror any particular religion, professor Ziebertz tells.

Hans-Georg Ziebertz will stay in Uppsala until March next year, and is now looking forward to experiencing the Swedish winter.


More information about the planned conference will follow, on the web site of CRS and in forthcoming newsletters.


About Hans-Georg Ziebertz

PhD in Theology University of Nijmegen, The Netherlands

PhD in Social Sciences / Pegadogics University of Tübingen, Germany

Full Professor for Practical Theology/Religious Education at the Faculty of Theology, Julius-Maximilians- Universität, Würtzburg

Humboldt Professor 2013-14,  funded by the Humboldt Foundation and awarded by the Bank of Sweden Tercentary Foundation

Visiting Professor at the The Uppsala Religion and Society Research Centre, CRS, and recipient of the Swedish-German Research Award

Current research: Religion and Human Rights. An international empirical study in about 30 countries.

News from 2013