Are Human Rights Universal or Relative to Culture?


  • What is the theory of universalism?

  • What is the theory of relativism?

  • What do universalists believe about human rights?

  • What do relativists believe about human rights?


We will explore these questions through a video and some individual case studies. 


  • Warm Up

  • Human Rights and Culture Video

  • "Debating Human Rights - Universal or Relative to Culture?" Reading and Study Guide

Human Rights and Culture

  • Are you a relativist or a universalist?


  • In the context of global politics, the theory of relativism holds that values are culturally and individually determined, they are relative to the culture.  They are not universal. To a relativist, global agreements on the most fundamental aspects of human life, including on human rights, are hence difficult to achieve.


  • On the other hand, the theory of universalism holds that there is a universal human nature that transcends traditional boundaries of identity. In a universalist view, universal values are therefore possible. To a universalist, human rights apply to everybody. 


Case Study

Are Human Rights Universal?