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SLST Speaker Series – Catholic NGO representatives engaged in human rights advocacy at the United Nations: a complex legal consciousness

Professor Amélie Barras

S 701 Ross (light refreshments will be served)

Monday, February 9, 2023 from 2:30 – 4 pm


The United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) has been constructed by human rights experts and scholars as a secular space, where religion is well locatable, and ideally separated or tangential to human rights discussion and advocacy. This talk argues that exploring the shift in the legal consciousness of Catholic NGO representatives working with the HRC is an invitation to question partly this trope, as well as to reflect at the same time on the ways it gets (re) produced. The paper documents the ways in which human rights work and human rights norms impact NGOs’ representatives understanding of Catholic norms and more particularly of their ‘religious mission’. They do not trade Catholic norms for human rights norms, but rather their understanding of their faith becomes deeply informed by human rights advocacy. In other words, their human rights work becomes part and parcel of how they practice their religion. In many ways, this shift in their legal consciousness blurs the neat boundary between human rights and religion that a secular framework seeks to preserve. Nonetheless, because of their marginal position, as religious actors, in a space that is imagined as secular, they rarely advertise the ways in which human rights and religious norms are interrelated in their legal consciousness. Likewise, they rarely choose to make visible their religious identity when they are engaged in human rights advocacy. The paper argues that these choices are a testimony to the entrenched power of secularism at the HRC. Ultimately, this reflection is an invitation to consider the secular politics of legal spaces to understand the ways in which narratives of legal consciousness can vary according to who actors are interacting and speaking with.



Amélie Barras is Associate Professor in the Department of Social Science (Law & Society Program) at York University. She conducts research on the intersection between law, religion, and politics. She has published on the politics of secularism in Turkey and France, including Refashioning Secularisms in France and Turkey: The Case of the Headscarf Ban (Routledge, 2014).  She also writes on reasonable accommodation and Islam in Canada. Her most recent publication on the topic includes a book written with Jennifer Selby (Memorial University) and Lori Beaman (University of Ottawa): Beyond Accommodation. Everyday Narratives of Muslim Canadians (UBC Press, 2018).


This Socio-Legal Speaker Series event will be held at:

S 701 Ross

You can also attend remotely via Zoom:

We hope you can join us!




Feb 09 2023


2:30 pm - 4:00 pm

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