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Reimagining the human : the role of the churches in building a liberatory human rights culture in South Africa today.

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The relationship between religion and human rights is receiving renewed attention by many scholars today who emphasise the need for practical collaboration around building a human rights culture. This shapes my research question as to how churches in South Africa can play a more active role as authentic allies in building a liberating human rights culture today. I call them beyond offering social capital to find liberating spiritual capital to build internal religious legitimacy for human rights that places the currently rightless and a right relation to one another as vulnerable human beings at the heart of this culture. This thesis offers an interdisciplinary lens for this task in current day South Africa where the gap between legal visions and social realities remains significant. It brings together human rights scholarship with theological reflection and historical contextualisation in a post-foundational approach. My thesis is shaped by the methodology of Abdullahi An-Na’im to convene a constructive conversation on South African soil for improved human rights realisation in the lives of the most vulnerable. This requires critical attention to both the abuse of dominating power at the heart of human rights and the paradox of the power of human rights themselves. I translate this concern into a theological key through the work of Jürgen Moltmann to suggest that his Trinitarian praxis for human rights and imaginative search for a liberating anthropology offer a counter to the power-laden images of God that can legitimate abuse. It reconnects human rights into radical relational responsibility to offer a liberating Christian hermeneutic for human rights and shows its creative appropriation by South African theologians. It concludes that the hermeneutical retrieval of prophetic voices of dissent is needed to nurture theologies for human rights that can be embodied and enacted by local churches as a core part of their identity. This can play an irreplaceable role in nurturing a human rights culture here located in Christological solidarity with those who suffer and allied in Spirit with many who hope.


Ph. D. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg 2016.


Human rights -- South Africa -- Religious aspects., Christianity and culture -- South Africa., Theses -- Theology.