How Communication Technologies Remold the Religion/Human Rights Divide: Online Synergies for a Global Democratic Space

Human rights, when understood and applied interculturally, offer an interface for translating and mediating values across global diversities. Religions have long done the same, attempting to provide meaning that bridges human-to-human as well as human-to-divine relationships through a universalist ethos. Still, the two are often pitted against each other with religions accused of a particularism that only human rights with its global aspirations can overcome. At the same time, the alleged universality of human rights has also been often criticized for passing off as universal a limited set of values with, paradoxically, Christian European origins. Meanwhile, and also as a result of the Covid-19 global pandemic, technology is mediating our daily experiences around the world now more than ever. Critics argue that this shift is ‘dehumanizing’ and risks alienating people and exacerbating conflicts among diverse groups. I will argue that neither the contrast between human rights and religion nor the supposed affective limitations and negative effects of technology are accurate. Instead, religions contain universalist resources that could be crucial to investing human rights with the affective power to make them meaningful interfaces. Human rights frameworks drained of their meaning by submersion in abstractness could be revitalized by universalistic attitudes toward space and affect. Online technologies, similarly, do not entirely obstruct our capacities for empathy but instead have the power to bridge otherwise faraway realities in potentially more productive ways than could occur ‘face-to-face.’ A supporting analysis of empathy and emotions online will undergird this claim. Understanding the potential synergies among human rights, religions, and technologies, viewed anthropologically, could help to pave the way for new avenues of interaction and engagement with real social effects. Indeed, such an approach holds the potential to help move the needle on the overwhelming disparities brought on and exacerbated by capital-driven globalization. Without this effort, there can be no hope for the only kind of democracy left to develop: global democracy.

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