Pub. date: 2008 | Online Pub. Date: May 28, 2008 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412963930 | Print ISBN: 9781412941655 | Online ISBN: 9781412963930| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
Jennifer M. Koleser
The concept of human rights is not a modern phenomenon. Through codes, decrees, or laws, rulers of empires in ancient India, Mesopotamia, and Persia, for example, established certain rights and privileges for their citizens. Also, some of the oldest written sources on rights and responsibilities are in the documents of many of the world's major religions. The modern notion of human rights gained strength during the 18th-century Age of Enlightenment, as confidence in human reason increased. European philosophers, most notably John Locke, developed the concept of “natural rights” in the 17th and 18th centuries. Locke believed that people, as creatures of God, possessed certain rights by virtue of their humanity, regardless of race, culture, religion, or ethnicity. Natural rights further played a key role in the 18th- and 19th-century struggles against political absolutism and the divine right of kings, which restricted the principles of freedom and equality. The notion of ...