POL S 402 A: Advanced Seminar In Human Rights

Meeting Time: 
MW 3:30pm - 5:20pm
PAR 310
Joint Sections: 
LSJ 491 A
Jamie Mayerfeld

Syllabus Description:

Advanced Seminar in Political Theory
"Freedom of Religion and Speech"
University of Washington, Autumn 2016



Instructor: Professor Jamie Mayerfeld                                   Class:
Office: Gowen 35                                                                   Parrington 305
Office Hours: Tue. 1:30-3:00, Fri. 10:30-11:30                      MW 3:30-5:20

Overview: Like other constitutional democracies, the United States is pledged to respect freedom of religion and freedom of speech. However, the meaning, justification, and legal application of these rights is a subject of perennial controversy – controversy that has sometimes developed into political antagonism. In this course, we study how political philosophers and judges have grappled with questions regarding church-state relations, religious toleration, censorship, religious and anti-religious bigotry, religiously offensive speech, and hate speech. Our aim is to understand the disagreements that divide people on these questions and to develop reasoned positions in response to them.

Among the questions we consider:  What is the proper relation between religion and the state?  Should religious values be allowed to influence public policy?  Should individuals sometimes be granted exemption from certain laws on grounds of religious conscience? What legal limits, if any, may governments legitimately place on offensive speech and hate speech?  How, if at all, can we draw a line between morally permissible criticism and self-expression on the one hand and morally impermissible hate speech on the other?


A.  You are expected to complete the readings on time and come prepared to discuss them in class. The texts are challenging, but also rewarding. You will get the most out of them though careful, critical reading (and re-reading).

B.  Discussion is an essential part of this course. Part of your grade will be based on the quality of your contributions to class discussion. Shy students must make an effort to speak up. Talkative students may need, in some instances, to practice restraint. I am looking for regular, thoughtful class participation, informed by knowledge of the assigned readings. If conversation flags, I may institute pop quizzes or obligatory response papers.

C.  Each student will give a presentation, roughly 8-10 minutes long, on the assigned reading. The presentation should analyze and critically engage the argument (or an important part of the argument). Your presentation will be based on a 3-4 page paper, which you are required to submit on the date of your presentation. Presentations will be evaluated on the basis of accuracy, clarity, organization, and independent and intelligent engagement with the author’s ideas.

Your presentation should not be a mere summary, but instead an original argument relating to the reading. Your argument may be interpretive (offering an illuminating understanding of the argument in the reading) or evaluative (offering a positive or critical assessment of the argument). Or it may apply the argument to some issue or question not raised in the text. Whatever type of presentation you choose, please articulate a clear position and defend it with relevant reasons and evidence.

D.  Two essays, 5-7 pages long, will be assigned. You will be presented with a challenging question, intended to give you an opportunity for in-depth reflection on the texts and the questions they pose. Essays will be graded according to accuracy, clarity, and level of critical thought. The first essay will be assigned on Wednesday, October 12, and is due on Friday, October 28. The second essay will be assigned on Monday, November 28, and is due on Monday, December 12. Students will present rough drafts of their second essays in the final week of classes.

You may, if you wish, incorporate your class presentation into one of your essays. Please note that essays will be held to a somewhat higher standard of rigor, completeness, and polish than presentations – though these criteria will also inform evaluation of the presentations.

Texts: Readings are drawn from four books, on sale at the University Book Store, and a course packet that will be sold at EZ Copy N Print, 4336 University Way NE. The four books are:

John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty and The Subjection of Women
Mari Matsuda et al., Words That Wound
Martha Nussbaum, The New Religious Intolerance

Two valuable books that are connected to the course themes and that you may find interesting are Martha Nussbaum, Liberty of Conscience: In Defense of America’s Tradition of Religious Equality (2008), and Timothy Garton Ash, Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World (2016). I will place copies of both books on reserve.

Grading: The course grade is calculated as follows:

Participation: 10%
Presentation:    20%
First essay:      35%
Second essay:  35%

Academic Integrity: Cheating and plagiarism are offenses against academic integrity and are subject to disciplinary action by the University. Plagiarism is copying someone else’s work and presenting it as your own (by not attributing it to its true source). If you are uncertain what constitutes plagiarism, please ask me. The Political Science/JSIS/LSJ/CHID Writing Center also offers guidance on plagiarism: http://depts.washington.edu/pswrite/forstudents.html.

Students with Disabilities Provisions: If you wish to request academic accommodations due to a disability, please contact the Disability Resources for Students Office (DRS), 011 Mary Gates Hall, uwdrs@uw.edu, or 543-8924. If you have a letter from DRS indicating that you have a disability that requires special accommodations, please present the letter to me.


This schedule is subject to revision.
A star (*) means the reading is in the course packet.



Wed. Sept. 28: Introduction 

Mon. Oct. 3: John Locke, Letter Concerning Toleration

Wed. Oct. 5: Locke, Letter Concerning Toleration (continued)

Mon. Oct. 10: *John Rawls, “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited”

Wed. Oct. 12: *Abdullahi An-Na'im, "The Interdependence of Religion, Secularism, and Human Rights – Prospects for Islamic Societies”

Mon. Oct. 17: *Sherbert v. Verner (1963) (excerpts); *Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972)

Wed. Oct. 19: *Employment Division v. Smith (1990) (excerpts); Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2014) (excerpts)

Mon. Oct. 24: John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, chapters 1 and 2

Wed. Oct. 26: Mill, On Liberty, chapters 3-5

**Fri. Oct. 28. First essay due into Gowen 101 by 4:30 p.m.

Mon. Oct. 31: Mari Matsuda et al., Words that Wound, chapters 1 and 2

Wed. Nov. 2: Mari Matsuda et al., Words that Wound, chapter 3

Mon. Nov. 7: *George Kateb, “The Freedom of Worthless and Harmful Speech”

Wed. Nov. 9: *R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul (1992) (excerpts); Virginia v. Black (2003) (excerpts)

Mon. Nov. 14: *Snyder v. Phelps (2012) (excerpts)

Wed. Nov. 16: *Jytte Klausen, “The Danish Cartoons and Modern Iconoclasm in the Cosmopolitan Muslim Diaspora”

Mon. Nov. 21: *Saba Mahmood, “Religious Reason and Secular Affect: An Incommensurable Divide?”

Wed. Nov. 23: *Andrew March, “Speech and the Sacred”

Mon. Nov. 28: Martha Nussbaum, The New Religious Intolerance, chapters 1-3

Wed. Nov. 30: Martha Nussbaum, The New Religious Intolerance, chapters 4-7

Mon. Dec. 5: Student presentations of 2nd essay drafts

Wed. Dec. 7: Student presentations of 2nd essay drafts

Second essay is due on Monday, December 12, by 4:30 pm, in the main office of the Political Science Department, Gowen 101.





Catalog Description: 
Examines selected human rights topics including questions relating to the meaning, justification, promotion, implementation, suppression, or denial of human rights.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
January 10, 2018 - 9:28pm