Spring 2020 - WL 204 D100

Rights and Activism in Literature (3)

Class Number: 5445

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Mo 2:30 PM – 5:20 PM
    AQ 5047, Burnaby

  • Exam Times + Location:

    Apr 20, 2020
    8:30 AM – 11:30 AM
    TAKE HOME-EXAM, Burnaby



Focuses on literary responses to political oppression, censorship, displacement, terrorism or warfare. Thematic interests may include human rights, gender inequality, racism or class exploitation. Breadth-Humanities.


This course will focus on the modern development of human rights from what was arguably its beginnings in texts by Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi. We’ll see how Lynn Hunt traces the links between human rights and literature, and we’ll look at how three short, compelling novels from diverse traditions invoke the intrinsic value of humanity. The idea is that if the modern discourse of human rights makes sense to people around the world, it’s because it speaks to the ethical foundations of perhaps all human societies. In sum, this course will give students the opportunity to think about the overlap between literature, moral convictions and power. Students of literature, social sciences and philosophy are welcome as the course will not presuppose a background in literary theory.


Students successfully completing this course can expect to:

  • Articulate connections between the cultural realm (novels, poetry and film) and ethical commitment to human rights
  • Understand the historical contexts that led to the modern rise of human rights
  • Write cogently on the relationship between literature and human rights
  • Acquire experience speaking publicly on the intersections between cultural and ethical fields


  • First essay (5 pages) 15%
  • Midterm exam 20%
  • Final essay (8 pages) and oral report 25% + 5%
  • Final Exam 20%
  • Participation and oral critique 10% + 5%


Final Exam: 20 April, 8:30AM - 11:30AM



The instructor will provide excerpts from Mohandas K. Gandhi’s The Story of My Experiments with Truth and a few short articles on literature and human rights. Students are expected to purchase the following:

Al-Daif, Rashid. This Side of Innocence. Translated by Paula Haydar. Northampton, MA: Interlink, 2001
ISBN: 978-1566563833

Capek, Karel. The War with the Newts. Translated by Ewald Osers. North Haven, CT: Catbird Press, [1936] 1990.
ISBN: 978-0945774105

Hunt, Lynn. Inventing Human Rights: A History. New York: WW Norton, 2008.
ISBN: 978-0393331998

Tolstoy, Leo. "The Kingdom of God Is Within You": Christianity Not as a Mystic Religion but as a New Theory of Life. Translated by Constance Garnett. Gearhart, OR: Watchmaker, [1894] 2010.
ISBN: 978-1603863827

Yizhar, S. Khirbet Khizeh. Translated by Nicholas De Lange and Yaacob Dweck. Jerusalem: Ibis, [1949] 2007.
ISBN: 978-0374535568

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html