Set to become Sweden’s first doctor of human rights

Linde Lindkvist is on the way to becoming Sweden’s first Doctor of Philosophy in Human Rights Studies. He is the first to reach this goal within the subject, which combines law, history and philosophy.
“This is an intense time, I am trying to isolate myself in order to finish.”

Linde LindkvistHe explains two doctoral students have been involved from the very beginning, since the research studies programme was launched in 2009. Being the first to study the subject as a doctoral student has meant good opportunities for teaching and participation in a continuous discussion about the subject – what is really specific to human rights?

Lund University is the only institution in Sweden to run research studies in the subject and the current five doctoral students have to create their own path ahead. For better or worse, there are no trodden paths to follow.

“It has been liberating to be able to set the standards ourselves, but I have sometimes longed for an archive of old doctoral theses, which would enable us to see what a thesis in Human Rights Studies is supposed to be like.”

Linde Lindkvist has also been involved in the launch of the Bachelor’s degree programme in Human Rights Studies.

“We are really proud of the Bachelor’s degree programme. But we need to be allowed to grow from the research side as well”.

Interest – and the number of applications – from young people for the Bachelor’s degree programme is high. After Linde Lindkvist left Umeå for Lund as a 20-year-old, he was soon drawn to the subject of human rights. He found the right combination of his various interests halfway to Paris.

“I had a hard time choosing between law, political science and philosophy. Then I got hooked. The lecturers were young, unpretentious and a little angry. This was about the world here and now, about burning issues.”

Around the world, the subject of human rights is well established at universities, but Sweden has been slow to wake up to this, in spite of its long tradition of respect for both the UN and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was drawn up in 1948 in the wake of the Second World War. According to the UN’s own investigations, the Swedes are actually the most UN-loving people in the world.

“We sometimes express a somewhat uncritical passion for the UN and the Declaration of Human Rights. At the end of my undergraduate studies, when I was an intern at the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I became interested in writing about religious freedom and the desire to question.”

At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Linde Lindkvist followed the international debate on religious freedom from close quarters. This was a time marked by the turbulence which followed the publication by Jyllands-Posten of the Mohammed caricatures and the Swiss prohibition on the construction of new minarets.

“My doctoral thesis deals with some of the myths which still surround the UN’s 1948 declaration of rights. It was not, as many like to believe, global society’s collective response to the Holocaust. My study, which addresses the origins of the article on religious freedom, shows instead how central formulations can be traced to a small group of agents with specific interests.”

In Sweden, human rights are often seen as something that other countries, often distant ones, should be better at. Perhaps we are not as good at seeing our own shortcomings. There is an established world view of Sweden as the best country in the world.

“Even in Sweden, protection of human rights is feeble. One notable incidence of this was the Egypt affair in 2001 and more recently, the Skåne region’s police register of Roma.”

Text: Jenny Loftrup

Photo: Gunnar Menander

FOOTNOTE. Linde Lindkvist’s doctoral thesis is entitled Shrines and Souls: The Reinvention of Religious Liberty and the Genesis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  He will defend it on 8 December, with Samuel Moyn from Harvard University as the external reviewer