Vienna: Human Rights

The group sits around classroom tables listening to the standing professor speak about fact-finding missions.
Early App Deadline: 
Friday, April 23, 2021
Final App Deadline: 
Friday, November 5, 2021
Language Requirement: 
Eric Benjaminson

The Spring quarter Vienna Human Rights program offers students an opportunity to complete three Human Rights minor core courses abroad, considered from the vantage point of Central Europe. This sequence is taught in English by University of Chicago faculty, its precise topics shifting from year to year in accordance with the interests and expertise of that year’s faculty. In addition to the three Human Rights core courses, students take a fourth course in German, taught at the beginning, intermediate, or advanced levels.

Vienna provides a unique destination to study the history and philosophy of human rights, as well as contemporary issues in the field today. The location of the first United Nations World Conference on Human Rights that took place after the Cold War in June 1993, Vienna plays a key role in this program. Excursions and site visits in and around the city complement the content of the courses.

The program is headquartered at the University of Vienna, a major European institution of higher learning, dating from the fourteenth century with a diverse international student body.

The following courses were offered remotely in Spring 2020 due to the pandemic:

  • HMRT 20101: Philosophical Foundations of Human Rights (Jennifer Pitts)
    Many things—perhaps too many—have been said to be human rights. A key task for a philosophy of human rights is to provide a grounding that will enable us to say in what way a human rights claim is not merely a claim to one of many good things but rather a claim to something distinctive, something basic and necessary to human flourishing. A second key task is to explain in what sense a human rights claim is a rights claim, not a request for charity. In this course we will look at several accounts of human rights. We will then ask what sort of international arrangements (including perhaps arrangements that permit humanitarian intervention) would be justifiable in light of our understanding of the moral content and force of human rights.
  • HMRT 20201: History and Theory of Human Rights (Kaushik Sunder Rajan)
    What are the origins of contemporary concerns with human rights? This course introduces students to the contested global history of human rights, exploring how and why rights talk became believable to states and publics across time and space. It places particular emphasis on the emergence of human rights norms from the Enlightenment through the 1940s, the fluorescence of human rights advocacy especially since the 1970s, and the more recent turn to global justice. Readings include primary sources (textual, visual and aural) along with secondary texts. Students will also visit the memorial and museum of a site of significance to the Holocaust. Previous sites have included Auschwitz and Mauthausen/Gusen.
  • HMRT 20301: Contemporary Issues in Human Rights (Susan Gzesh)
    This course uses an interdisciplinary approach to analyze the application of international human rights to domestic and international issues. We present several specific case studies as a means to explore the interrelationship of human rights instruments and agencies—and the role of NGOs, film, and social media in advocacy efforts. Topics will include understanding contemporary European perspectives on human rights, the relationship between citizenship and human rights, and cultural relativism vs. universalism. The course will incorporate guest speakers and visits to local NGOs and inter-governmental institutions in Vienna. Students will have two take-home essay assignments, one at “mid-term” and one as their final assignment.


Program participants live in the Residenz Molkereistrasse, a modern student residence hall designed according to environmentally responsible, energy-efficient principles. It is located in the Leopoldstadt section of Vienna near the Prater Park (with its famous Ferris wheel). Like their Austrian peers, students will make their way to the University using public transportation, which is ample and user-friendly.

Students reside in single rooms arranged into apartments. Each apartment includes a common area, kitchen, bathroom, television, and internet access. The building also includes bike and laundry rooms.

Credits and Registration

Participants in the Vienna Human Rights program remain registered as full-time students in the College. They take and receive credit for four courses: the three courses in the Human Rights core sequence and the German language course. The Human Rights sequence meets the Human Rights minor core requirement. Students who have already met this requirement may use these courses as electives. Their use, partial or total, in a different program of study (major or minor) that is not Human Rights must be approved by the undergraduate chair of the student’s respective program. The language course will normally count as an elective. This course is neither keyed to Chicago’s German language sequences nor equivalent to any specific on-campus course. Course titles, units of credit, and grades are placed on the College transcript.


Study abroad students pay regular College tuition, a program fee, and a nonrefundable study abroad administrative fee. The tuition and program fee are paid in conformity with the home campus payment schedule, and the nonrefundable study abroad administrative fee is submitted when accepting a place in a program. Precise figures for the Vienna Human Rights program during the 2021–2022 year are listed below:

Spring tuition: as set by the Bursar’s Office

Study abroad administrative fee: $675

Vienna Human Rights program fee: $4,875

Program fee includes: Out-of-pocket expenses include:
accommodation round-trip airfare to and from the program site
instruction transportation on site
student support meals
program excursions course materials
emergency travel insurance (ISOS) personal entertainment and travel
  communications (including cell phone usage)
  health insurance and upfront payments for care
  other miscellaneous expenses

Previous program participants report spending in the range of $200 to $275 per week on meals and incidentals while on the program, though frugal students may spend less, and others could spend much more. Bear in mind that the cost of living in Vienna is relatively high and that, while it is possible to live frugally, it is also possible to run short of money if you are unwary. It is therefore essential that you budget your funds prudently, apportioning your resources so that they last for the duration of the program. If you are planning to travel before or after the program or on weekends, you should budget accordingly.

Study abroad students retain their financial aid eligibility. For more information about financial aid resources, please see our Tuition, Fees, and Funding section.

Eligibility and Application

The Vienna Human Rights program is open to University of Chicago undergraduate students only. Applications from outside the University are not accepted.

The program is designed for undergraduates in good academic standing who are beyond their first year in the College. While the program stipulates no minimum grade-point average, an applicant’s transcript should demonstrate that they are a serious student who will make the most of this opportunity. Because the Human Rights sequence is taught in English, there is no language prerequisite, although students are encouraged to take German on campus before the program begins.

Each application is examined on the basis of the student’s scholastic record, personal statement, and academic recommendation. If you are interested in applying for this program please fill out the online application.

Further Information

To discuss the Vienna: Human Rights program and the possibility of participating, please contact Eric Benjaminson.

What you’ll see: 

The Spring 2015 group poses for a photo while standing inside of a University of Vienna building.The Spring 2015 group sits outside of a University of Vienna building.Six students walk along a wide avenue in Vienna on a spring day.The group sits around classroom tables listening to the standing professor speak about fact-finding missions.Tram number 4071, on the Friedrich Engels-Platz route, is passing through an intersection.