Save the Dates

January 10: Last day to waive application fee

February 1: Priority scholarship consideration deadline

July 1: Final Deadline for international applicants

July 10: Final Deadline for domestic applicants

Human Rights (M.A.)

The Master of Arts in Human Rights, developed by the Institute for Human Ecology (IHE), is designed for graduate students from the United States as well as abroad, with diverse academic interests and backgrounds, who wish to study human rights from a distinctly Catholic perspective. It draws upon existing courses of several schools at The Catholic University of America. The interdisciplinary degree is awarded by the School of Arts and Sciences through the Center for Human Rights associated with the IHE. The program’s director is William Saunders, J.D., who has years of experience in these issues.

Part-time option available.

Note: When you access the application, please note that the M.A. in Human Rights is under the School of Arts and Sciences.


On October 28, the Institute for Human Ecology hosted a live online information sessionto answer your questions about our M.A. in Human Rights Program. During the session, Program Director William Saunders and Professor Jay Richards discussed the program and took live questions from viewers.

A replay of the webinar is now available.

View The Webinar

United Nations Building and Flags

Graduates will:

  • Become knowledgeable about the international legal structure of human rights;
  • Understand the Catholic anthropology of the human person;
  • Understand the natural law of rights and the place of rights in the political order;
  • Be able to analyze and discuss whether claimed “rights” are defensible as such;
  • Understand the intersection of human rights concepts and Catholic social thought;
  • Be prepared to contribute to the building of a culture of human rights that advances the good of the human person in community.

This degree will prepare you to bring the rich Catholic perspective on human rights to a variety of different spheres, including:

  • NGOs
  • International, Federal, State Government
  • Church/Diocesan Apostolates
  • International Aid Organizations
  • Advocacy and Social Policy
  • Consulting
  • Private Sector

Wherever people are, you will be a voice for human rights.


The innovative, interdisciplinary Master of Arts curriculum will draw upon diverse academic offerings throughout The Catholic University of America. Its courses come not only from departments within Arts and Sciences but from the Schools of Philosophy, Canon Law, Theology and Religious Studies, and Law.

Following an introductory orientation week before the semester begins, the program consists of 30 semester hours of post-baccalaureate coursework, including a capstone course designed to bring together the insights from the other courses and which looks at the Church’s work at the United Nations and other international bodies. The capstone course consists of a seminar and requires completion of a research paper. The degree, which can be completed in one year, may occasionally include the option to take a summer course

Students must maintain a minimum of a B average in order to graduate. Students will fulfill the normal requirements for a Master of Arts degree in Arts and Sciences. Electives will be chosen by students in consultation with the Director of the Program in Human Rights and the Executive Director of the IHE; they will advise students on electives that prepare them for their career goals. The list of electives is not exclusive; others might be added.

Core Courses

  • PHIL 633 Philosophy of Natural Right and Natural Law
  • LAW 611 Public International Law
  • POL 644 Modern Christian Political Thought
  • CL 716 Religious Liberty
  • TRS 661 Christian Anthropology
  • POL 595C Washington Internship
  • Capstone course


  • POL 5XX/405A Constitutional Democracy (bound graduate course)
  • POL 643 Foundations of Christian Political Thought
  • POL 307 Global Issues
  • SOC 5XX/102 Global Social Problems & Social Justice (the bound graduate 
version of SOC 102)
  • LAW 607A International Criminal Law
  • LAW 419 Human Trafficking Seminar
  • LAW 410 International Human Rights
  • IEDM 552 Integral Economic Development Management (international 
institutions, international development, and human rights)
  • LAW 410A International Human Rights (Rome)
  • LAW 685 Catholic Social Teaching and the Law
  • TRS 632D Biomedical Ethics
  • TRS 632A Christian Social Ethics
  • TRS 630A Foundations of Christian Moral Life
  • TRS 368A Christianity and Politics
  • PHIL 878 Philosophy of Law (Jurisprudence)
  • POL 559A Human Rights in International Relations
Washington D.C. Capitol Building at Night

Admission Requirements

Applicants must submit:

  • Application fee (waived until January 10)
  • A letter indicating the reasons for pursuing the degree
  • Official transcripts of all previous undergraduate and graduate work with 
a minimum GPA of 3.0
  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE) score or a Miller Analogies Test 
(MAT) score
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • An admissions interview with the program director, William Saunders

International applicants must submit:

  • Application fee
  • A letter indicating the reasons for pursuing the degree
  • An official translation of foreign transcripts from an approved source 
(e.g., through World Education Services)
  • Scores on the IELTS or TOEFL in accordance with university policy
  • Three letters of recommendation in English
  • An admissions interview with the program director, William Saunders

Application Deadlines:

  • Priority deadline for scholarship consideration, February 1 
  • Final Deadline for International Applicants, July 15
  • Final deadline for domestic applicants, August 1

Apply Here

Note: When you access the application, please note that the M.A. in Human Rights is under the School of Arts and Sciences.

Master of Arts Students

Graduate Tuition and Scholarships

Are you a Civitas Dei, John Jay Institute, or Leonine Forum alumnus?

We invite you to take advantage of a unique opportunity to earn your M.A. in Human Rights at The Catholic University of America!

Upon acceptance into our program, all Civitas Dei, Leonine Forum, Cardinal Newman Society, and John Jay Institute alumni will automatically be given a $5000 scholarship.

In addition to this scholarship, all Civitas Dei, Leonine Forum, Cardinal Newman Society, and John Jay Institute alumni applications will be considered for merit-based scholarships. For priority consideration for additional scholarships, apply to the M.A. in Human Rights program before February 1, 2021.

Don’t miss your chance to study the history and importance of human rights in the heart of D.C.!


Merit-based Scholarships and Grants

In addition to Catholic University’s scholarships and financial aid plans, the Institute for Human Ecology offers partial scholarship to select students in the MA in Human Rights Program. For optimal scholarship consideration, submit application prior to the deadline, February 1.


Non-Catholic University scholarships


Tuition for the 2020-2021 academic year

The MA in Human Rights offers a discounted professional tuition rate of $1,020 per credit hour. The total cost of the program for 30 credit hours is $30,600.


The information below is provided for convenience only; all updated figures may be found on the website of the Office of Enrollment Services here.

Full-time, MA program is completed in two semesters and possibly a summer course (upon discussion with program director).

For details about FAFSA loans, please visit their website.

For Payment Plan information go to or call 888-713-7234.


Priority Deadline for scholarship consideration, February 1

Final Deadline for International Applicants, July 1

Final Deadline for domestic applicants, July 15

Advisory Council

Robert George — Princeton University

Mary Ann Glendon — Harvard Law School

John Dilulio — University of Pennsylvania

John Keown — Georgetown University

Kevin Flannery, SJ — Gregorian University

Thomas Farr — Religious Freedom Institute

Helen Alvare — George Mason Law School

“This [program] will really bring something new to the table. That is an understanding of human rights rooted in the deep tradition of thought that takes us back to Athens and to Jerusalem, an approach to human rights that really anchors human rights in the truth about the human person and the flourishing of the human person. … We need that kind of deep understanding.”

– Robert George, Princeton University’s McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence

Program Director

William L. Saunders, J.D.

Director of the Program in Human Rights, Institute for Human Ecology

Expertise: Bioethics, Religious Liberty, Human Rights

William L. Saunders is a religious liberty and human rights scholar at The Catholic University of America. He is Law Fellow with the Institute for Human Ecology, Professor and Director of the Program in Human Rights in the School of Arts & Sciences and Co-director of the Center for Religious Liberty at the Columbus School of Law. He is Chair of the Religious Liberties Practice Group of the Federalist Society. Before joining The Catholic University of America, Mr. Saunders served as Senior Vice President and Senior Counsel with Americans United for Life for ten years. From 1999 to 2009, he was Senior Fellow in Bioethics and Human Rights Counsel at the Family Research Council.

Mr. Saunders attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a Morehead scholarship. He obtained his degree in law from the Harvard Law School.

Mr. Saunders was featured in Harvard’s first Guide to Conservative Public Interest Law in 2003 and again in the 2008 edition. He served on Harvard’s Advisory Committee for its 2008 celebration of public interest law. A member of the Supreme Court bar, he has authored numerous legal briefs in state, federal, foreign, and international courts.

Mr. Saunders’ new book, Unborn Human Life and Fundamental Rights: Leading Constitutional Cases Under Scrutiny, will be published in 2019. His articles and book chapters have been published by the university presses of Harvard, Villanova, Brigham Young, Fordham, Georgetown, Houston, Scranton, and The Catholic University of America, as well as by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Freedom House, Greenhaven Press, Rowan & Littlefield, Praeger, St. Augustine’s, and Intervarsity press. He has given lectures and participated in debates at many colleges, universities, and law schools, including Princeton, Harvard, Georgetown, and Notre Dame. He delivered the annual J. Michael Miller Lecture at the University of St. Thomas (on international law) in February 2007, the annual R. Wayne Kraft Memorial Lecture (on bioethics) at DeSales University in February 2004 and the annual James Moore Lecture (on human rights violations in Sudan) at Millikin University in 1999. He has also lectured, and/or has been published, in many foreign countries, including Italy, Germany, Poland, Austria, Spain, Greece, Slovakia, Mexico, Qatar, Malaysia, Romania, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom.

In addition to speaking and writing frequently on bioethics topics, Mr. Saunders has submitted testimony to the President’s Council on Bioethics, as well as to UNESCO’s Committee on Bioethics, and has briefed Congressional staff and state legislatures. He is a regular columnist for the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly.

Mr. Saunders has appeared often in the media, including BBC World News, CNN, Fox News, EWTN, Vatican Radio, and National Public Radio. His articles on issues have appeared in a variety of journals, such as First Things, Human Events, Human Life Review, The Legal Times, Communio, The Family in America: A Journal of Public Policy, Ethics & Medics, and Touchstone.

Mr. Saunders served on the official United States delegation to the UN Special Session on Children in 2001/02. In 2011, he was a speaker at an official briefing at the UN, addressing the topic, why euthanasia is not a human right.

In 2004, he served on the NGO Working Committee in connection with the Doha Intergovernmental Conference for the Family.

Mr. Saunders is Senior Fellow with the Religious Freedom Institute, and Affiliated Scholar with the Pellegrino Center for Clinical Ethics at the Georgetown University School of Medicine. He is President of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars and a member of the boards of the International Association of Catholic Bioethicists, the International Right to Life Federation, the Institute on Religion and Democracy, and the Society of Catholic Social Scientists.

In 1999, Mr. Saunders founded Sudan Relief and Rescue, Inc., to aid the persecuted church in Sudan. He has worked for and written on behalf of the persecuted church for many years.

Our Faculty

V. Bradley Lewis, Ph.D. View Profile

Lucia Ann Silecchia, J.D. View Profile

David Walsh, Ph.D. View Profile

Paul Scherz, Ph.D. View Profile

Chad C. Pecknold, Ph.D.View Profile

Msgr. Anthony Frontiero, S.T.D. (former Vatican diplomat)  View Profile

Dennis Coyle, Ph.D. View Profile

Zion Evrony (former ambassador of Israel to the Vatican) View Profile

“[William Saunders] is genuinely a human rights hero, a person who has literally put his body, put his life on the line upholding human rights in very dangerous places…but to stand in solidarity and to support people who were victims of terrible human rights abuses.”

– Robert George, Princeton University’s McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence

Master of Arts in Human Rights

Get a Masters in Human Rights

A Conversation with Robert George

Thirty Years after Tiananmen Square:
Human Rights in China Today

M.A. Human Rights Information Session

M.A. Human Rights
Online Information Session

M.A. in Human Rights Information Session
with Dr. Chad Pecknold

For more information about the new master’s program in human rights,

please contact William Saunders, Program Director, at or click the button below:

For general questions regarding your application, please contact Sykeem Lewis, Graduate Admissions Coordinator for the School of Arts and Sciences at or by phone at 202-319-5253.

The Catholic University Advantage


The Catholic University of America offers many opportunities for students inside and outside the campus. With seven different specialized libraries, state-of-the-art laboratories with specialized equipment, 22 research centers and facilities, and a location inside the nation’s capital that provides many opportunities for internships and research in a wide spectrum of fields and organizations, The Catholic University of America is one of a kind.

The Heart of Washington, D.C.

Located in the heart of Washington, D.C., The Catholic University of America offers unparalleled opportunities. The seat of government of the world’s most influential nation is a magnet for businesses, foundations, aid agencies, science and technology centers, think tanks, charities, research institutes, cultural organizations, and policy advocates. For every area of academic pursuit, there are stories of students finding ways to connect, to make a difference, to open doors, and to have an impact here in the heart of our nation’s culture.