See the tabs below for information on potential careers and the program Curriculum, Admission Requirements, and Tuition.

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 will draw upon existing courses of several schools at The Catholic University of America. The interdisciplinary degree will be awarded by the School of Arts and Sciences through a new 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.

Watch our recent information session with Joseph Capizzi, Ph.D. and William L. Saunders, JD.

I think 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.”

“[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

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.

Required 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
  • 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
  • PHIL 878 Philosophy of Law (Jurisprudence)

Admission Requirements

Applicants must submit:

  • Application fee
  • 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, March 1
  • Final Deadline for International Applicants, July 1
  • Final deadline for domestic applicants, July 15

Graduate Tuition and Scholarships

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, March 1st.


Non-Catholic University scholarships


Tuition for the 2019-2020 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 $30,000.


The information below is provided for convenience only; all figures may be found on the Web site of the Office of Enrollment Services at

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, March 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

Program Director

William L. Saunders, J.D.

Director of the Program in Human Rights, Institute for Human Ecology | Of Counsel | Americans United for Life | Chair of Religious Liberties Group of Federalist Society | President of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars

Expertise: Bioethics, Religious Liberty, Human Rights

Bill Saunders is a graduate of the Harvard Law School, who has been involved in issues of public policy, law and ethics for thirty years. A regular columnist for the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, Mr. Saunders has written widely on these topics, as well as on Catholic social teaching. He has given lectures in law schools and colleges throughout the United States and the world. He is the Director of the Program in Human Rights for the Institute for Human Ecology.

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

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.

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