Keeping the candle lit: The ethic of just care in the context of Catholic peace and justice activism

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


Louis Kriesberg


social movements

Subject Categories

Religion | Sociology


This thesis is a case study of the social construction of peace and justice activism. It explores one of the central questions in feminist ethics: can the ethic of care be used in the public and social spheres. The group researched is middle class, white Roman Catholics who adopt a radical perspective on both their faith and the social and political world (WRCA). Two types of qualitative research are used: participant observation with four communities of activists; and in-depth interviews with sixteen long-term activists. The practice of white, radical, Catholic activists (WRCA) has four central constructs: the primacy of the human person, the centrality of relationships, relational justice and the centrality of spirituality. When reconstructed in terms of feminist ethical concerns, these four constructs can best be characterized as "just care". That is, the practice of these activists brings together the concerns of justice (freedom from oppression and domination, fair distribution of resources and grassroots empowerment) with concerns of care (addressing issues of loss, abandonment and hurt, preservation of relationships, seeing social and moral dilemmas from the perspective of both care givers and care receiver, inclusive resolutions of conflicts). Though WRC activism brings together concerns from both of these moral perspectives, it is grounded first of all in the ethic of care. WRCA see connection at the heart of existence rather than separation and they ground justice in participation of communities designed to provide care for activists. This thesis demonstrates some of the difficulties that arise when trying to practice any form of care in the public and social spheres, as well as some of the benefits of using this perspective. It also shows that the ethics of care and justice can be complementary rather than opposing moral perspectives. Finally, it shows what some of the benefits are from grounding an ethic of care, as well as activism, in a spiritual perspective.


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