Christian Social Ethics

November 2, 2004

Fall 2002

TR 9:30-10:45 am and 12:30-1:45 PM
Professor Mary E. Hobgood

Office: 424 Smith Hall

Office Hours: Tuesdays 11 12 am and 2 3 PM and Thursdays 11 12 am or by appointment (ex. 3435).


Course Description:

Christian social ethics evaluates the moral quality of the relations between social groups. This course provides an introduction to Christian ethical modes of reflection on contemporary issues that impact class, race and gender groups. These include issues of poverty/economic justice, First World/Two-Thirds World relations, racism and sexism. US citizens often identify themselves as religious persons, but less often do the hard work of connecting religious ethical traditions with social policies that impact relations among social groups. We may come up with different conclusions, but the unifying element in this course is our engagement in the difficult process of ethical discernment that is informed by both social theory (i.e., analysis of class, race and gender systems) and the Christian tradition (Biblical norms and church teaching).s

In addition, by requiring at least 20 hours of work outside of class in a community based learning project, the course provides an opportunity for students to use classroom theory to interrogate their work in a particular agency, and use agency work to interrogate concepts learned in class. The goal of the course is to provide students with new experiences and theories so as to challenge moral values and world views and deepen understanding of Christian notions of justice and love.

Tentative Course Content:

* Study of the differences that ideology (i.e., assumptions about how the world works), Biblical perspectives and Catholic social teaching can make in grounding understandings of poverty, imperialism, racism and sexism.
* Identifying the effects of contemporary economic structures on poor families and contrasting views on private property with the
views of poor people and the theorists who are in alliances with them.
* Comparing and contrasting the assumptions of US policy makers about “development,” “low intensity conflict” and the “war on terrorism” with the alternative knowledge of people like Elvia Alvarado, a Honduran peasant involved in land reform and Rahul Mahajan, scholar and peace worker.
*Finally, while reading selected black writers on their experiences with white people, we will consider what is entailed in being racialized “white” and gendered male or female. We will contrast views about racism and sexism as an individual prejudice with understandings of racism and sexism as cultural ideology as well as monopolized social power embodied in larger structural systems.


If you choose to take Social Ethics, you must be enrolled in a 20 hour (at least) community learning project for the semester. This is essential to understanding course material. Your project may come from the SPUD program, from working with Professor Bill Meinhofer who is the Community Based Learning Director at Holy Cross, or another project that is approved by him or me. I expect that you will let me know which project you are already enrolled in by Sept.


In addition to spontaneous assignments given in class, you are asked to keep a log for Social Ethics. In it you will have abstracts of the readings (summaries of the main points) and your responses to the readings including how the readings connect to your community work. This log will help you be a meaningful contributor to class discussion and your small group course companions (see below). The log will also be the major resource for your final paper (see below).There will be four opportunities for you to hand in 5-10 pages of your log three times during the semester.


You are also required to meet with a small group once a week to discuss current readings. This group will be your course companions for the semester. Each group will submit an analysis of the group’s discussion that week. Analyses are due on Thursday for the readings we have discussed that week. The course companions are to indicate in the weekly analyses not only who was present, but both the high and low points of the discussion that week.


In addition to your class and community based work, you are asked to attend at least 5 campus based events and relate them to the course readings. They can be part of your Log for Social Ethics and may appear in the three opportunities you have to hand in 5-10 pages of your log.


The final paper for the course will demonstrate your integration of all components of the course. How does course theory relate to your community practice and involvement in other campus events? Your log and the Essay Guide for Community Based Learning are major resources for the final paper.

You are asked to discuss how this course has challenged, changed and/or affirmed your (a) moral values, assumptions about the way the world works. and (c) your understanding of Christian vocation and the requirements of Justice. The paper will be evaluated on THE PRECISION OF YOUR CLASS, RACE AND GENDER ANALYSIS (social theory), your GRASP OF CHRISTIAN ETHICAL THOUGHT, AND THE DEPTH OF YOUR MORAL ENGAGEMENT IN THE COMMUNITY.

Course Objectives:

1) To provide an orientation to the work of Christian social ethics, and to introduce students to the claim in biblical ethics that justice making is central to happiness and flourishing (why God created all). To see how principles of Catholic social teaching extend biblical values in the contemporary world.

2) To grow in awareness of how context (i.e., our social location/social analysis*, shapes the debates about justice in Christian ethics. To better understand how our own stories of pain/privilege are an integral part of how we understand the moral claims of justice.

3) To place the experiences of marginalized groups at the center of the course and to explore how their viewpoints yield alternative knowledge of the world and alternative interpretations of how social systems “work” and what it means to be a moral person.

4) To further our understanding of our lives in relation by reflecting critically on a community learning experience. To use theory learned in class to interrogate practical experience and to reflect on practical experience in ways that may contribute to theory.

5) To grow in the intellectual and moral prerequisites for living in a multiclass, multiracial, multicultural and multigendered society. To re vision what kinds of communities we might wish to create and what strategies/social policies need to be developed as we seek to be faithful to Biblical values and Catholic Social Teaching.

6) To enhance skills in self directed learning and in working cooperatively in groups. To have regular experiences speaking publicly, teaching peers and writing clearly and persuasively.


Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination. Fortress Press, 1978. ISBN 0 8006 1337 6
Elvia Alvarado, Don’t Be Afraid Gringo. Harper Perennial, 1987. ISBN 0 06 09721 05
Rahul Mahajan, The New Crusade: America’s War On Terrorism. Monthly Review Press, 2002, ISBN 1 58367 070 X
Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. Henry Holt and Company, 2001. ISBN 0 8050 6389 7
David R. Roediger, ed., Black on White: Black Writers on What it Means to be White. Random House, 1998.
Peggy McIntosh, “Male Privilege and White Privilege”. No. 189, Journal for Research on Women, 1980 Wellesley College
Bible (RSV version)

Mary Elizabeth Hobgood, Dismantling Privilege: An Ethics of Accountability. Pilgrim Press, 2000. ISBN 0 8298 1374 8. (Also available on reserve.)

Course grade:

1. 50%: How well you, as the unique person you are, prepare yourself and help teach this class and how strong you appear in your small group discussions. My assumption is that each one of us is responsible for creating “a good class.” and a course companion group that members enjoy. This means (at the least) each person comes to class or small group discussion with a “mini lecture” of their own which comes from their ruminations on the material at hand. Another assumption is that if we remain open, controversy is good because it challenges us and makes us do additional research (like read the whole book and other relevant material’.) and seek deeper understanding. You will find resources for your daily class teaching and small group discussion from your thinking and writing about the readings, your experiences in the community, class discussion, etc. Your role as teacher may include periodic teaching of the class.

2. 50% journal writings, a written definition of whiteness, and a final paper and exam. You are required to keep a log, either handwritten, word processed or a combination of both. Please set the journal up so that you can hand in sections of it (not the whole journal) at a time. Writing, speaking publically, and working in the community helps us know what we think. This will also help you teach something in every class.

Three times during the semester you will hand in the sections of your journal you wish me to see so I can have a written conversation with you. I will give you four opportunities to hand in one of your three selected sections. Please hand in a copy so that I am free to write in the margins.

At the end of the course, hand in an account of your understanding of whiteness with your final paper. The final paper is sketched out in the above course description. See me if needed.

School: College of the Holy Cross
Professor: Mary E. Hobgood
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