The Moral Problem of Economic Inequality: An Analysis of the Roman Catholic and the Quaker Traditions

Doctoral Dissertation


In this project I have explored the moral significance of inequalities of income and wealth through an historical examination of the Roman Catholic and the Quaker traditions’ definitions, interpretations, and analyses of economic inequality. One of my concerns has been to enhance the moral force of arguments against increasing inequality (or stated positively, to enhance the moral arguments for relative economic equality).

As sources for moral arguments against inequality, I turned to the teaching documents of the Roman Catholic and Quaker branches of Christianity. I chose to draw on these two traditions because of their longstanding and visible commitments to working for social justice and also because of the striking differences in their organizational structure. The Catholic and Quaker traditions turned out to be instructive in an unexpected way – both evaded the problem of inequalities of income and wealth.

While the two traditions evaded the particular problem of inequality of income and wealth, both have conceptual resources which can be utilized to mount a vigorous critique of economic inequality both internally and in the public sphere. The resources within the Roman Catholic tradition that could and should contribute to an ethic of relative economic equality include an egalitarian theological anthropology, the principles of universal destination of goods and the right use of property, the virtue/value of solidarity, the value of participation, and a theology of work. The resources within the Quaker tradition that could and should contribute to an ethic of relative economic equality include the testimonies of equality, peace, simplicity, and stewardship as well as Quaker decision-making processes and a Quaker spirituality of work.

In this project, I have been most concerned to show how the traditions can and should generate more internal dialogue about the problem of inequality. I have proposed the development of Catholic and Quaker theologies of equality as the foundation for robust ethics of relative economic equality. The development of theologies of equality would also, importantly, be an opportunity for and a means to mounting an integrative theo-ethical critique of the interconnected inequalities associated with race, gender, and class.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-09272006-120912

Author Carla Marie Ingrando
Advisor Maura A. Ryan
Contributor Gerald McKenny, Committee Member
Contributor David Ruccio, Committee Member
Contributor Maura A. Ryan, Committee Chair
Contributor Todd Whitmore, Committee Member
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Theology
Degree Name PhD
Defense Date
  • 2006-08-25

Submission Date 2006-09-27
  • United States of America

  • Roman Catholic

  • Quaker

  • Religious Society of Friends

  • economic inequality

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility and Access Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units


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