A Role for Conflict in Catholic Social Thought: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Conflict as an Analytical Lens

Taylor J Ott, Fordham University


This dissertation stems from the recognition that while conflict is endemic to human experience and important in social transformation, Catholic social teaching attends little to conflict, despite the tradition’s commitment to societal change for the sake of justice. Some ethicists working in the field of Catholic social thought have recognized this flaw as well, but so far the reflection on conflict from Catholic social ethicists has been limited or focused on the conflict of armed warfare. Conflict sociology helps fill in this lacuna in CST and Catholic social thought by offering an understanding of society that is underpinned, upheld, and motivated by conflict. The sociological idea that conflict is more a rule of social life than an exception is echoed by Ellen Ott Marshall, who asserts that the theological understanding of the human person as both autonomous and interrelated makes conflict something that human beings ought to experience. I argue that an understanding of conflict as a normative part of the human experience not only highlights the lack of attention to conflict in CST, but implicates its underlying theological anthropology. Since conflict is such a foundational piece of society as well as of human flourishing, I offer conflict as a lens of analysis that can identify conflict dynamics that might otherwise go unnoticed, which I call a “conflict hermeneutic.” The history of intersectional feminism provides insight into how conflict plays a crucial role in the development of critical social thought and in the building of personal, social, and political relationships. The twentieth century Black feminist movement readily accepted difference and negotiated conflict in both their activism and thought, which made for a more inclusive – and therefore more liberative – movement that was able to account for the ways in which axes of discrimination create new forms of oppression when they overlap. With this history and theory having established the benefits of analyzing relationships and social situations through a conflict lens, I then demonstrate how a conflict hermeneutic can reveal new ways of understanding ethical matters, using the case studies of contingent faculty unionization at Catholic universities and women’s ordination in the Roman Catholic Church.

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Recommended Citation

Ott, Taylor J, "A Role for Conflict in Catholic Social Thought: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Conflict as an Analytical Lens" (2022). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI28776944.