Special Issue "Growing Apart: Religious Reflection on the Rise of Economic Inequality"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 February 2017)

Printed Edition Available!
A printed edition of this Special Issue is available here.

Special Issue Editors

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Kate Ward

Theology Department, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI, USA
Website | E-Mail
Phone: 414-288-3737
Interests: economic justice; virtue ethics; feminist ethics; Catholic social teaching
Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Kenneth Himes

Theology Department, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467, USA
Website | E-Mail
Phone: 617-552-0681
Interests: ethical issues in war and peacebuilding; the development of Catholic social teaching; the role of religion in American public life; fundamental moral theology

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The Special Issue arises from a year-long interdisciplinary faculty seminar at Boston College that examined the growing economic inequality in the United States and globally. The issue also publishes papers on that topic, delivered at a conference at Boston College in Spring, 2016.

This Special Issue sheds light on the nature of economic equality, which becomes pernicious. Its scope, consistent with the seminar and conference, will be interdisciplinary, proposing to illustrate how theological and ethical reflection on inequality can be enriched by incorporating various disciplinary perspectives.

Prof. Dr. Kate Ward
Prof. Dr. Kenneth Himes
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

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Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • economic inequality
  • social justice
  • interdisciplinary studies

Published Papers (15 papers)

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Open AccessEditorial Introduction to This Issue
Religions 2017, 8(4), 58; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8040058
Received: 27 March 2017 / Revised: 4 April 2017 / Accepted: 4 April 2017 / Published: 6 April 2017
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Abstract
Only a few decades ago, the neoconservative writer Irving Kristol could dismiss economic inequality as a social problem (Kristol 1980).[...] Full article
Open AccessEssay An Economy of Grace
Religions 2017, 8(3), 43; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8030043
Received: 31 October 2016 / Revised: 12 March 2017 / Accepted: 15 March 2017 / Published: 18 March 2017
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Abstract
This essay is adapted from a plenary talk the author gave at the “Growing Apart: The Implications of Economic Inequality” interdisciplinary conference at Boston College on 9 April 2016, as well as portions of his book Cut Loose: Jobless and Hopeless in an [...] Read more.
This essay is adapted from a plenary talk the author gave at the “Growing Apart: The Implications of Economic Inequality” interdisciplinary conference at Boston College on 9 April 2016, as well as portions of his book Cut Loose: Jobless and Hopeless in an Unfair Economy, a sociological ethnography based on interviews and observations of unemployed autoworkers in Detroit, Michigan, and Windsor, Canada, during and after the Great Recession. The essay discusses four themes from this research. First, it provides a sociological understanding of how long-term unemployment and economic inequality are experienced by today’s less advantaged workers. Second, it illustrates how social policy can improve their circumstances. Third, it examines the limits of policy, and how dealing with inequality also requires changing the broader culture. Fourth, it makes the case for one possible approach to bring about that cultural change: a morality of grace. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Social Services, Social Justice, and Social Innovations: Lessons for Addressing Income Inequality
Religions 2017, 8(5), 89; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8050089
Received: 8 February 2017 / Revised: 1 May 2017 / Accepted: 2 May 2017 / Published: 10 May 2017
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Abstract
This paper first explores three lessons about income inequality that have emerged in cross-disciplinary study. Second, it relates those lessons to ethical practices in social work and social services, and other ethics of social justice. Third, it briefly examines sample innovations in social [...] Read more.
This paper first explores three lessons about income inequality that have emerged in cross-disciplinary study. Second, it relates those lessons to ethical practices in social work and social services, and other ethics of social justice. Third, it briefly examines sample innovations in social services that hold promise for addressing the three lessons of the income inequality described. Finally, the paper offers reflections on a potential path forward in a quest to mitigate the harm of persistent income inequality and create more equitable systems for those experiencing it. Full article
Open AccessArticle Growing Economic Inequality and Its (Partially) Political Roots
Religions 2017, 8(5), 97; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8050097
Received: 13 February 2017 / Revised: 2 May 2017 / Accepted: 2 May 2017 / Published: 18 May 2017
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Abstract
Growing economic inequality fosters inequality in the political processes of American democracy. Since the 1970’s inequalities in earnings and wealth have increased dramatically in the United States creating a higher level of inequality in disposable income than in other developed democracies. The United [...] Read more.
Growing economic inequality fosters inequality in the political processes of American democracy. Since the 1970’s inequalities in earnings and wealth have increased dramatically in the United States creating a higher level of inequality in disposable income than in other developed democracies. The United States also lags behind other rich nations in the way it provides for those at the bottom of the income distribution, and there is no evidence that the opportunities for success promised by the American Dream compensate for inequality in America. Technological and economic developments are significant causes of this growing economic inequality. The role of politics is more controversial, but government policy influences the distribution of income and education by the way it determines government benefits, taxes and the way markets function. For a number of reasons—including, most importantly, the relationship between education and income and the ability of the affluent to make large campaign donations—those who are economically well-off speak more loudly in politics. They are more likely to engage in most forms of individual political participation—not only ones that involve using cash but also ones that cost nothing except time. Moreover, when it comes to political voice through organizations, a professionalized domain dominated by hired experts in which the volume of political voice can be altered to reflect available economic resources, affluent interests are more likely to be organized and active. This essay considers the growing economic inequalities that form an important part of the backdrop for unequal political voice. Full article
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Open AccessArticle The Impact of Economic Inequality on Children’s Development and Achievement
Religions 2017, 8(4), 67; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8040067
Received: 13 February 2017 / Revised: 1 April 2017 / Accepted: 7 April 2017 / Published: 14 April 2017
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Abstract
Child poverty leads to many challenges at both societal and individual levels, and the two levels are interrelated. It is critical to recognize the complex implications of poverty, including short-term and long-term effects for children and families. After reviewing both the societal (e.g., [...] Read more.
Child poverty leads to many challenges at both societal and individual levels, and the two levels are interrelated. It is critical to recognize the complex implications of poverty, including short-term and long-term effects for children and families. After reviewing both the societal (e.g., economic costs, segregation, and unequal opportunity) and individual (e.g., effects on children’s health, development, learning, and academic achievement) implications of poverty, this paper will describe a framework for action that incorporates multiple existing approaches, and offer an example of one intervention that aims to address the challenges associated with economic inequality for children in the United States in a comprehensive, multifaceted manner. Full article
Open AccessArticle The Relative Effectiveness of the Minimum Wage and the Earned Income Tax Credit as Anti-Poverty Tools
Religions 2017, 8(4), 69; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8040069
Received: 13 February 2017 / Revised: 6 April 2017 / Accepted: 6 April 2017 / Published: 17 April 2017
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Abstract
In the search for effective measures to combat poverty, two government policies have been given much attention. One is the establishment of a federal minimum wage to help workers secure a decent standard of living. The second measure is the Earned Income Tax [...] Read more.
In the search for effective measures to combat poverty, two government policies have been given much attention. One is the establishment of a federal minimum wage to help workers secure a decent standard of living. The second measure is the Earned Income Tax Credit, which gives tax refunds to workers in households that fall below a set standard of income. Both policies have supporters and critics regarding the effectiveness of the policies. This essay provides an economic analysis of the two measures. Among the issues discussed are how the policies affect employment and poverty, and how well targeted they are at the population at risk. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Globalization, Inequality & International Economic Law
Religions 2017, 8(5), 78; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8050078
Received: 7 February 2017 / Revised: 4 April 2017 / Accepted: 4 April 2017 / Published: 26 April 2017
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Abstract
International law in general, and international economic law in particular, to the extent that either has focused on the issue of inequality, has done so in terms of inequality between states. Largely overlooked has been the topic of inequality within states and how [...] Read more.
International law in general, and international economic law in particular, to the extent that either has focused on the issue of inequality, has done so in terms of inequality between states. Largely overlooked has been the topic of inequality within states and how international law has influenced that reality. From the perspective of international economic law, the inequality issue is closely entwined with the topics of colonialism and post-colonialism, the proper meaning of development, and globalization. While international economic law has undoubtedly contributed to the rise of inequality, it is now vital that the subject of international economic law be examined for how it may contribute to the lessening of inequality. To do so will require a shift in the way that we think, in order to address inequality as a problem of an emerging global market society, and how best to regulate that society and its institutions. Full article
Open AccessArticle The System Isn’t Broken. It’s Fixed
Religions 2017, 8(4), 57; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8040057
Received: 7 February 2017 / Revised: 28 March 2017 / Accepted: 28 March 2017 / Published: 5 April 2017
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Abstract
This paper has two distinct and related aims. First, I attempt to clarify the oft-made claim that somehow the “system is fixed”. What is meant by that charge and how is it distinct from other kinds of complaints with regard to economic inequality? [...] Read more.
This paper has two distinct and related aims. First, I attempt to clarify the oft-made claim that somehow the “system is fixed”. What is meant by that charge and how is it distinct from other kinds of complaints with regard to economic inequality? Second, I attempt to show how important it is to understand what we are doing together as members of a (political) economy. Without a clear conception of our joint, collaborative active, it is difficult to have a fruitful discussion of economic justice. Throughout the paper, I borrow insights from the philosopher Elizabeth Anderson. Full article
Open AccessArticle Wealth, Well-Being, and the Danger of Having Too Much
Religions 2017, 8(5), 86; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8050086
Received: 5 February 2017 / Accepted: 26 April 2017 / Published: 8 May 2017
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Abstract
It is impossible for an agent who is classically economically rational to have so much wealth that it is harmful for them, since such an agent would simply give away their excess wealth. Actual agents, vulnerable to akrasia and lacking full information, are [...] Read more.
It is impossible for an agent who is classically economically rational to have so much wealth that it is harmful for them, since such an agent would simply give away their excess wealth. Actual agents, vulnerable to akrasia and lacking full information, are not economically rational, but economists, ethicists and political philosophers have nonetheless mostly ignored the possibility that having too much might be harmful in some ways. I survey the major philosophical theories of well-being and draw on ethics and the social sciences to point out several ways in which, on the most plausible of these theories, having too much, relative to other members of one’s society, might be harmful to oneself (for instance, by making it harder for one to have appropriate relationships with others, or by making it more likely than one will develop undesirable character traits). I argue that because egalitarian policies prevent these harms and provide the advantaged with other benefits (such as access to public goods which help rich and poor alike), egalitarian policies are not as harmful to the rich as is commonly supposed, and may even be helpful to them on balance. I close by discussing the practical implications of this. Full article
Open AccessArticle Economic Inequality and the New School of American Economics
Religions 2017, 8(6), 99; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8060099
Received: 4 February 2017 / Revised: 3 May 2017 / Accepted: 10 May 2017 / Published: 24 May 2017
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Abstract
This essay analyzes economic inequality in the Gilded Age, roughly from 1865 to 1900. It focuses specifically on a group of economists who identified working-class consumption as an economic stimulus, and accordingly advocated an increase in wages to bring this about. It is [...] Read more.
This essay analyzes economic inequality in the Gilded Age, roughly from 1865 to 1900. It focuses specifically on a group of economists who identified working-class consumption as an economic stimulus, and accordingly advocated an increase in wages to bring this about. It is structured in three sections: first, it demonstrates how industrialization in the late-nineteenth century sparked social tensions, convincing observers that there was a crisis of inequality; second, it explains how these tensions produced a “New School” of economics who sought to alleviate these issues by changing economic doctrine; it concludes by noting how this New School exerted an influence on public policy in the Progressive Era. In their conception, economics should be redesigned to promote a more equal distribution of wealth. Therefore, higher wages would stimulate working-class consumption, which would stabilize the economy and overall alleviate class conflict. This story offers a unique way to view the development of consumerism and social reform in American history. Full article
Open AccessArticle Catholic Social Teaching on Building a Just Society: The Need for a Ceiling and a Floor
Religions 2017, 8(4), 49; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8040049
Received: 7 February 2017 / Revised: 15 March 2017 / Accepted: 22 March 2017 / Published: 31 March 2017
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Abstract
Msg. John A. Ryan was the leading voice for economic justice among American Catholics in the first half of the twentieth century. Although he was a champion of the proposal for a living wage to establish a minimum floor below which no worker [...] Read more.
Msg. John A. Ryan was the leading voice for economic justice among American Catholics in the first half of the twentieth century. Although he was a champion of the proposal for a living wage to establish a minimum floor below which no worker might fall, Ryan gave little attention to whether there ought to be a ceiling to limit wealth among concentrated elites. I believe Ryan’s natural law methodology hindered a fuller vision of economic justice when addressing inequality. Contemporary Catholic social teaching, shaped by documents like Vatican II’s Gaudium et spes, has formulated a communitarian approach to justice that deals more adequately with the dangers of vast economic disparities. The essay concludes with a few ideas regarding how the post-conciliar outlook assists in rectifying the growing trend of economic inequality within American society. Full article
Open AccessArticle The Economic and Ethical Implications of Living Wages
Religions 2017, 8(4), 74; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8040074
Received: 9 March 2017 / Revised: 13 April 2017 / Accepted: 14 April 2017 / Published: 20 April 2017
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Abstract
Although rhetoric about wages and jobs often emphasizes the effects of globalization, questions remain as to whether United States workers are paid adequately to sustain a reasonable standard of living. One solution is to implement a living wage, which is accurate and specific [...] Read more.
Although rhetoric about wages and jobs often emphasizes the effects of globalization, questions remain as to whether United States workers are paid adequately to sustain a reasonable standard of living. One solution is to implement a living wage, which is accurate and specific to a local economy but more computationally complex than a one-size-fits-all minimum wage. When considered economically, a living wage has the potential to increase business and production costs as well as lower profits and cause job loss. From ethical viewpoints articulated in Catholic social thought, sustainable wages enhance human dignity by supporting human agency, encouraging creativity, and permitting contributions to the common good. This article explores whether the positive ethical outcomes of implementing a living wage outweigh any possibly negative, unintended economic results. Full article
Open AccessArticle Jesuit and Feminist Hospitality: Pope Francis’ Virtue Response to Inequality
Religions 2017, 8(4), 71; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8040071
Received: 3 February 2017 / Revised: 30 March 2017 / Accepted: 5 April 2017 / Published: 19 April 2017
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Abstract
Pope Francis is the first Jesuit pope and has made economic inequality a theme of his pontificate. This article shows that Pope Francis diagnoses economic inequality as both a structural problem and a problem of virtue, and that the virtue he calls for [...] Read more.
Pope Francis is the first Jesuit pope and has made economic inequality a theme of his pontificate. This article shows that Pope Francis diagnoses economic inequality as both a structural problem and a problem of virtue, and that the virtue he calls for in response is what James F. Keenan, SJ has called Jesuit hospitality. Reviewing contemporary theological work on hospitality, I show that Francis’ Jesuit hospitality shares many features with hospitality as described by feminist theologians. Namely, it is risky, takes place across difference, acknowledges the marginality of both host and guest, and promises mutual benefit to each party. Francis’ account of the spiritual practice of encounter provides a concrete vision of Jesuit hospitality in action. This article contributes to existing literature on the uniquely Jesuit nature of Francis’ theology and to work showing the resonance of his intellectual standpoint with feminist approaches. It proposes a Christian virtue response to the pressing contemporary problem of economic inequality. Full article
Open AccessArticle Twenty First Century Global Goal-Setting Addressing Global Inequality: An Interdisciplinary Ethical Analysis
Religions 2017, 8(4), 48; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8040048
Received: 3 February 2017 / Revised: 10 March 2017 / Accepted: 10 March 2017 / Published: 28 March 2017
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Abstract
This paper employs an interdisciplinary ethical analysis to evaluate how global inequality has been addressed by recent so-called “global goal-setting” initiatives. It seeks to contextualize these initiatives within theoretical paradigms of human rights and human development, and to utilize these paradigms in evaluating [...] Read more.
This paper employs an interdisciplinary ethical analysis to evaluate how global inequality has been addressed by recent so-called “global goal-setting” initiatives. It seeks to contextualize these initiatives within theoretical paradigms of human rights and human development, and to utilize these paradigms in evaluating the successes and shortcomings of the goal-setting initiatives. It concludes that while these initiatives have achieved some success in addressing global inequality, much still remains to be done. Full article
Open AccessArticle Economic Inequality: An Ethical Response
Religions 2017, 8(8), 141; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8080141
Received: 3 July 2017 / Revised: 26 July 2017 / Accepted: 26 July 2017 / Published: 4 August 2017
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Abstract
This essay will inquire into the nature of economic inequality from the perspectives of Catholic social teaching and that of a theologian living and working in a developing country. My initial comments will discuss inequality within the context of economic globalization and the [...] Read more.
This essay will inquire into the nature of economic inequality from the perspectives of Catholic social teaching and that of a theologian living and working in a developing country. My initial comments will discuss inequality within the context of economic globalization and the neo-liberal paradigm that dominates it. After commenting on the way that development is seen within that paradigm, I will show the impact upon the poor that has occurred as a result of neo-liberal economic policies in nations such as India. Following this exposition of what development according to the neo-liberal model looks like, I will offer another perspective on development drawn from the insights of Catholic social teaching. From that perspective, the importance of solidarity and its influence in shaping a more just and humane approach to development will be considered. The essay will conclude with a number of policy proposals that move away from the present and inadequate view of development to one inspired by a concern for solidarity with the least well off in our world. Full article
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