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This material was created or adapted from material created by Notre Dame OCW faculty member, Maura Ryan, Associate Professor, 2006. Copyright © 2007, Maura Ryan.

Catholic Social Teaching

Spring 2006

New Delhi market scene

Humanity 2007. Image courtesy of Flickr user Chathika.

Course Description

This course provides a historical, theoretical and practical overview of the principles and themes of the Roman Catholic social encyclical tradition.  It explores views on Christian social responsibility through classic texts and contemporary problems. [This course was originally an e-course, conducted entirely on-line.]

About the Professor

Professor Ryan's primary interests are in the areas of bioethics and health policy, feminist ethics, and fundamental moral theology. She co-edited a book on global stewardship with Todd David Whitmore in 1997 and her Ethics and Economics of Assisted Reproduction: The Cost of Longing was published by Georgetown Press in 2001. A co-edited volume, A Just and True Love: Feminism at the Frontiers of Theological Ethics, will be published by the University of Notre Dame Press in 2006. Her articles have appeared in Theological Studies, the Hastings Center Report, Health Progress, The Journal of Philosophy and Medicine and Ethics and Behavior. She has served on the Board of Directors for the Society of Christian Ethics, the editorial boards of the Religious Studies Review and Ethics and Behavior, the St. Joseph County Healthcare Advisory Consortium and the ethics committee for Hospice of St. Joseph County. Ryan served as Associate Provost at Notre Dame from 2001-2004.  Her education includes a B.A from St. Bonaventure University (1979), an M.A. from Boston College (1987), and an M.Phil (1991) and PhD (1993) from Yale University.  


Course Description

This course provides a historical, theoretical and practical overview of the principles and themes of the Roman Catholic encyclical tradition.  It explores views of Christian social responsibility though classic texts and contemporary problems.

Course Goals

  1. Identify and understand the core principles and methodologies of Roman Catholic Social Teaching;
  2. Understand the forces, movements and events which have shaped the development of the Roman Catholic social tradition;
  3. Apply the core principles of Roman Catholic social teaching to contemporary problems. 


Students are expected:

  • to read the overviews for each unit and all assigned readings.
  • to take careful notes on assigned readings.
  • to be prepared to participate in weekly discussions of basic themes, principles and applications.
  • to complete written assignments on time.
  • to respond, in approximately 250-300 words, to one or both of the questions based on the readings for the coming week will be posted by the instructor.  
  • to complete two 7-10 page papers which apply the principles of Catholic social thought to a contemporary issue of your choice.



  • O'Brien and Shannon. Catholic Social Thought:  The Documentary Heritage. (Orbis, 2001).
  • Curran, C.  Catholic Social Teaching: 1891-present. (Georgetown, 2002).
  • Ehrenreich, B. Nickled and Dimed in America. (Metropolitan Books, 2001).


  • Mich, M.H. Catholic Social Teaching and Movements (Twentythird Publications, 2001).
  • Himes, ed.  Modern Catholic Social Teaching:  Commentaries and Interpretations.  (Washington,  DC:  Georgetown University Press, 2005).

**Note:  Readings from the assigned books which are available on-line have active links on the Readings page.  


Component Percentage
Class Participation 40%
Paper #1 30%
Paper #2 30%


Lesson Topic  Due Dates
1  Unit I: 
Beginning with the Personal
2  Unit I (cont): 
Persons and Institutions
3  Unit II: 
The Foundation of Catholic Social Thought: 
The Human Vocation
4  Unit II (cont): 
Justice and Right Relation: 
The Prophetic Tradition
5  Unit III: 
Historical Overview: 
Rerum Novarum to
Centesimus Annus

Classic Texts:  Leo XIII and Pius XI
6  Unit IV: 
Catholic Social Thought in Transition
 First Paper Due
7  Unit V: 
Vatican II and Post-Conciliar Social Teaching
8  Unit VI: 
Social Teaching of John Paul II
9  Unit VII: 
Christianity in a Consumer Society
10  Unit VIII: 
Choices Concerning War and Peace
11 Unit IX:  
Humanitarian Intervention
12  Unit X: 
From Charity to Justice: CST and Global Health
13  Unit XI: 
Catholic Social Teaching on the Environment
14  Conclusion  Second Paper Due   Tell A Friend