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Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics

Volume 24, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 2004

Traci C. West
Pages 29-49
DOI: 10.5840/jsce200424122

Constructing Ethics
Reinhold Niebuhr and Harlem Women Activists

The ideas of Reinhold Niebuhr about public ethics that were generated in his essays and books during the 1930s and early 1940s coexisted in the same Harlem neighborhood with ideas about public ethics generated by black women activists working for social change during this historical period. This essay explores an approach to constructing Christian ethics by placing these perspectives, by Niebuhr and the Harlem women activists, in "conversation." Highlighting their common quest for ideas that help to bring radical social change to alleviate subjugating conditions, I specifically analyze the differing understandings of Marxist communism by Niebuhr and Harlem women Communist Party activists. I suggest that a dialogue such as this can fruitfully inform considerations of self-interest, political struggle, and the role of religion in building public ethics for a pluralistic society.

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