What is social justice? The term is all around us (including in the mission statement of the Interfaith Center for Peace and Justice), but what does it mean? A recent writer in the Chronicle of Higher Education claims that “social justice” has become a “catch-all term,” meaning more or less whatever people want it to mean.

To clarify a term, it sometimes helps to go back to its origins. As far as historians can determine, the term “social justice” was coined in the 1840s by Luigi Taparelli (1793–1862), an Italian Jesuit priest and political philosopher.

Bill Collinge is professor emeritus of theology and philosophy at Mount St. Mary’s University and secretary of the Interfaith Center for Peace and Justice. This column is based on a longer article in the Journal of Social Encounters.

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