This dissertation is a work of liberation theology, for it attends to transforming cultural and economic systems that deny basic human dignity. It uses ethnographic, critical, and intersectional methodologies to interrogate economic systems and to complicate cultural ideas of what it means to be working-class single mothers identifying as Black, Latina, and white. In this essay, the self-reported and statistical stories of working-class single mothers—read critically—challenge their portrayals in commonplace political, economic, and societal structures and rhetorics. The work, which moves inductively (from the ground up), identifies both oppressive life conditions and oppressive representations that often help perpetuate the other. Perhaps equally important, the essay harnesses ethnography such that working-class single mothers have a voice in what counts as dignity and as basic human worth. This essay is also a work Christian theological ethics. It takes respect for dignity and basic human worth, like Martin Luther King, Jr. argues, as a Christian demand—and so suggests that the stories of working-class single mothers teach us something about Christian duty, practice, and morality by teaching us about human dignity and worth.

In Chapter One, I explore how the concept of an economically vulnerable single mother has evolved in ways that amplify the cultural and economic barriers to thriving. I address how appeals to Christian theology in political rhetoric contribute to these developments. In Chapter Two, I articulate how the use of critical ethnography challenges these cultural stereotypes while hoping to offer a substantive picture, in the voices of single, working-class mothers, of what their lives are like and what they need in order to thrive. I argue that attention to embodied existence, as seen in an inductive methodology, reflects a deeply incarnational theology wherein the particular matters. In Chapters Three through Five I present a critical, inter-disciplinary, ethnographic study of single, working-class mothers’ self-representation, and so complicate many long-held assumptions about how best to love, support, respect, empower, and listen to people who have been functionally segregated from structural and cultural means to thriving. In particular, I attend to the stories of eight racially diverse women, each of whom are participants in the Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity program living in the same neighborhood in Dallas, TX. These collaborators share generously of their time and insights over the course of multiple conversations. In Chapter Six, I name some of the cumulative impact on single, working-class mothers of living in a society that objectively and subjectively degrades and denies their fundamental needs. Using their own voices, I offer marks of thriving that uphold human dignity, equality, and interdependence. Finally, I deploy Martin Luther King, Jr.’s theological images of beloved community and the world house as cultural and economic moral visions instrumental to a way forward. King’s attention to particular, embodied, intersectional realities of injustices and large-scale global and ideological dynamics, coupled with his ongoing authority in both Christian and secular discourse, suggest that his theo-ethical vision holds the possibility for traction in the U.S. political economy.

Degree Date

Spring 5-19-2018

Document Type


Degree Name



Religious Studies


Rebekah Miles

Second Advisor

Evelyn Parker

Third Advisor

Joerg Rieger

Fourth Advisor

Traci West



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License