The American Sociologist

, Volume 49, Issue 2, pp 218–241 | Cite as

Jane Addams’ Social Vision: Revisiting the Gospel of Individualism and Solidarity

  • Kaspar Villadsen


Designated an early pragmatist, Jane Addams has significantly inspired contemporary pragmatist research. However, Addams also consistently articulated ideas harking to primordial Christianity and sought inspiration in the social gospel of her time. This article explores how Addams’ writing resonated with key tenets of social gospel theology, which imbued her texts with an overarching vision of humanity’s progressive history. It is suggested that Addams’ vision of a major transition in industrial society, one involving a “Christian renaissance” and individuals’ transformation into “socialized selves”, constitutes a political eschatology. Of particular interest is how Addams conceived the relationship between the individual and society, inventing the term “new social ethics” to reconcile the difficult balance between individual autonomy and social solidarity. The article suggests some ways in which Addams’ writings relate to contemporary issues such as individualism, neo-conservatism, and militarism. Her social thought constitutes a thus far under-examined source of sociological critique in regard to such issues of public concern.


Jane Addams Social gospel Individualism Solidarity Political eschatology 



I wish to warmly thank Editor, Lawrence Nichols, for his fruitful comments on an earlier version of the article. I also wish to thank my colleagues, Mads Peter Karlsen and Stefan Schwartzkopf, Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy, CBS, for their detailed and helpful comments.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Management, Politics & PhilosophyCopenhagen Business SchoolFrederiksbergDenmark

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