This blog explores moral action in contexts of limited freedom and choice.

It invites public reflection on the ways in which people carve out spaces of resistance within structures that do not change and exercise power even when it is denied them. This is a blog about creativity, imagination, and persistence AND a criticism of the structures and systems that oppress the human spirit. This blog is a form of public, activist scholarship. In the digital exhibit, each post describes the context of constraint and captures a form of moral agency exercised there. Working from their case studies, the contributors also offer definitions of moral agency that bring constraint into view rather than downplay or deny it. This interplay between case study and conceptual work challenges assumptions about freedom, power, and choice that animate our judgements of one another and our sense of possibility. 

The purpose of this blog is to expand the concept of moral agency by exploring the ways people exercise power when freedom and choice are limited.


This blog began as a digital exhibit created by doctoral students in a seminar taught by Ellen Ott Marshall at Emory University. The seminar, “Moral Agency under Constraint,” takes as its starting point Reverend Dr. Katie Cannon’s observation that dominant traditions in ethics assume a moral agent with “freedom and a wide range of choices.” 1 Rather than remaining within the logics of those traditions, Reverend Dr. Cannon modeled a new way of studying and teaching ethics. She turned to the literature of African American women to study protagonists who demonstrate moral agency under constraint. While the resources and sites of moral reflection vary, the items in this digital exhibit follow Cannon’s method of exploring and claiming moral agency in contexts of constraint. Like the seminar itself, this blog seeks to broaden and deepen the ways we construe, analyze, teach, study, and practice moral agency.

About the Author

Dr. Ellen Ott Marshall (M.A. Notre Dame 1992, M.A./Ph.D. Vanderbilt 2000) is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics and Conflict Transformation at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. She is also on the faculty for the Ethics and Society doctoral program in Emory’s Graduate Division of Religion, where she serves as co-convener for the initiative in Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding. Dr. Marshall focuses on contemporary Christian ethics, with particular attention to violence, peacebuilding, conflict transformation, gender and moral agency. She has edited two volumes and written three books. Her most recent book is An Introduction to Christian Ethics: Conflict, Faith, and Human Life (Westminster John Knox Press, 2018).


  1. Cannon, Katie Geneva. Katie’s Canon: Womanism and the Soul of the Black Community. Continuum, 1996. Katie Geneva Cannon was a formative figure in contemporary Christian ethics, a leading first generation Womanist scholar, and the first African American woman ordained to the ministry in the Presbyterian Church USA. She passed away in August 2018. https://www.upsem.edu/newsroom/professor-katie-cannon-first-black-woman-ordained-in-pcusa-dies-at-68/