Current Research

Current project: The Idea of Civil Society in African-American Political, Social, and Economic Thought (book manuscript)

Between the individual and the state lies a wide expanse of human interaction that can nourish the soul and strengthen social attachment: civil society. Civil society is typically understood as the vibrant nexus of intermediary institutions, such as the family, church, and civic organization, that grants men and women moral purpose, spiritual fulfillment, and material welfare. Although the idea of civil society has served as a source of rich commentary in the traditional canon of political and social thought, a book-length study on the subject from the perspective of African-American thinkers has yet to be written.

My current book project attempts to fill this void by addressing how African-American thinkers and activists have understood civil society in its political, social, religious, ethical, and economic dimensions. It will explore questions such as: how did African-American thinkers grasp the idea of civil society? How did they conceptualize civil society with specific regard to black communities? How did they view civil society in relation to political activism? In relation to social progress? In relation to the black church? What were the limits to civil society in their view? What broader truths do their observations on civil society reveal about the associational nature of man?

This study will show that African-American thinkers have understood civil society to be a crucial touchstone in gauging the condition of black progress. In addition, their insights into the connection between civil society and black progress can aid in moving contemporary racial discourse beyond the individual-versus-the-state dichotomy, a debate that is often framed by the question of whether the state should or should not intervene in the American economy to advance the well-being of African-Americans. Finally, the idea of civil society in political and social thought can be enriched by giving greater attention to the concept in African-American intellectual history. Black thinkers have appraised civil society, even with its imperfections, as a moral custodian for black progress and the deepening of mutual affection within and between races. This book is an attempt to demonstrate why.