Date of Award


Degree Name

EdD Doctor of Education

Dissertation Committee

Mary Woods Scherr, PhD, Director; Steven A. Gelb, PhD; Kathleen Heinrich, PhD


Altruism, beliefs, community welfare, ethics, faith, individual rights, justice, Leadership studies, moral commitment, Phenomenology, religion


This study's purpose was to increase understanding and meaning of the lived experience of moral commitment as practiced by participants at the time of the study, not in retrospective. Phenomenology was the research methodology selected to elicit participants' understanding of moral commitment through in-depth interviews. Study participants were referred using selection criteria which included: demonstration of sustained selfless service to others outside of one's work life and a demonstrated tendency to inspire others to engage in similar service. The four women and six men in the study, ranging from 33 to 78 years of age, represented blue-collar and professional occupations. Open-ended interviews elicited rich descriptions and stories about participants' service to individuals and communities. Through data analysis and identification of common themes, a phenomenological description of the experience of moral commitment emerged. Findings show that the lived experience of moral commitment is a way of life, or process, which typically includes: (1) becoming aware of the needs of others and (2) either feeling compelled or choosing to serve others as an extension of earlier life experiences, compassion for others and beliefs in God and justice. This process can reflect an autobiographical motif, or pattern of themes, in the life of the morally committed person. Moral commitment is accompanied by passionate feelings and inner conflicts, yet its exercise provides personal growth and psychic rewards which can act as motivation for continued commitment and service to others. For many, the desire to make a difference in the lives of others or in society reflects a partnership relationship with God, enacted through service to those in need, suffering or unjustly oppressed. Intention to make a difference was paramount, and participants continued to serve regardless of the outcome of their service. Findings reflect that the morally committed of both genders act from an ethic combining compassion, care and responsibility for others, and concerns for justice, individual rights and community welfare. Participants' lives reveal that neither traumatic life experiences nor abusive family backgrounds preclude the development and enactment of moral commitment, and, in fact, may compel persons to serve others in a selfless manner.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access