Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name



Religious and Theological Studies

First Advisor

Carrie Doehring, Ph.D.


Military, Moral injury, Pastoral theology, Practical theology, Social psychology, Veterans


The concept of military moral injury emerged in the past decade as a way to understand how traumatic levels of moral emotions (not posttraumatic fear) generate moral anguish experienced by some military service members. Interdisciplinary research on moral injury has included clinical psychologists (Litz et al., 2009; Drescher et al., 2011), theologians (Brock & Lettini, 2012), ethicists (Kinghorn, 2012), and philosophers (Sherman, 2015). This dissertation uses a pastoral theological method (Doehring, 2015a; Graham, Walton, & Ward, 2005) that draws upon life experience--memoirs written by veterans (Boudreau, 2008; Goodell, 2011; Mehl-Laituri, 2012; Peters, 2014)--to identify the inadequate understanding of moral identity within the existing discourse on moral injury. This project recognizes moral injury as radical moral suffering, but also considers moral stress in a broader spectrum of experiences. This project articulates a new key concept--moral orienting systems--a dynamic systems of values, beliefs, and behaviors learned and changed over time and through formative experiences and relationships such as family of origin, religious and other significant communities, mentors, and teachers. Military recruit training reengineers pre-existing moral orienting systems and indoctrinates a military moral orienting system designed to support functioning within the military context and the demands of the high-stress environment of combat, including immediate responses to perceived threat. This military moral orienting system includes new values and beliefs, new behaviors, and new meaningful relationships. Recognizing the profound impact of military recruit training, this project challenges dominant notions of post-deployment reentry and reintegration, and formulates a new paradigm for first, understanding the generative circumstances of ongoing moral stress that include moral emotions like guilt, shame, disgust, and contempt (Litz et al., 2009; Kim et al., 2011; Nash & Litz, 2013; La Bash & Papa, 2013), and, second, for responding to such human suffering through compassionate care and comprehensive restorative support. This paradigm is used to compare three significant programs providing resources for veteran reintegration: a government model (VA hospitals); a veterans' organization model (The Mission Continues); and a congregational model (Rez Vets at The Church of the Resurrection). This project calls for more effective participation of religious communities in the reentry and reintegration process and for a military-wide post-deployment reentry program comparable to the encompassing bio-psycho-spiritual-social transformative intensity experienced in recruit-training boot camp.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.


Received from ProQuest

Rights holder

Zachary Moon

File size

137 p.

File format





Theology, Psychology, Religion