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Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue

4.2 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195157956
ISBN-10: 0195157958
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

What is the difference between reverence and faith? Is reverence supposed to take the place of faith or belief? Does reverence belong to religion? In this simple, and often simplistic, little book, Woodruff, who teaches humanities at the University of Texas at Austin, probes the meaning of reverence and tries to recover it as an essential component of a moral life. He defines reverence very simply as "the well-developed capacity to have the feelings of awe, respect, and shame when these are the right feelings to have." In an admirable historical and ideological survey, he traces the roots of reverence to Greek and Confucian ideals. Yet contemporary society seems to have lost this capacity for reverence, a loss that is reflected in disdain for the government, destruction of the environment and disrespect for rules and rituals. How can we recover reverence and act more reverently? Taking a cue from Aristotle, Woodruff says that we become reverent by doing reverent things. Such a circular argument is not the book's only flaw. Woodruff covers his subject in the first 15 pages, demonstrating that it would have been more appropriate as a lengthy journal article. Although he offers a variety of different approaches to the same subject, Woodruff cannot overcome a deadening sense of repetition (e.g., reminding us on almost every other page that reverence and respect are not synonymous), ultimately defeating his valiant efforts to rehabilitate reverence for today.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Philosopher Woodruff had an epiphany: reverence, "the virtue that keeps human beings from trying to act like gods," has been forgotten in our society. People practice reverence, but without understanding or valuing it. To rekindle awareness of the virtue that "lies behind civility and all the graces that make life in society bearable and pleasant," Woodruff defines reverence and explains how it makes community life possible. Drawing on two classic traditions, ancient Greek philosophy and Confucianism, as well as the poetry of Tennyson, Yeats, and Larkin, Woodruff carefully separates reverence--the sense of a greater, transcendent force, the feeling of awe we feel in the presence of beauty--from faith, showing how tyranny occurs when reverence breaks down. Like courage, reverence is not tied to any one belief system, and, as Woodruff so eloquently argues, "habits of reverence" are essential to every sphere of life, from education to politics to land management to love. Clarion and worthy, Woodruff's treatise will give readers their own "Eureka!" moments and, hopefully, create a ripple effect. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (December 5, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195157958
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195157956
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.6 x 5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #841,376 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Paul Woodruff is Mary Helen Thompson Professor of the Humanities at the University of Texas in Austin. A widely published translator of Plato, Thucydides, and other ancient writers, he has written extensively on classical philosophy and political thought.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book because I was impressed by a review, and I am well pleased with my choice. I have limited philosophy background, but the writing is clear and contains down to earth examples for the non philosophical. I was especially pleased that he discussed the importance of reverence in both religious and secular settings, and in several different cultures: Greece, ancient China, and present day university life . The importance of reverence as a feeling that nourishes compassion, justice, and other humane virtues is a lesson that I as a physician can relate to. Similarly, the interconnection between ceremony (offical ceremonies of state, and mundane one in families etc.) and reverence remind me of the importance of medicine as an art, not just as a science. I suspect other readers will find similar inspiration in their daily lives and tasks
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Format: Hardcover
Reverence is not dead. Humanity, however, stands at a critical crossroads in the survival of reverence, its lasting relationship with the virtue and with itself. In Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue, Paul Woodruff draws on two disparate yet equally influential cultures to make that and another key assertion: reverence has permeated human history through culture, religion and all other intellectual thought. Despite its universality and historical impact, reverence now more closely resembles a ghost than a living being; it is among us, yet we remain oblivious of its presence.
Beginning with the importance and roles of reverence in ancient Greek and Chinese cultures to support his proposal, Woodruff proceeds to cite examples of both successes and failures of reverence in modern contexts ranging from the classroom to Little League Baseball to the Vietnam War, highlighting the remnants of this long-held virtue and showing what humanity can use as a departure point to reacquaint itself with reverence. He explains the differences between reverence and respect, suggests the importance of each in various contexts and asserts the ability and necessity of reverence to transcend both religious and cultural boundaries in an increasingly global society. He clarifies the symbiotic natures of reverence with both justice and ceremony in social and religious institutions and marks the pitfalls of inadvertently trading belief for harmony in the name of reverence in a chapter on relativism.
This intriguing little book is a treasure, true to its message, as Woodruff treats both his subject and his audience with the reverence he advocates in a literary Golden Rule. His prose is rich yet flows seamlessly and deftly from point to point.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Paul Woodruff, a Professor of Humanities at the University of Texas, writes about what he maintains we have lost sight of, reverence. While he admits the word is difficult to define, Mr. Woodruff says it "begins in a deep understanding of human limitations; from this grows the capacity to be in awe of whatever we believe lies outside our control--God, truth, justice, nature, even death." If we have reverence, we respect people lower than ourselves; we are kind to children. Woodruff differentiates between religion and reverence. He says that some people the most fervent about their religion do not have reverence. There is reverence outside religion. Reverence moderates war in all times and cultures. Reverent people do not say they speak on the authority of God either. Mr. Woodruff describes how a group of young people without traditional religion can experiene reverence at a memorial service for a friend when they share both their sorrow and silence.
The author gives many other examples of reverence or the absence thereof, citing references in both ancient China and ancient Greece as well as calling up the Victorian poet Tennyson.
I bought this book after having seen Mr. Woodruff discussing reverence in an interview by Bill Moyers. I must say that while the book is both thought provoking and thoughtful, it is far too long. The author repeats himself over and over. I could have gotten the point from a chapter or two on the subject in a book of essays or in a long journal article.
Having said that, I was so taken by Mr. Woodruff's comments on The Iliad that I ordered the translation he cites to reread this work for the first time in many years.
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Format: Hardcover
Christopher Lasch once raised what he called the "forbidden topic of limits" in our society. In his new book Reverence, Paul Woodruff explores in a fresh and compelling way the topic of implacable human limitations and what it means to acknowledge or fail to acknowledge them in the business of living. His work brings to light a much obscured dimension of human life and living, and ought to be of keen interest to philosophers, social theorists, social scientists, and seekers after wisdom generally.
In Woodruff's view, "reverence" has as much to do with politics and power as religion and often transpires outside the sphere of religion altogether. Reverence "begins in a deep understanding of human limitations" and from it "grows the capacity to be in awe of whatever we believe lies outside our control"--God, the gods (beneficent or evil), truth, nature, justice--in his words, "conceived as an ideal, dimly grasped and much disputed"--death, or, if that is how one sees it, nothing at all. This capacity and its exercise is a virtue, indeed a cardinal virtue, Woodruff claims, in just the sense that courage or fairmindedness are virtues. He argues that reckoning with this dimension of human life is a universal, inescapable task. Of course, it takes myriad forms in different times and cultures. But he points out that people from very different religions commonly much admire one another's outlook and practices, which can't be based on the content of their creeds. It appears that we can detect and admire this quality anywhere. I would add (I am sure he would agree) that the same sense of admiration and commonality often occurs among religious and nonreligious individuals.
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