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Reverence:Renewing a Forgotton Virtue


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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.


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. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

This book by Paul Woodruff is a delight, in part from the beauty and pertinence of the poetry that Woodruff brings in to illuminate his discussion and from the charm added by his explications. His prose is a joy as he illustrates the various facets of reverence with brief scenarios and as well as longer stories. This book is capable of changing some people. George Bennion, Brigham Young University [Woodruff] makes use of his broad knowledge of classical literature, modern politics, and Chinese philosophy to illustrate that reverence is essential to a well-functioning society and that it plays a part in almost every human relationship. Theology Digest In this small book, philosopher Paul Woodruff sets himself two large tasks: to revive an appreciation for reverence in a culture that celebrates irreverence, and to rescue the idea of virtue from its proponents on the right and its opponents on the left. He succeeds admirably in both. Scott Russell Sanders, Christian Science Monitor An admirable, historical and ideological survey. Publishers Weekly Elegant... Not a simple self-help book, nor is it intended to be a feel-good, or feel-better, philosophical read... It is grounded in Western and Eastern philosophical, intellectual, an literary traditions, and it invites us to figure out for ourselves how its plainspoken lessons about the role of reverence...can be applied to the challenges of that confront us in our day-to-day lives. Tom Palaima, The American Prospect Woodruff approaches his subject with reverence, thereby invoking it even as he is analyzing it with depth and clarity. We have lost the 'idea' of reverence, he tells us, and to reclaim it is our obligation and opportunity. A beautiful book, lyrical and hard-hitting, intellectual and emotive, transformative. Ursula Goodenough, author of Sacred Depths of Nature Reverence is a beautifully written meditation on an important and neglected Ranging through time and traditions from the ancient Greeks to the present day, Woodruff has written a wise, original book. The Common Reader Clarion and worthy, Woodriff's treatise will give readers their own 'Eureka!' moments and, hopefully, create a ripple effect. Booklist

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