A classical scholar's tutorial on reverence, toggling between ancient Greek and Chinese teachings and modern life to offer wisdom from the back of the bleachers in the virtue-ethics arena. Woodruff (Humanities/Univ. of Texas, Austin) sets himself the task of resurrecting reverence from its modern-day slumber with the help of Confucian philosophy, Greek drama and philosophy, and poetry. His thesis is provocative: reverence, a virtue little seen in everyday exchanges, could significantly improve society if properly cultivated. He makes this point aptly through situational sketches, some of which show how a lack of reverence makes a mockery of certain traditions (such as voting), and others that reveal reverence in unexpected places (e.g., in a classical music quartet). Woodruff's driving argument removes reverence from the clutches of religion, illustrating its status as a virtue unbound by time or custom, an emotional capacity that recognizes human limitations with dignified awe and tends toward doing right out of respect for those limitations. In establishing reverence's transcendent character, however, Woodruff disappoints. His explanation of bare reverence, for instance, is posited in a dumbed-down question-and-answer format that assumes the worst of its readers. Strong theses fizzle in the deciphering of Greek excerpts and modern moral quagmires. In a discussion that is intended to expound on the pith of a virtue rather than on moral rules, Woodruff spends an awful lot of time scolding ("this is wrong"). His most evident theoretical tangle appears in the chapter on relativism. Given the tenuously established boundaries between showing reverence through tradition and showing reverencefor tradition, his argument would be more compelling if it weren't so hasty. Well-intended and often edifying, but also stodgy and pedantic.
"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
"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 importantand neglectedvirtue. It is a wise, humane work andin its own reverent waysomething of a minor masterpiece."David Reeve, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill