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  • Ritual and the Moral Life: Reclaiming the Tradition Edited by David Solomon, Ping-Cheung Lo, and Ruiping Fan
  • Hwa Yeong Wang
Ritual and the Moral Life: Reclaiming the Tradition. Edited By David Solomon, Ping-Cheung Lo, and Ruiping Fan. Philosophical Studies in Contemporary Culture, vol. 21. Dordrecht and New York: Springer, 2012. Pp. viii + 297. Hardcover $139.00, isbn 978-94-007-2755-7. Online $109.99, isbn 978-94-2756-4.

Ritual is experiencing a revival. In East Asian countries such as China and Korea, Confucian ritual is featured in government, civic, and academic events. Ritual offerings have been restored at Confucian temples with the support of the Communist Party in China and assistance from Confucians in Korea. Some civilian organizations are trying to re-activate such rituals as the capping ceremony. Tsinghua University founded the Research Center for Chinese Rituals, which held the first international symposium on ritual studies in April 2012. This interest in the revival of ritual is not [End Page 260] limited to East Asia, however. In Germany the Collaborative Research Center SFB 619 was established at Heidelberg University as early as 2002. Known as “the world’s largest research association exclusively investigating rituals as well as their change and dynamics,” the Center has held an international conference and also published several books.

Ritual and the Moral Life: Reclaiming the Tradition, edited by David Solomon, Ping-Cheung Lo, and Ruiping Fan, follows this stream of ritual revival. Scholars from China and the United States, with respective backgrounds in Confucianism and Christianity, gathered and shared their ideas concerning ritual in two academic conferences in 2006 and 2007, and the result is this collection of essays. The book, which is in English, represents a serious effort to deal with the Confucian philosophy of ritual, focusing on comparative philosophy between Christian and Chinese Confucian understandings of ritual observance in real life. The importance of the book is in its philosophical assessment of ritual, recognizing “ritual’s pre- or non-discursive character, which nests virtue and directs moral action” (p. 1) and seeks a role for ritual in the pursuit of virtue and an integral role in cultural renewal. Overall, this aim has been successfully achieved, opening the door to further discussion.

The first half of the book (parts 1 and 2) is a dialogue on ritual between American and Chinese philosophers. In part 1, “Ritual, Virtue, and the Pursuit of the Holy,” four American scholars recognize the significance of ritual and stress its connection to tradition and beliefs on virtue. Ana S. Iltis discusses the social power of ritual, which “promotes or signals stability or harmony” (p. 23) and “reinforc[es] tradition … link[ing] the past, present and future” (p. 24). Iltis maintains that the integrity of ritual should be acknowledged and protected so that it can continue to transmit what is important in traditional culture.

H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr. observes that “all human actions are proto-ritualistic” (p. 31); he characterizes rituals as “expressive, evocative, performative, educative, and transformative” (p. 35), and argues that the preservation of rituals is important for the “realization of virtue, the achievement of proper political structures, and the achievement of human flourishing” (p. 37). He sees religious practice as the origin and core of ritual, and concludes with the observation that conflicts over rituals lead to cultural wars.

Mark J. Cherry discusses how rituals disclose understanding regarding the relation “of man to the world,” “of man to animals,” “among living humans,” “among humans over time,” and “between man and God.” The appropriate relations, he affirms, are based on hierarchy and are rightly ordered by God. Griffin Trotter focuses on medical rituals and advocates the power of clinical rituals as a placebo effect. He criticizes Western biomedical materialism and its limited approach to the placebo effect and to the linkage between spirituality and healing. Trotter asserts that the placebo effect should be defined as “a therapeutic effect of clinical ritual” (p. 78).

In part 2, “Confucian Insights: Ritual as the Fabric of the Moral Community,” four Chinese Confucian scholars offer insights into ritual gained from their study of Confucian philosophy. Tangjia Wang opens a comparative philosophical analysis of ritual, noting how...