The Joy of Humility

The Beginning and End of the Virtues

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Drew Collins, Ryan McAnnally-Linz, Evan C. Rosa
  • Waco, TX: 
    Baylor University Press
    , September
     281 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


The Joy of Humility: The Beginning and End of the Virtues brings together in one book robust, multidisciplinary discourses (philosophy, theology, ethics and psychology), in eight chapters, each vigorously anchoring a trajectory of contestation and conceptualization on humility. All the debates in the book resonate the lack of a consensus definition of humility, thus the discourses differently revolve around “whether humility is good, or bad, about it effects, its precursors, and its relationships to various virtues, vices, and emotions, about how we might cultivate it (if we wanted to cultivate it all), and about what previous thinkers thought about it and whether it is a peculiarity of Christianity” (2).

Chapters 1 to 4 each discuss the scope and utility of humility in relation to the meaning of a flourishing life and the place of joy and pride therein. In the first chapter, “Oppressive Humility,” Stacey Floyd-Thomas presents humility as a Christian virtue, which in many ways encumbers the emancipation quest of Black women in United States because such humility portends meekness and self-lowering at the expense of fulfillment. She advocates womanist ideology which propagates pride as a functional means of experiencing fulfilling joy. Poignantly, Floyd-Thomas posits that “humility can be deemed as counter intuitive as best and counterproductive at worst for Black women who have been perennially undermined and despised in the United States” (25). As Floyd-Thomas elucidates, “pride” and “humiity” are inclinations propelled by conception, which can be conceived as either positive or negative connotations.

In chapter 2, “Liberating Humility: A Variation on Luther’s Theology,” Miroslav Volf equates contemporary American perception of humility as that which “cravenly elevates acquiescence to our own inadequacy and inferiority to the status of a virtue” (43). He argues that though humility is widely misconceived, it is essential for joy and flourishing life, and it can nourish individuals who abide and appreciate that overreaching is vain and vanity. He anchors his contestation on rightly constructed Lutheran theology of humility which leads to love and service of the neighbor, a life flourishing form of empowering the neighbor which embraces selflessness beyond selfishness.

In chapter 3, “Magnanimous Humility: The Lofty Vocation of the Humble,” Jennifer A. Herdt pertinently presents humility as a conscious act of survival that one needs in order to attain joy in life’s circumstances. The central position of this chapter is that the knowledge of how humility can reduce interpersonal tensions and improve coexistence makes magnanimous humility an essential factor in human flourishing. This position resonates in chapter 4, “‘Creaturely Humility’: Placing Humility, Finding Joy,” in which Norman Wirzba argues that clear and practical acknowledgement of nature, “the soil,” can ensure and elevate positive humble consciousness that will lead to deeper appreciation of man’s existence and coexistence with nature. His explanation suggests that both individual and collective actions that degrade nature imply a flight of humility from human consciousness.

The second part focusing on methodologies on how to dictate and measure humility and its correlation to flourishing life, starts with chapter 5, “Observing Humility: Relational Humility and Human Flourishing,” in which Don E. Davis and Sarah Gazaway use psychology to look at humble judgment and see when and how humility can promote life flourishing. This chapter raises questions about how to measure humility, which leads to debates on what exactly, is the humility that is measured.

Jason Baehr attempted to answer this question in chapter 6, “Defining Humility: The Scope of Humility.” To provide a framework, Baehr examines the definitions and contextualization of humility within two trajectories: the narrow view (orientation towards one’s limitations and weaknesses) and the wider view (orientation towards one’s strengths and abilities). He elucidates the problems and appeals of “the wider view,” and the objections to “the narrow view.”

In chapter 7, “Employing Humility: The Role of Humility in Servant Leadership,” Elizabeth J. Krumrei-Mancuso explores how humility relates to the constructs of servant leadership. Krumrei-Mancuso presents servant leadership within the context of one being able to transcend oneself, including being able to keep in perspective one’s abilities and limitations. Thus, she suggests that part of the exhibition of servant leadership includes a primary focus on subordinates with the intent to elevate them and without focus on solely elevating oneself and the need to demonstrate attributes such as openness to new information, feeling secure, and freedom from distortion. This argument accords with chapter 8, “Living Humility: How to Humble,” in which Kent Dunnington explains five existing philosophical accounts of humility, plus another new one he proposes: he describes humility as the disposition to have an unusually low concern about oneself but the concern for other apparent goods.

In conclusion, one persistent observation highlighted in all the chapters is that conceptualizations of humility are representations of contestations. The debates in the chapters in many ways either support or refute the need for a model of humility to attain a truly flourishing life. Consequently, the chapters variously indicate that the manifestations of humility are viewed differently, and that behaviors that people differently describe as humility are outward visible signs which no one can empirically validate as the “true” state consciousness and mood because these behaviors (humility) can be faked elaborately in response to subsisting propelling circumstances. Lastly, the structure whereby an initial essay in a chapter prompts a response a scholar and a reply from the author(s) is commendable.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Emeka Aniago is a senior lecturer in the Department of Theatre and Film Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria.

Date of Review: 
October 26, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Drew Collins is associate research scholar and lecturer for the Yale Center for Faith and Culture at Yale Divinity School.

Ryan McAnnally-Linz is associate director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture at Yale Divinity School.

Evan C. Rosa is assistant director for public engagement at the Yale Center for Faith and Culture at Yale Divinity School.



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