Religion Update | Feature
Overall, attention to race has paid off
for many presses. At Princeton, the bestselling backlist title in American religious
history continues to be God’s Long Summer:
Stories of Faith and Civil Rights by Charles
Marsh. First published in 1997 and
repackaged in 2008 with a new preface by
the author, the book has sold 16,700 copies in all editions. “The civil rights movement is of course much studied at the college level, and the strong religious underpinning to the movement makes it a
popular object of study in departments of
religious studies and in seminaries and
divinity schools,” says Princeton’s Appel.
And more recently, UNC’s The Color of
Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race
in America by Edward Blum and Paul Harvey has sold around 8,000 copies since it
was released in fall 2012.
ATHEISM ON THE RISE
Although the trend is still small, books
on atheism and secularism are gaining
ground in scholarship on American religious history. NYU now has a Secular
Studies series edited by Phil Zuckerman,
whose 2008 book Society Without God:
What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell
Us About Contentment was a “surprise
strong seller” for the press, Hammer says.
The series’ first installment will be out
next year, examining how religiously
unaffiliated parents choose to address
religion in raising their children.
Stanford University Press has Faith as
an Option: Possible Futures for Christianity
(Sept.), Hans Joas’s argument for religious and secular perspectives to mutually enrich one another. But not all university presses are jumping on the secularism bandwagon. “There is a slight
uptick in this area,” says Georgia’s
Gusinde-Duffy, but in the U.S., many
booksellers, librarians, and citizens
“remain deeply suspicious and uncomfortable around the topic of atheism.”
BACK, WITH A TWIST
Books on evangelical history have never
gone away, but they did lose steam after
the upsurge in evangelical scholarship in
Immigration studies is a trend within
the overall study of race, say some editors.
Why, where, and when do people cross
borders? Once here, how do they respond
to existing residents and to other immi-
grants? At the University of Georgia
Press, Deborah Dash Moore’s Urban Ori-
gins of American Judaism (Oct.) “is as much
about urban and immigrant experiences
as it is about Judaism in America,” says
editor-in-chief Mick Gusinde-Duffy.
Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and the
Ethic of Resistance (Baylor, Sept.) traces
how Bonhoeffer was influenced by Adam
Clayton Powell Sr. to consider race and
justice, and how Bonhoeffer applied that
knowledge to his Christian life after he
returned to Germany.
At Penn State, a two-volume history
aims to chronicle the relationship
between gospel music and freedom in
American history. Robert Darden’s Noth-
ing but Love in God’s Water: Black Sacred
Music from the Civil War to the Civil Rights
Movement straddles several academic
fields (religion, African-American stud-
ies, music); the first volume releases in
October. Acquisitions editor Kathryn B.
Yahner says one of her greatest challenges
in the field of American religious history
today is to meet “the growing demands
of readers looking for a more nontradi-
tional telling of the story of religion in
the life of America.”
Nontraditional could describe Roberto
The Society of Biblical Literature has long published
books, but on July 1, 2014, the society renamed its
publishing program SBL Press, creating a new identity as
a scholarly publishing house. The AAR/SBL conference in
San Diego marks the official launch of the new press.
SBL executive director John Kutsko says SBL’s publishing program has always served its members by publishing
books that would help them get tenure and other promotions, as well as contribute to the work of the academy. “But in 2013, we began to
see real growth, especially in the library market,” Kutsko says, and “SBL Press
will make our members’ work more visible” in the wider book market.
From 2010 to 2014, SBL publications saw nearly 30% growth in net book sales
revenue. With the rebranding as SBL Press, a focused institutional strategy to
libraries, and the publication of every new frontlist title simultaneously in hardcover,
paperback, and digital formats—rather than only in paperback, as had been the case
before—Kutsko expects to build on that growth. In 2014, SBL Press will publish
37 new titles, almost twice the number the society published in 2010.
At this year’s AAR/SBL, SBL Press will debut the first critical edition of the
Hebrew Bible to follow an eclectic text-critical approach; it will also announce or
release books from several new series. And demonstrating that the moderns have
no corner on lustful stirrings, Peter Bing and Regina Höschele’s translation of
Aristaenetus’s Erotic Letters (Apr.) or, as SBL Press likes to call it, “Fifty Shades of
Greek”—in the Writings from the Greco-Roman World series has already
received particular attention. —Henry L. Carrigan Jr.
SBL’s Publishing Program Evolves