After nearly two years of a pandemic, economic disruption, mass shootings, political unrest, climate change, and so much more, religion and spirituality publishers are turning to books that speak to the deeper, more difficult issues of life and faith in the coming year. Tim Paulson, v-p and publisher at Nelson Books, says authors are just now embarking on book tours once again, but the pandemic has had lasting effects on the business, as well as on the kinds of books being published. “We’re beginning to see the market move into a more normal position, but it’s decidedly a ‘new normal,’ with next-stage pandemic themes predominating,” he notes.
Persistent subjects include “what it means to be resilient, particularly as people struggle to get back to the way things were,” Paulson adds. “As always, projects that can find the deep needs in the moment will succeed.”
John Hays, v-p director of sales and marketing at Inner Traditions, expects that interest in mind-body-spirit topics will continue to grow in 2022. “The pandemic, the prospect of environmental collapse, and the widening political gulf in our nation and around the world are all driving people to seek spiritual guidance,” he says. “Answers are often found in traditional wisdom, metaphysical concepts and ideas, and the occult.”
The shifts of the past two years have caused some publishers to turn to age-old traditions to help synthesize current world events. Books in the category publishing in 2022 also focus on gratitude, prayer, humor, and even the “good and beautiful you,” as one book’s title suggests.
Tools for recovery
Healing, both personal and social, is the focal point of many forthcoming books. Bible teacher Traci Rhoades (Not All Who Wander [Spiritually] Are Lost) suggests spiritual practices aimed at helping readers of all faith backgrounds to find inner peace in Shaky Ground: What to Do After the Bottom Drops Out (Morehouse, July). Bestselling author John Eldredge’s Resilient: Restoring Your Weary Soul in These Turbulent Times (Thomas Nelson, June) features tools and skills drawn from scripture that encourage readers to “be patient with themselves, create a healing plan, and discover freedom through Jesus,” according to the publisher.
Michele Neff Hernandez, a 2021 CNN Hero and advocate for the widowed and bereaved, shares lessons on self-acceptance in Different After You: Rediscovering Yourself and Healing After Grief and Trauma (NWL, Feb.). Hernandez’s husband was killed at age 39 by a car while riding his bicycle, and Hernandez, refusing to believe her husband was “in a better place,” sought other widows and learned from them.
“Different After You felt like a groundbreaking, important approach to a topic we all experience, offering readers the type of support I hadn’t seen previously in a grief book,” says NWL editorial director Georgia Hughes. “It starts by acknowledging the shock of grief, the unexpected ways that we feel alienated, disconnected, and lost after someone dies or we suffer trauma—too often, that shock and disconnection is not acknowledged.”
Amy Julia Becker, host of the Love Is Stronger than Fear podcast and a writer on faith, disability, and culture, examines the nature and pathway of her own healing as well as accounts of Jesus’s healing work in To Be Made Well: An Invitation to Wholeness, Healing, and Hope (Herald, Apr.). Amy Gingerich, publisher at Herald Press, says the book is needed “at a time when so many people feel broken by the weight of the world or social and political divisions.”
Books from religion and spirituality publishers are also digging at the root causes of generational trauma and emotional pain. Such is the case in Translating Your Past: Finding Meaning in Family Ancestry, Genetic Clues, and Generational Trauma (Herald, Feb.) by Michelle Van Loon, who helps readers decode their identities and find their place in the family, church, and world. Healing Out Loud: How to Embrace God’s Love When You Don’t Like Yourself (Dexterity, Jan.) features the dual perspectives of a patient and a counselor—Sandi Brown and Michelle Caulk, respectively—who work together to heal the disconnect between how they see themselves and how God sees them.
“Healing Out Loud is coming at a time when much of the world is trying to heal from the events of the past two years,” says Lauren Langston Stewart, who edited the book at Dexterity. “So much has happened to dredge up feelings of shame, doubt, loss, and fear, but Sandi and Michelle have collaborated to encourage others down the path to healing.”
Soul Cure: How to Heal Your Pain and Discover Your Purpose (Chosen, May) by Gregory Dickow, pastor and host of the television program Power to Change Today, seeks to help change lives by addressing root issues of fear, self-hatred, bitterness, anger, guilt, and negativity. Gaslighted by God: Reconstructing a Disillusioned Faith by Tiffany Yecke Brooks (Eerdmans, May) addresses isolation, confusion, fear, and other challenges associated with “the trauma of fundamentalist Christianity,” according to the publisher. And Sheleana Aiyana, spiritual leader and founder of the Rising Woman online community of over three million readers, offers a road map for ending the cycle of bad relationships in Becoming the One: Heal Your Past, Transform Your Relationship Patterns, and Come Home to Yourself (Chronicle, Apr.).
Memoirs of note include A Hole in the World: Finding Hope in Rituals of Grief and Healing (Worthy, July) by Amanda Held Opelt, the sister of late author Rachel Held Evans and an international aid worker. She explores and the history of various grief practices alongside details of her own journey following loss. Beth Adams, editorial director at Worthy, says the book “will bring comfort and hope to readers wrestling—as so many of us are—with deep and unresolved questions about how we carry on in the face of terrible loss.” Charles March’s memoir, Evangelical Anxiety by (HarperOne, June), reveals the religion professor’s struggle with anxiety and panic attacks, his path to seeking professional treatment, and his reconciling of science and his evangelical faith.
Making life meaningful
Another prevalent theme of 2022 religion and spirituality books has to do with living life to the fullest, and authors are drawing on personal experiences with finding authenticity, fulfillment, and meaning. WaterBrook is publishing Mission Possible: Go Create a Life That Counts (Mar.), by former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, who makes a case for how “a focused sense of one’s personal, God-given significance will bring a lasting sense of purpose,” according to the publisher.
Buddhist teacher and author Susan Moon offers a Zen approach to impermanence with Alive Until You’re Dead: Notes on the Home Stretch (Shambhala, Apr.), which explores ways to feel more alive in the final years of life. Curiosity is the basis of Lore Ferguson Wilbert’s A Curious Faith: The Questions God Asks, We Ask, and We Wish Someone Would Ask Us (Brazos, Aug.). She makes a case for how fostering curiosity as a spiritual habit leads to a deeper intimacy with God and others.
Looking at what lies ahead for the faithful in a polarized and capsizing world, Breaking Ground: Charting Our Future in a Pandemic Year (Plough, Jan.) is an anthology of reflections on the crises rocking the world and proposals for renewal from contributors including Elayne Allen, Shadi Mamid, Marilynne Robinson, and N.T. Wright, edited by Anne Snyder and Susannah Black. “What were Christian thinkers actually thinking during the pandemic, the George Floyd protests, and the Capitol riots,” asks Plough publisher Sam Hine. “We’ve captured some of the sanest responses to a crazy year.”
New takes on prayer and meditation
Prayer and meditation have long been popular topics for publishers, and 2022 is no exception. Upper Room Books offers Everyday Contemplative: The Way of Prayerful Living (Feb.) by L. Roger Owens, a United Methodist minister. He presents seven characteristics of contemplative living, including longing, playfulness, and patience.
Traditional books on prayer include Worried About Everything Because I Pray About Nothing (Bethany, Aug.) by Chad Veach, a pastor who explains what prayer looks like in day-to-day life, and Prayers for Every Need (Revell, Feb.) by Linda Evans Shepherd, president of Right to the Heart Ministries, who collects prayers arranged by topics such as stress, anxiety, and illness.
For those on the spectrum and their friends, families, and faith communities, Pauline will offer God Loves the Autistic Mind: A Prayer Guide for Those on the Spectrum and Those Who Love Us (Apr.) by Matthew Schneider, a Catholic priest with autism.
The Power of Mind: A Tibetan Monk’s Guide to Finding Freedom in Every Challenge (Shambhala, July) by Khentrul Lodro T'haye, director of Katog Choling, a Tibetan cultural center in Arkansas, combines meditation with mind training. The book argues that freedom comes from the mind, and lays out techniques for transforming suffering into something positive.
A dose of humor
Not all faith-based books are somber and serious for the year ahead. Kyle Mann and Joel Berry, the comedic minds behind the satirical website the Babylon Bee, are also behind The Postmodern Pilgrim’s Progress (Salem, June), a retelling of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress that puts one man’s journey toward faith into a modern, often funny, context.
In This Monk Wears Heels (Watkins, Feb.), Kodo Nishimura recounts playing childhood dress-up games, his adolescent dreams of becoming a princess, and his stardom after appearing in the Queer Eye: We’re in Japan! Netflix special. Now a Japanese Buddhist monk, Nishimura shares lessons on embracing one’s uniqueness and adopting positive thoughts.
Fiona Robertson, publisher of Watkins and Nourish, calls This Monk Wears Heels a “wise, warm, and encouraging guide to self-acceptance and self-love,” adding, “This is Buddhism for the modern world and a revelation of just how inclusive the Buddha’s teachings are. An important book for 2022.”
Finally, poet, playwright, and historian Tim Dowley collects trivia, anecdotes, and more from the Christian tradition in A Christian Miscellany: Terrible Jokes, Curious Facts, and Memorable Quotes from the Garden of Eden to Armageddon (Eerdmans, Jan.).
Publishers’ bread and butter
The all-encompassing and amorphous Christian living category is at the core of many Christian publishers’ programs, featuring books on spiritual growth and faith-based perspectives of relationships, current events, and more. New releases for 2022 include titles from big names such as pastor and bestselling author Joel Osteen’s Rule Your Day: 6 Keys to Maximizing Your Success and Accelerating Your Dreams (FaithWords, Mar.) on living life with intention. Similarly, Bob Goff, whose past books Everybody, Always and Love Does have sold more than two million copies across all formats worldwide, according to the publisher, is urging readers to ditch distraction and focus on joy in Undistracted: Capture Your Purpose, Rediscover Your Joy (Nelson, Mar.). (See “Leaving the Noisy Room,” p. 30, for our q&a with Goff.)
The Power of Thank You: Discover the Joy of Gratitude (FaithWords, Jan.), by megaseller Joyce Meyer, encourages readers to adopt “a lifestyle of thanksgiving,” according to the publisher. Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network and host of The 700 Club, also joins the list with what the publisher is calling his final book, The Power of the Holy Spirit in You (Salem, Jan.), which examines questions about the Holy Spirit and the role it plays in the lives of Christians.
Other titles in the Christian Living category include God, Grace, and Horses: Life Lessons from the Saddle (Paraclete, Jan.) by Laurie Brock, an Episcopal priest who shares lessons on love, grief, and wisdom she learned from horses, and One at a Time: The Unexpected Way God Wants to Use You to Change the World (Baker, Jan.) by mega-pastor Kyle Idleman, who espouses loving people one at a time as a way to change the world.
Finally, The Good and Beautiful You: Discovering the Person Jesus Created You to Be by James Bryan Smith (IVP, May) combats often-toxic self-narratives that hinder spiritual growth and addresses “the desires of the soul that only God can provide,” according to the publisher.
Faith in all its forms
Those outside the Christian tradition will find inspiration in Ritual: An Essential Grimoire (Sounds True, Apr.) by Damien Echols (Life After Death), who, after being convicted of murder in the controversial West Memphis Three case, spent 18 years on death row before being released as part of an unusual plea deal. The book was written with Echols’s wife, Lorri Davis. It features daily practices such as breathing, visualization, and energy and elemental work aimed at helping readers gain “protection, joy, love, luck, prosperity, creativity, and spiritual insight,” according to the publisher.
Jennifer Yvette Brown, executive editor at Sounds True, says Ritual “demystifies magick and makes the healing power of the tradition accessible to anyone.” She adds, “Damien and Lorri each share their personal rituals, making this a moving account of how they have built a life of joy together in the decade since Lorri successfully advocated for Damien’s release from Death Row.”
After Disbelief: On Disenchantment, Disappointment, Eternity, and Joy by Anthony T. Kronman (Yale, Feb.) examines the human condition of “inevitable disappointment tempered by moments of joy,” providing a humanistic and theologically inspired yet non-Christian approach. In Buddha and the Bard (Insight Editions, Apr.), Lauren Shufran pairs quotes from Shakespeare with tenets of Buddhism to encourage readers to ask deep questions and find healing.
The Kabbalah of Light: Ancient Practices to Ignite the Imagination and Illuminate the Soul (Inner Traditions, June) by Catherine Shainberg shares 159 exercises and practices for communicating with one’s subconscious through images. The method is intended to help readers “discover areas of stuckness, release past traumas and ancestral patterns, free the imagination, and open the way to the bliss promised us in the Garden of Eden,” according to the publisher.
Don’t Just Sit There, Do Nothing: Healing, Chilling, and Living with the Tao Te Ching (RWW, Mar.) by Jessica Asya Kanzer, a former reporter and actor, collects 47 “bite-size” stories of struggle and triumph for “a quick burst of mindfulness,” according to the publisher. Each chapter begins with a verse from the Tao.
Matt Fraser, a self-described psychic medium and star of E!’s Meet the Frasers, draws on personal experiences and conversations with those in spirit in We Never Die: Secrets of the Afterlife (Gallery, Aug.). The book explores heaven, what happens to loved ones when they pass away, and why we never truly die, according to the publisher.
“We all have our own ‘phone line’ to communicate with heaven,” Fraser writes. “All we have to do is figure out how to use it.”
Ann Byle is a writer and editor living in Grand Rapids, Mich.