A bird’s-eye view of new and forthcoming books in religious studies reveals which subjects publishers think belong at the top of their lists; it also shows which subjects publishers are stepping back from.
Recent extreme weather events have increased attention on climate change, yet there appear to be fewer books on ecotheology and environmental ethics. Among them is the anthology Ecology, Ethics, and Interdependence: The Dalai Lama in Conversation with Leading Thinkers on Climate Change by the Dalai Lama, edited by John D. Dunne and Daniel Goleman (Wisdom, out now). At the annual Mind & Life Conference in March in Dharamsala, India, he joined scientists, activists, and scholars to discuss the future of the planet. Planetary peril and how Christian theology can help is the subject of Shelli M. Poe’s Schleiermacher and Sustainability: A Theology for Ecological Living(Westminster John Knox, out now). Writing for a wide audience, Poe—a professor of religious studies at Millsaps College and author of Essential Trinitarianism: Schleiermacher as Trinitarian Theologian—mines Schleiermacher’s theology for directions toward sustainable living.
Islam has grown in importance in both politics and religion in the U.S., and books that offer analyses, history, and cultural critiques of Islam have been plentiful in the past several years. But only a few head publishers’ lists this season, such as Hashtag Islam: How Cyber-Islamic Environments Are Transforming Religious Authority by Gary Bunt (Univ. North Carolina, out now), which adds to the press’s Islamic Civilization and Muslim Networks series. Bunt, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Wales, also wrote the book iMuslims for the series.
Topics on the Rise
Religion scholars and authors are increasingly addressing the turmoil surrounding race in America, and a growing number of titles provide faith perspectives on racial conflicts and white supremacy.
Catholic house Orbis continues its long tradition of publishing about racism. "From the start of our program 50 years ago, Orbis has amplified theological voices from the margins," says publisher Robert Ellsberg. In October, the press released Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody: The Making of a Black Theologian, a memoir by James H. Cone, who died this past spring. Ellsberg calls Cone "the father of black liberation theology." "Fifty years after Cone’s first book, a new generation of scholars and activists have rediscovered his message—that black lives matter," Ellsberg says. "His influence was not just in his books but in generations of black scholars who carry on his legacy, finding in the gospel message a tool to resist and dismantle white supremacy."
Also from Orbis is Knowing Christ Crucified: The Witness of African American Religious Experience by M. Shawn Copeland (Dec.), which explores the significance of Christianity for black history and what it means to live in a world ruled by white supremacy. A Church Where Black Lives Matter by Bryan Massingale (May 2019) offers a Catholic theological and social justice perspective on the racism evident in Donald Trump’s election, the rise of the "alt-right," the killing of unarmed African-Americans by police, and the outrage that followed revelations of contaminated water in Flint, Mich.
Jemar Tisby, president of The Witness: A Black Christian Collective, uncovers the role of Christians in supporting racism in The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism (Zondervan, Jan. 2019). Ryan Pazdur, associate publisher and executive editor at Zondervan, says Tisby "makes a compelling case that while there has been some progress in addressing overt aspects of racism, the majority of the American church failed to speak out and stand against racism."
Can ‘White’ People Be Saved? Triangulating Race, Theology, and Mission, an anthology edited by Love L. Sechrest, Johnny Ramirez-Johnson, and Amos Yong (IVP, out now), offers diverse views on how and why white normativity is intrinsically connected to American Christianity. Jon Boyd, editorial director at IVP Academic, calls the book "a report from the front lines of the current academic conversation about race, theology, and Christian mission."
And homiletics professor Carolyn B. Helsel’s Preaching About Racism: A Guide for White Faith Leaders (Chalice, Dec.) provides a practical manual for white preachers who want to address racism from the pulpit. Helsel has been writing, teaching, and speaking on the subject for over a decade. "For pastors worried that their preaching on Sunday may lead to their firing on Monday, this may be a career saver as well as a congregational game changer," says Brad Lyons, Chalice’s president and publisher.
Calls for Action
There are books that urge theological responses to other political and cultural divisions, calling for justice, equality, and the preservation of democratic ideals. "We challenge the too-common perception that Christians are exclusionary, racist, conservative, compassionless zealots who care only for those who agree with them," Lyons says. "We give voice to progressive Christians, underrepresented in the media conversation, who welcome those who are different into their communities, who work to mend the divides that have fractured our society, who stand up to injustice and hatred."
Preaching as Resistance: Voices of Hope, Justice, and Solidarity, edited by Phil Snider (Chalice, out now), collects 30 "resistance sermons" from pastors across the U.S. who represent what Lyons describes as the "huge numbers of Christians who are outraged by the actions of President Trump and his cronies on immigration, civil rights, poverty, racism, health care—to name just a few—that contradict Christ’s instruction to love your neighbor as yourself." Also from Chalice, True Inclusion: Creating Communities of Radical Embrace (out now), by the pastor-activist Brandan Robertson, asks believers how their communities include people who haven’t been welcomed in the past.
Baker weighs in with Moral Leadership for a Divided Age by David Gushee and Colin Holtz (out now), who mine the wisdom of 14 "moral leaders"—among them Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Harriet Tubman, and Malala Yousafzai—and present them as models for making a divided country whole. Gushee is the incoming president of the American Academy of Religion and the author of A Letter to My Anxious Christian Friends: From Fear to Faith in Unsettled Times; Holtz is a Baptist seminarian and former political strategist for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
In After the Protests Are Heard: Enacting Civic Engagement and Social Transformation (New York Univ., Jan. 2019), Sharon D. Welch uses liberation theology as a lens for evaluating and promoting practices for justice, equality, and social responsibility in institutional communities such as colleges and businesses, both locally and globally. She writes about what comes after the new activism of the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., and the Black Lives Matter rallies in the era of Trump. Welch, a professor of religion and society, is the author of Communities of Resistance and Solidarity: A Feminist Theology of Liberation.
Events such as Matthew Shepard’s murder and Tyler Clementi’s suicide mobilized a generation of politicians, celebrities, and gay and straight Americans to defend the rights of the LGBTQ community. In Dying to Be Normal (Oxford Univ., Mar. 2019), Brett Krutsch, who teaches religion at Haverford College, "shows how religion became a weapon in the fight for LGBT rights," says Theo Calderara, editor-in-chief for history and religion at Oxford.
Also of note is ‘Jesus Saved an Ex-Con’: Political Activism and Redemption After Incarceration by sociologist Edward Orozco Flores (New York Univ., out now), which offers an unusual take on prison reform. Many scholars have studied the role of religion in rehabilitation post-incarceration, but Flores is interested in how ex-offenders can use their own experiences of redemption to foster social change. Flores is the author of God’s Gangs: Barrio Ministry, Masculinity, and Gang Recovery.
A Focus on Violence
Books by theologians and scholar-activists that confront the relationship between religion and violence demonstrate how religions can either perpetuate or counteract systemic violence. One title with a global reach is Solidarity and Defiant Spirituality: Africana Lessons on Religion, Racism, and Ending Gender Violence(New York Univ., Jan. 2019), by theologian Traci C. West, who assesses the intersection of gender-based violence with racism in Ghana, South Africa, and Brazil and shows how the U.S. can learn from the experiences of other nations.
To better understand and respond to violence carried out in the name of religion, Confronting Religious Violence: A Counternarrative (Baylor Univ., out now), edited by Richard A. Burridge and Jonathan Sacks, unearths the roots of religious violence and shows the relationship between violence and sacred texts. Burridge is a professor of biblical interpretation and the author of Four Ministries, One Jesus: Exploring Your Vocation with the Four Gospels; Sacks is a rabbi and the author of more than 30 books, including Leviticus: The Book of Holiness.
L. Daniel Hawk’s The Violence of the Biblical God: Canonical Narrative and Christian Faith (Eerdmans, Jan. 2019) untangles conflicting biblical views on violence to offer "a truly new way of approaching this subject that has long vexed believers and proven a stumbling block to many," says Andrew Knapp, acquisitions editor at Eerdmans. Knapp believes that Hawk’s book makes an important contribution in a world "riven by disagreement on how to respond to the atrocities going on all around us." Hawk is a Methodist minister and professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Ashland Theological Seminary.
Finally, one particularly damaging form of tribalism is explored in Michael Coogan’s God’s Favorites: Judaism, Christianity, and the Myth of Divine Chosenness (Beacon, Apr. 2019). Coogan (profiled on p. 18) points to the toxic effects of some religious groups’ conviction that they have been specially chosen by God, which has been used to justify prejudice, war, and genocide. "This is a necessary book for anyone who wants to have an honest conversation about claims to territory or moral action based on religious grounds," says Amy Caldwell, executive editor at Beacon. Coogan is also the author of The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures.
Other books take on a host of these complex problems, such as Confronting Old Testament Controversies: Pressing Questions About Evolution, Sexuality, History, and Violence by Tremper Longman III (Baker, Apr. 2019). With a young audience in mind, the book deals with religious violence, the evolution debate, and human sexuality by drawing on the most challenging and controversial biblical passages and texts. Longman is a professor of Old Testament at Wheaton, and author of The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate.
In a collection of essays, Tenacious Solidarity: Biblical Provocations on Race, Religion, Climate, and the Economy (Fortress, out now), Walter Brueggemann also employs biblical texts to explore American religious identity and practices, and to use the Bible to overcome social and political ills. Brueggemann is emeritus professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary and the author of dozens of books, including The Prophetic Imagination.
The Presence (and Absence) of Women
Conspicuously missing this fall from the more conservative Christian and Jewish publishers are scholarly books by any woman, on any subject. With the exception of mainline progressive houses such as Westminster John Knox and Chalice—there seems not to be a single such book from evangelical Christian publishers Baker and Zondervan or Catholic presses Liturgical and Ignatius and Jewish press Urim. Asked about this gap, publishers declined to comment.
From publishers that do take on gender, feminism, and women’s status in religions, there are books such as Holly Gayley’s translation of the love letters between two prominent 20thcentury Tibetan Buddhist teachers. Inseparable Across Lifetimes: The Lives and Love Letters of the Tibetan Visionaries Namtrul Rinpoche and Khandro Tare Lhamo (Snow Lion, Feb. 2019) presents an unusual example of gender equality in Buddhism. Gayley is also the author of A Gathering of Brilliant Moons: Practice Advice from the Rime Masters of Tibet. An anthology edited by Karma Lekshe Tsomo, Buddhist Feminisms and Femininities (State Univ. of New York, Jan. 2019), collects essays by diverse contributors who explore women’s identities and feminism within Buddhism. Tsomo is a Buddhist nun and professor of theology and religious studies at the University of San Diego.
Urim does have a book about women’s roles in religions, though it is authored by a man. Rabba, Maharat, Rabbanit, Rebbetzin: Women with Leadership Authority According to Halachah by Daniel Sperber (out now) mines Jewish law for answers to questions about women’s leadership, specifically in the Orthodox community. Sperber is a rabbi and scholar of Jewish law, customs, and ethics.
Boyd at IVP Academic is "really geeked" about Amanda W. Benckhuysen’s The Gospel According to Eve: A History of Women’s Interpretation (IVP, July 2019), which he says "uncovers the last couple centuries’ history of women’s own interpretation of Genesis 1–3, and specifically their reading of Eve’s story." Benckhuy-sen draws on a variety of interpretations to show that "in Eve they’ve found an advocate and a symbol of their dignity and full humanity," Boyd says. Benckhuysen is a professor of Old Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary.
Aiming to tackle women’s issues as well as satisfy the popular culture fascination with Mormonism is Sister Saints: Mormon Women Since the End of Polygamy by Colleen McDannell (Oxford Univ., out now). History and religion editor Calderara says the book "is a sweeping, myth-busting account of the important roles women have played in shaping Mormonism from the 19th century to the present day." McDannell is a professor of religious studies at the University of Utah and the author of Material Christianity.
The Catholic affinity for Mary as an icon of femininity is explored in Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary: Unveiling the Mother of the Messiah by Brant James Pitre (Image, out now). Pitre is a scripture professor at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans and author of Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist.
Writing from a Catholic perspective for a broad audience in A Saint of Our Own: How the Quest for a Holy Hero Helped Catholics Become American(Univ. North Carolina, spring 2019), Kathleen Sprows Cummings (profiled on p. 19 recounts the long hunt for a patron saint for America and how nuns and other religious women were excluded from leadership in the campaign to canonize Elizabeth Seton, who was finally declared a saint in 1975.
Back to School
Debates about religion in public schools and higher education have spawned a number of titles. One that is sure to ignite controversy is Debating Yoga and Mindfulness in Public Schools: Reforming Secular Education or Re-establishing Religion? by Candy Gunther Brown (Univ. North Carolina, spring 2019), who offers definitions of what is "religious" and "secular" to examine whether teaching yoga and mindfulness in public schools violates the Establishment Clause.
In The Resilience of Religion in American Higher Education (Baylor Univ., out now), John Schmalzbauer and Kathleen Mahoney challenge the assumption that religion and academia are adversaries, finding examples from student life to demonstrate openness and interest in religion in colleges and universities. Schmalzbauer is a religion scholar at Missouri State University; Mahoney is the author of Catholic Higher Education in Protestant America: The Jesuits and Harvard in the Age of the University. Philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff, in Religion in the University (Yale Univ., Apr. 2019), argues that religious people and the teaching of religion are more welcome in secular colleges and universities than in the past.
While Wolterstorff, Schmalzbauer, and Mahoney focus on secular institutions, the anthology Christian Higher Education: Faith, Teaching, and Learning in the Evangelical Tradition, edited by David S. Dockery and Christopher W. Morgan (Crossway, out now), offers the perspectives of 29 theologians and scholars on Christian higher education and its responsibility to engage the larger culture.
Affecting the Culture
Though many today call themselves spiritual but not religious, others could call themselves multireligious. When One Religion Isn’t Enough: The Lives of Spiritually Fluid People by Duane R. Bidwell (Beacon, out now) challenges the notion of "religious and spiritual identity as pure, static, and singular," says Beacon’s Caldwell, who describes the book as "a moving and fascinating on-the-ground look at a religious category we mostly ignore and sometimes mock: people who consider themselves part of more than one faith tradition." Bidwell teaches at Claremont School of Theology and is the author of Short-Term Spiritual Guidance.
Serene Jones—the first woman president of Union Theological Seminary—draws on the ideas of Hegel, Nietzsche, and others, as well as her own experiences, in Call It Grace: Finding Meaning in an Uncomfortable World (Viking, Mar. 2019). Jones (Trauma and Grace) encourages a spirituality that will help those struggling in an alienating and anxious time.
Kathryn Tanner provocatively argues for a Protestant antiwork ethic in Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism (Yale Univ., Jan. 2019), refuting Marx’s thesis that religions enable and perpetuate capitalism and instead seeing in Christianity a counterweight to capitalist ideals. Tanner teaches at Yale Divinity School and is the author of Christ the Key.
Many believers find order and ground their lives in religious practices. Fleming Rutledge explores one season of the Christian liturgical calendar in Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ (Eerdmans, out now), which editor David Bratt describes as "an occasion to think deeply about what it means that Christ came into the world and about his promised return." But in The Dangers of Christian Practice: On Wayward Gifts, Characteristic Damage, and Sin (Yale Univ., out now), Lauren F. Winner (profiled on p. 24) shows that the religious practices, rituals, and traditions designed to anchor believers in their faith also can have a dark side.
Donna Freitas’s most recent book is Consent on Campus: A Manifesto (Oxford Univ.). She currently teaches creative writing and literature at Adelphi University in New York.