Religion scholars and academic publishers gathered in San Diego Nov. 23-26 for the annual joint meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL). Some decline in attendance had been expected due to the West Coast locale, but the number of attendees totaled 9,421, which was flat with last year's meeting in Denver, Colo.
“Attendance followed our model,” said John Kutsko, executive director of SBL, who had taken into account the number of SBL members in Europe and on the East Coast. “We have more participants and more papers—it's a very healthy year. We are the largest humanities meetings in the world.”
Exhibitors totaled 134—two more than last year—including trade, church-owned, and academic publishers selling wares at deep discounts to attending scholars. Many of the publishers PW spoke with reported steady sales and strong traffic between the aisles. The event also provides houses with an opportunity to gain course adoptions, and it’s a place to meet with authors and scout for new projects.
“The two most valuable parts of being here are brand visibility and author relations,” Alicia Samuels, v-p of marketing at Westminster John Knox, told PW.
Mark Dazzo, publisher at Church Publishing, said AAR/SBL is a great place for a small publisher to get in front of its core constituents, and Elaine Maisner, executive editor at UNC Press, added: “You never know what can come out of this meeting, and that’s fun.”
Hot topics on the exhibit hall floor included diversity, inclusion, equality, female empowerment, and outreach to millennials. Abingdon’s The Millennial Narrative by Jaco Hamman (2019) sold out during the show, while Oxford University Press promoted The Twenty Something Soul by Tim Clydesdale and Kathleen Garces-Foley (2019).
OUP, which publishes broadly in the religion space, is prioritizing diversity among its author pool and staff while also focusing on younger readers and topics related to belonging, according to Theo Calderara, editor-in-chief of history and religion at OUP. This spring, the press will publish the third and final installment to Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, a series in which young adults across the nation have been surveyed over the course of 15 years.
AAR/SBL’s Women and Publishing session addressed the lower percentages of submissions from female scholars compared to males, and offered support to women in the field for their publishing agendas. Book publishers are responding to the issue by taking stock of their lists and, in some cases, being more intentional about publishing works by female authors. IVP Academic promoted The Gospel According to Eve by Amanda W. Benckhuysen (2019), and is actively looking for more work by women. Zondervan is publishing Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: How the Church Needs to Rediscover Her Purpose by Aimee Byrd next year. UNC Press plans on keeping up its strong list of female authors.
“Over 48% of our authors have been women for the past 10 years, and 50% in the past two years,” says UNC’s Maisner. “Themes of justice and power are emerging more in acquisitions.”
HarperOne promoted The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day amid the premiere of the biopic Revolution of the Heart: The Dorothy Day Story during AAR/SBL. (The film will also air on PBS in March.) Mickie Maudlin, senior v-p and executive editor at HarperOne, noted that sales for the book, which was originally published in 1952, grow with each passing year.
Looking ahead, Maudlin is interested in provocative titles, especially in the fields of science and technology. “We live in a conflict-averse society, and there is a lack of new, big-vision books,” he says. “Even if readers disagree, books need to be fresh and self-renewing.”
Editorial director at IVP Academic Jon Boyd echoed Maudlin, citing engineering, artificial intelligence, privacy issues, and how we use smart technology as an increasingly important conversation among ethicists and religious scholars. “We are very interested in acquiring and publishing into technology—we aren’t known for it, but it’s a growth area,” Boyd says.
IVP is also interested in titles that go beyond the Trump presidency. "We've learned a great deal about American polity and the dysfunction," Boyd notes. “We're looking at books that aren’t just reaction pieces, but at the long haul—how much will the Trump administration impact politics, biblical study, and the church.”
AAR/SBL 2020 will take place from Nov. 21-24 in Boston, Mass.