Americans have always been individualists. For millions of people that now means casting off traditional religious identities. Protestants, Catholics, and Jews are leaving their childhood Abrahamic faiths for Eastern philosophies, Wicca, meditations, astrology, and do-it-yourself spirituality. Researchers find the fastest-growing “religion” self-description by Americans is “none.” The nones—now more than one in four U.S. adults—include atheists and agnostics, but the majority say they believe “nothing in particular,” says political science professor Ryan P. Burge in The Nones: Where They Came from, Who They Are, and Where They Are Going (Fortress, out now).
Publishers are targeting nones with books and authors focused on folks headed to the new age or to find spiritual energy in “whatever.” There’s even a prayer book now for exactly that: Contemporary Prayers for Whatever Works: An Artist’s Collection of Prayers to Nothing-in-Particular by Hannah Burr (Tiller, out now). Burr writes that she illustrated her book with abstract forms “that can stand in for whatever you might want to address.... It could be a mythic warrior princess or a plastic bottle, Jesus or Great Spirit, or a force like gravity, art or the ocean.” She assures her readers, “You also don’t need anybody’s permission or intercession to connect directly.... No one is more qualified than you.”
This you-are-your-own-scripture approach, blurring lines between formal religion and spirituality, “feels fresh and different,” says Samantha Lubash, editorial assistant at Tiller, a Simon & Schuster imprint. “I don’t think this book would have been published by a big publisher a decade ago. A decade ago people were either ‘new age’ or ‘formal religion.’ This book is both at once, mirroring how many people approach a diverse range of spiritual practices, such as yoga, Ayurveda, and formal Christianity, incorporating them all into their spiritual lives at the same time.”
The interest in nones is international. A new British publishing house, Pippa Rann Books and Media, chose for its fourth title Beyond Religion: Imagining a New Humanity (Apr.) by Indian scholar Valson Thampu. His nation is rife with “competitive religiosity”—publisher Prabhu Guptara’s polite allusion to often violent Hindu-Muslim tensions. Yet Thampu writes about the damages of spiritual stereotyping and calls for a new “rainbow-colored” global spiritual vision.
Transformation inside and out—far out
Many people—particularly younger adults who may not have been to a house of worship since their last youth group pizza party—are now searching for transformative spiritual discoveries or looking to the stars for astrological insights. Others are sampling technological ways to jump-start meditation or taking neurofeedback-guided shortcuts to enlightenment. These approaches are just like icons, mantras, and traditional religious rituals people have used forever to further their spiritual goals, according to Spirit Tech: The Brave New World of Consciousness Hacking and Enlightenment Engi-neering (St. Martin’s, May). Coauthors Wesley J. Wildman, a professor of philosophy, religion, theology, and ethics at Boston University, and Kate Stockly, a doctoral fellow in the Center for Mind and Culture (a Boston-based nonprofit research center), have closely examined where “the past is meeting up with the future,” says Peter Wolverton, v-p and executive editor at St. Martin’s. He adds, “I look at the number of people who call themselves spiritual but not religious, and those people are definitely looking to technology.”
Several titles take a self-help approach where God or church are irrelevant. Though organized religion’s teachings and rituals are omitted, most authors extol kindness, generosity, justice, and empowerment. “We have always published cutting-edge body and mind research,” says Jennifer Brown, executive editor at Sounds True. “Anything that is a tool for transformation is part of our mission, along with supporting and serving spiritual awakening.”
Brown says demand is high for titles that take a secular approach to “seeking wisdom wherever you may find it,” whether it is in ceremonial magic, shamanism, astrology, or mindfulness practices. “Embodiment—discovering the truths in our bodies—is a huge trend right now, across all genres.”
It’s to the good that “people are empowered to confer meaning upon their life rather than having others do that for them,” Brown says. However, she cautions, there are also downsides to this trend. “It can turn into syncretism or spiritual shopping or bypassing other issues in your life while gratifying your ego. We can fool ourselves in so many ways. The value of well-established religion is that it usually has guardrails built in.”
The following is a sampling of forthcoming Sounds True titles:
● Meditation and spiritual teacher Light Watkins’s Knowing Where to Look: 108 Daily Doses of Inspiration (May), which describes “inspiration” as “part inner guidance, part blind faith in a greater possibility, and part inner voice nudging you to take an action that helps you grow and expand your awareness.”
● Artist and feminine healer Ashley River Brant’s Tending to the Sacred: Rituals to Connect with Earth, Spirit, and Self (June), which, she writes, offers “accessible yet profound rituals to help you awaken your true connection with the earth, spirit, and yourself.”
● Psychologist and meditation retreat leader Tara Brach’s Trusting the Gold: Uncovering Your Natural Goodness (June) is an illustrated gift book with practices in nonjudgmental awareness, self-compassion, and connection in daily life.
Like Sounds True, many publishers have new and upcoming titles that seek to guide people on an inner path, including the following:
● Heart Open, Body Awake: Four Steps to Embodied Spirituality (Shambhala, Aug.) by meditator and psychotherapist Susan Aposhyan detaches from traditional religions that were shy or stern or outright wary of the body. For readers who want to throw their whole selves into their spiritual expression, Aposhyan offers an “anatomically, psychologically, and emotionally authentic path to experience your body as a refuge and a source of spiritual nourishment” through a focus on “the awareness of sensation, the language of the body,” according to the publisher.
● In Praise of Retreat: Finding Sanctuary in the Modern World by Kirsteen MacLeod (ECW, out now) by yoga teacher MacLeod (The Animal Game) details the history of retreats and how pausing for time along a pilgrim path, in the woods, or in a yoga or meditation center can, she writes, allow people to “reconnect with their deepest selves—and to their loftiest aspirations in life.”
● Living Brave: Lessons from Hurt, Lighting the Way to Hope (HarperOne, June) by Shannon Dingle, a widow, survivor of sexual abuse, and disability activist, describes how she found her way to courage, strength, peace, and glorifying God with her own voice, according to the publisher.
● A Radical Awakening (HarperOne, May) by psychologist Shefali Tsabary “steps away from all organized religions—East or West” and blends Western psychology with meditative Eastern teachings, says editor Gideon Weil. The idea is to release suffering and enter “a greater state of empowerment, joy, and liberation.”
● This Life Is Yours: Discover Your Power, Claim Your Wholeness, and Heal Your Life (Hampton Roads, out now), by Unity minister Linda Martella-Whitsett and Alicia Whitsett, a student of Unity teachings, draws on “spiritual principles from many traditions” to guide readers toward “becoming conscious and discovering the eternal and unbreakable you,” according to the publisher.
● The Way of Integrity: Finding the Path to Your True Self (Open Field, Apr.) by sociologist and life coach Martha Beck guides readers through a process of examining their own internal signals, she writes, to find paths to “integrity, and with it, a sense of purpose, emotional healing, and a life free of mental suffering.”
Buddhism and mindfulness
In Discovering the True Self (Counterpoint, Oct.), translator and author Arthur Braverman has compiled an anthology of the late 20th-century Zen Master Kodo Sawaki’s writings and sayings gathered from throughout his lifetime. In The Competitive Buddha: How to Up Your Game in Sports, Leadership, and Life (Mango, July) psychologist and sports coach Jerry Lynch presents Buddhism as a booster for those who want to utilize a “Buddha mind” to develop their “mental, emotional, and spiritual skill set as an athlete, coach, leader, parent, CEO, or any other performer in life,” according to the publisher.
Every witch way you look
The popularity of Wicca, paganism, and astrology is well established, drawing readers among those who take the new age path. “Last year brought so much isolation and negativity that personalized spiritual practices—all about intuition, meditation, and tapping into positive energy—became really appealing,” says Meredith Mennitt, senior editor at Becker&Mayer! Books. “They relieved the stress we were all dealing with, so I think those who began tapping into their own magic are going to stick with it.”
The Becker&Mayer title City Witchery: Accessible Rituals, Practices, & Prompts for Conjuring and Creating in a Magical Metropolis (Sept.) by Lisa Marie Basile (Light Magic for Dark Times) details how to have a potent magic practice anywhere, even in a city apartment where space and resources are scarce.
Books in this genre vary greatly, but most offer ideas, techniques, and practices to foster self-empowerment and connection between “the seen and unseen energies between the natural world and modern soci-
ety,” as Rebecca Keating puts it in The Ultimate Guide to Shamanism: A Modern Guide to Shamanic Healing, Tools, and Ceremony, due out in June from Fair Winds. Also coming from Fair Winds: The Ultimate Guide to Astrology (May) by astrologer Tanaaz Chubb, who guides people to the stars and planets for “a richer” life. A Path of the Witch: Rituals & Practices for Discovering Which Witch You Are by Lidia Pradas (Apr.), whose @WiccanTips Instragram account is designed to help wanna-witch readers find the paths into magic that suit them best. Pradas describes witchcraft as ancient practices that are disconnected from “any religion, ethics, or belief system.”
Living the Faery Life: A Guide to Connecting the Magic, Power, and Joy of the Enchantment Realm (Mango, out now) by Wicca practitioner and magic studies expert Kac Young draws on the ancient wisdom of her Celtic roots to introduce rituals for connecting with faeries’ realms to “nurture an innate connection with the wild and natural world,” according to the publisher. And Sacred Codes in Times of Crisis: A Channeled Text for Living the Gift of Conscious Co-creation (Mango, June) by Naomi Fay and Nathalia Moutia proffers that readers might achieve self-realization through wisdom they “channel” from an entity that offers “real spiritual guidance in current times.”
Discovering a shaman self
“We are seeing a re-paganization of religion,” says John Hays, v-p and director of sales and marketing at Inner Traditions, whose core market is “spiritually adventurous.” These readers are looking for a new sense of meaning in a time of great stress, he adds. Facing a pandemic amid a period of social, economic, and cultural change, they don’t find that old-time religion adequate any more, “so they are turning to look at the beliefs, rituals, and practices of our ancestors, to the ties between cycles of nature and polytheism. They want to project their imagination and will on the future. That’s what magic does.”
Inner Traditions has a broad range of new and upcoming new age books and esoterica, including the following:
● The Ancestral Power of Amulets, Talismans, and Mascots: Folk Magic in Witchcraft and Religion (May) by Nigel Pennick (Pagan Book of Days) is an illustrated exploration of the origins and history of these objects’ occult powers of protection drawn from the spirit powers found in plants and animals.
● Answering the Call of the Elementals: Practices for Connecting with Nature Spirits by Thomas Mayer (June) reveals how the author learned to develop his sense of perception and other supersensible abilities to make direct personal contact with the unseen world of fairies, dwarfs, and giants, according to the publisher.
● Astrology for Mystics: Exploring the Occult Depths of the Water Houses in Your Natal Chart (out now) by bestselling author Tayannah Lee McQuillar explores how water houses reveal the deepest and darkest areas of the psyche and can help “reveal spiritual insights as well as hidden knowledge and abilities,” according to the author.
● Crazy Wisdom of the Yogini: Teachings of the Kashmiri Mahamudra Tradition by Daniel Odier (July) describes, the publisher says, a “mystical journey to transcend the ego, recognize the true self, and rediscover the Divine nature of absolute love,” while also sharing the teachings Odier learned on the way.
● The Divine Feminine Tao Te Ching: A New Translation and Commentary (Apr.) by Rosemarie Anderson, a psychologist and Episcopal priest, is a new interpretation of the ancient Taoist classic poem of Chinese spirituality. What makes it unique, Hays says, is that Anderson restores characteristics of the poem that other translators missed, “revealing an Eastern concept of femininity that is the powerful, mysterious ‘Dark Womb’ of creation.”
There are also uncounted believers in Christianity who still bring a touch of unconventional spirituality to enliven their traditionally religious lives. Dutch Catholic priest, theologian, and social activist Henri J.M. Nouwen, author of 40 books, wrote, with his colleague Carolyn Whitney-Brown, about his “surprising and deeply inspiring relationship with a trapeze troupe, the Flying Rodleighs,” says HarperOne editor Kathryn Hamilton. This never-before-published work of creative nonfiction, All of Life in Nine Minutes (Nov.), commemorates the 25th anniversary of Nouwen’s death. “Like Nouwen’s own life, a trapeze act is full of artistry, exhilarating successes, crushing failures, and continual forgiveness,” Whitney-Brown writes.
A spiritual spin to other cultures brings up the popularity of Celtic Christianity. Spiritual teacher John Philip Newell’s Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul: Celtic Wisdom for Reawakening to What our Souls Know and Healing the World (HarperOne, July) posits that “we are all inherently spiritual beings who can intuitively see the sacred all around us when our culture or our faith hasn’t clouded our vision.”
Rumi’s Little Book of Wisdom, (Hampton Roads, Apr.) offers a collection of insights from the 13th-century poet, theologian, and Sufi mystic to inspire people of any faith or none who want to live a meaningful and productive life, according to the publisher.
Propaganda, the rapper, hip-hop artist, podcaster, and speaker to audiences at post-Evangelical and progressive Christian events, makes his authorial debut with Terraform: Building a Better World (HarperOne, May), a collection of essays and poems. According to Harper, the title comes from the word terraforming, “creating a live-able world from an inhospitable one” by reshaping our society and our own souls, too. Hamilton, who edited the book, says, “I was intrigued by how he could use poetry and stories to illustrate the ways our current society—both secular and faith communities—is in a moment of reckoning and rebuilding.”
Below, more on religion and spirituality books.
Tracking the 'Nones' Tide: PW Talks to Ryan P. Burge
Pastors, sweating the trend to freelance spirituality, have ideas for stemming the tide and publishers are giving them voice.
Bringing the 'Nones' Home: Religion and Spirituality Books 2021
Burge’s book, The Nones: Where They Came From, Who They Are, and Where They Are Going (Fortress, out now), cites research listing atheists and agnostics each at 6% of the U.S. population, while 20% identify as “nothing in particular."