Ahead of the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature, which runs November 20–23 in San Antonio, Tex., PW is examining trends in academic religion publishing. New books by biblical and religious scholars are asking perennial questions about human well-being, searching for answers to division and disruption, and probing history for insight on today’s racial justice issues. Even when it comes to academia, new titles reflect the times, says Cade Jarrell, managing editor at Baylor University Press.
“Texts and teachings of tradition are reclaimed and repurposed in service of what it means to live fully and at peace with others across social, cultural, ethnic, and religious divides,” he notes. “Scholarship in these areas possesses an urgent need for true justice—especially regarding the issues of race and migration.”
Baylor recently released Believing into Christ: Relational Faith and Human Flourishing by Natalya A. Cherry, a Methodist studies and theology professor at Brite Divinity School. She argues that the biblical phrase “believing into Christ” actually demands that Christians do more than simply believe in God’s existence. Instead, believers should act on their faith by resisting systems of violence and oppression and cling to “the Holy Spirit in a way that directs every relationship toward human flourishing,” according to the publisher.
Also geared toward improving the future for all people, Deep Calls to Deep: The Psalms in Dialogue amid Disruption by William Brown (Abingdon, out now) draws on the psalms as a guide to cultivating conversations about not only biblical issues but also our contemporary crises. These include the pandemic, environmental catastrophe, and race-based hatred, according to Paul Franklyn, associate publisher, Bibles, leadership, worship, and textbooks at Abingdon. “The book breaks new ground in biblical interpretation and advances psalms scholarship for a useful purpose—to heal our wounds that stem from lack of trust,” he says.
The first chapter of Deep Calls to Deep, titled after Psalm 42, draws on the white nationalist demonstrations that took place in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 and what Franklyn describes as the resulting “echo chambers of our disrupted and polarized culture.” He adds, “We talk over each other and exacerbate our problems. Bill Brown shows how clusters of psalms are in critical dialogue—multiple voices and points of view—with the other books in the Bible and with other psalms in the Psalter.”
Jim Kinney, executive v-p, academic publishing, at Baker Publishing, strives to publish books that reveal our shared humanity. He is inspired by the Templeton Foundation’s humble approach to scholarship and the phrase “How little we know, how eager to learn.” He explains, “I think academic authors are at their best when they reflect that sort of humility, even as they vigorously make their arguments.”
For Kinney, every time Baker can connect an author and a reader in a meaningful way, there is the potential to create a transformation. “I think we are, and will be, successful to the degree we’re able to find books that fulfill that potential.”
In March, Baker Academic is releasing Called to Reconciliation: How the Church Can Model Justice, Diversity, and Inclusion by Jonathan Augustine, which argues for why the church can benefit from secular diversity and inclusion practices, and that the church’s work in reconciliation can serve as a model for society at large, according to the publisher. Kinney was drawn to Called to Reconciliation because it puts the church at the center of efforts toward racial reconciliation. “Christian communities need to model justice, diversity, and inclusion, regardless of whatever messages and trends dominate in the broader culture,” he says.
Studying religion and race
Religion scholars are looking closely at race in America, including racism and all of its evils. Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Chair and associate professor of ethics and society at Vanderbilt University, has a new book titled Religion, Race, and Covid-19: Confronting White Supremacy in the Pandemic (NYU, out now). It builds a case for how religious practices have profoundly changed due to the pandemic, and examines why America’s most vulnerable populations—people of color and the working poor—have felt its impact the most.
Angela N. Parker, assistant professor of New Testament and Greek at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology, is also looking at the intersection of race and religion. Her book, If God Still Breathes, Why Can’t I? Black Lives Matter and Biblical Authority (Eerdmans, Mar. 2022), examines how the Bible has been used to support white supremacist authoritarianism. Parker, whose womanist writings have won the Journal for Feminist Studies in Religion’s ESF New Scholar Award, argues that interpretations of scripture by white men in positions of power have been used to justify control over marginalized groups, according to the publisher.
In January, Zondervan Reflective is publishing Talking About Race: Gospel Hope for Hard Conversations, by Washington, D.C., pastor Isaac Adams. The book calls on Christians to have honest conversations about race in order to achieve racial unity in their churches, Zondervan says.
Race, through time
Deep dives into historical events and religious movements of the past are shedding new light on current issues and movements surrounding race, including Black Lives Matter. “The ongoing discovery of how race is tied up with every aspect of U.S. society continues to yield creative and innovative fruit in the ways we understand religion and religious texts,” says Robert Ratcliff, editor-in-chief for Westminster John Knox.
The press recently released Getting to the Promised Land: Black America and the Unfinished Work of the Civil Rights Movement, by the president of Simmons College of Kentucky, Kevin W. Cosby. Ratcliff calls it “the first theology of the American Descendants of Slaves movement.” In the book, Cosby looks beyond Moses and the Exodus to other biblical leaders such as Solomon, Daniel, and Nehemiah. Getting to the Promised Land also examines the economic and social injustices, and lack of reparative justice endured by “the only group whose ancestors were forcibly brought to America, enslaved, built much of the wealth of the country, yet continue to be specifically excluded from the same social, political, and economic rights of other Americans,” according to the publisher.
Also from WJK, Unbroken and Unbowed: A History of Black Protest in America by Jimmie R. Hawkins (Feb. 2022) depicts protests that range from mutinies on slaver ships during precolonial times through demonstrations that followed the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Hawkins also details responses to the various protests, such as during the Jim Crow era, the Red Summer of 1919, and with voter suppression.
Coming from NYU, The Myth of Colorblind Christians: Evangelicals and White Supremacy in the Civil Rights Era by Jesse Curtis (Nov.) examines the ideology behind colorblindness—in which personal kindness was viewed as a solution to racial problems, rather than systemic reform—and “how white evangelical communities avoided antiracist action and continue to thrive today,” according to the publisher.
Lastly, Jesuits and Race: A Global History of Continuity and Change, 1530–2020 (Univ. of Mexico, June 2022), edited by Nathaniel Millett and Charles H. Parker, is a collection of essays on how Western understandings of race were shaped by the Jesuits. The religious order’s “global presence in missions, imperial expansion, and education lend insight to the differences in patterns of estrangement and assimilation, as well as coercion and enfranchisement, with people from Africa, Asia, and the Americas,” according to the publisher.
Additional religious histories are available now. After Jesus Before Christianity: A Historical Exploration of the First Two Centuries of Jesus Movements (HarperOne), by Bible scholars Erin Vearncombe, Brandon Scott, and Hal Taussig, reconsiders the roots of Christianity. Jesus in Context: Making Sense of the Historical Figure by David Wenham (Cambridge Univ.) draws on information from Roman, Jewish, and Christian texts, the gospels, and evidence of the apostle Paul to form a portrait of Jesus. Muslims of the Heartland: How Syrian Immigrants Made a Home in the American Midwest by Edward E. Curtis IV (NYU) explores “the surprising history of Muslim life in the early American Midwest,” according to the publisher. The Popes Against the Protestants: The Vatican and Evangelical Christianity in Fascist Italy by Kevin Madigan (NYU) recounts the little-known alliance formed between the Catholic Church and the Italian Fascist regime on an anti-Protestant campaign.
And taking a providentialist approach to general world history, Crossway’s Redeeming Our Thinking About History: A God-Centered Approach by Vern S. Poythress (Mar. 2022) aims to help Christians recognize God’s lordship while studying the past, according to the publisher. Crossway associate acquisitions editor Samuel Jones believes that the serious and careful study of history can help reveal “the truthfulness, power, and providence of the God of scripture,” he says. “To encounter history is to encounter a story of mankind that points us toward Christ and motivates us to trust and believe him.”
Holding up the Bible
Studies of the Bible are the bread and butter of many academic publishers, but how might increased Bible sales affect the category?
“Any time Bible sales are up, it is good news for Oxford University Press,” says Theo Calderara, editor in chief at OUP. “We have been expanding our offerings in biblical studies for several years now, and we have plans to continue expanding, including new study Bibles and a commentary series.” In December, OUP is re-releasing The Bible: A Very Short Introduction by John Riches with updates that include a new chapter on Galatians.
“What we will seek to acquire will not change,” says Katya Covrett, executive acquisitions editor at Zondervan Academic. “At the same time, as each new generation reads the Bible for itself, we are always on the lookout for fresh and creative expressions of biblical wisdom for today’s audiences.”
Room for growth
Among the publisher’s new releases in biblical studies is The Theology of Paul and His Letters: The Gift of the New Realm of Christ by Douglas J. Moo, which focuses on the apostle Paul’s letters and summarizes his major theological emphases, according to the publisher.
A core category for IVP Academic, biblical studies continue to grow in new and fresh ways, according to Anna Moseley Gissing, an associate editor. “We are hard at work on several big projects this year,” she says. “A completely new edition of Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, a new translation of the New Testament by Scot Mc-
Knight, and a one-volume commentary on the New Testament with the working title The New Testament in Color, edited by Esau McCaulley, Janette Ok, Osvaldo Padilla, and Amy Peeler.”
In the more immediate future, IVP is releasing Enjoying the Old Testament: A Creative Guide to Encountering Scripture by Eric Seibert (Nov.), which features literary, artistic, and other exercises intended to help audiences who find the Old Testament confusing, theologically troubling, or uninteresting.
Among the new titles that bring Christian teachings to bear on a number of contemporary issues, a few turn inward to examine the house of God—and, specifically, church membership. Looking toward the future, Baker’s Jim Kinney suggests that academic books may offer new, more accurate takes on the health of the church. “Seminary enrollments are strong even as we hear many reports about the decline of the church,” he says. “Those two narratives seem to be in tension with one another. I wonder if the supply side of the equation—the many leaders being trained in the seminaries—will change the narrative about the shape and the future of the church.”
Also in spite of reports that church attendance rates are dropping, Cade Jarrell at Baylor sees no slowdown in the number of books on religion and human flourishing in the years to come. “Religion does not give sign of waning in influence or importance in the human experience,” he says. “In order to ensure that religion will be a force for positive change, those who study scripture, theology, and religion recognize the need to better understand the way our faith traditions impact groups and societies, inclinations toward bias and harm, and the potential for reconciliation and healing.”