Richard Brown, who joined Rowman & Littlefield as senior executive religion editor on April 18, is drawing on nearly four decades of experience in the publishing industry as he looks to grow R&L’s religion category. Based in Columbia, S.C., Brown’s background most recently includes serving as director of the University of South Carolina Press. Prior to that, Brown held editorial roles at Westminster John Knox and Pilgrim Press, in addition to 17 years spent at the Georgetown University Press as director.
Brown was drawn to R&L in part because of the “incredible range of topics” among its backlist and the opportunity to explore “big ideas and ultimate questions,” he tells PW. In his new role, Brown is tasked with growing the religion trade category, and while he doesn’t have a number in mind in terms of output, “it’s not a matter of pumping out more books, it’s making sure the books have an impact,” he says.
R&L acquired the book program of Duke Divinity School’s Alban Institute in 2014, and Brown is keen to build on that while establishing new publishing partnerships with additional universities and religious organizations. Further, Brown wants to breathe new life into R&L’s Sheed & Ward imprint, which was acquired in 2002.
“It has such a rich backlist—dozens of biggest names in the field of Catholicism would publish with Sheed & Ward—and part of what I want to do is get that imprint running at full speed,” Brown says. “I really want to make that the go-to imprint for progressive Catholic thought.”
Also of special interest to Brown is the intersection between religion and a host of topics such as medicine, health, gender, sexuality, the environment, politics, cultures, racism, and books that “illuminate dark places of society and dark places of soul,” he says.
“I want to show how religion has had this incredible impact on human existence— religious communities have helped improve the world, and yet we have to recognize that religious ideologies have enabled oppression, racism, sexism, sometimes genocide, and created conditions of injustice, hardship, suffering; I want to illuminate that too,” he tells PW. “My ultimate aim is to contribute in some way to a more loving and more just society.”
Challenges to the publishing industry include readership trends and the glut of virtual content available today, according to Brown. “You’re competing with so much media online—there are so many options for people,” he says. “People want short bits of content, and that is hard when you’re wanting to publish extended analytical pieces of scholarship.”
Nevertheless, there is an “urgent need for credible, serious-minded books on spirituality that would represent a range of religions,” Brown says. He notes upcoming R&L’s releases including Donna Schuper’s Marriage After Religion (Jan. 2023) and The Seven Deadly Sins of White Christian Nationalism by Carter Heyward (Sept.), which will be featured during this year’s meeting between the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature in Denver in November.
As he looks ahead, Brown sees a bright future at R&L. “Book publishing is a vocation and a calling,” he says. “I’m incredibly fortunate to be part of a house that values religion and understands the significance of religion in the U.S. and abroad.”