For three decades, surveys have asked people about their religious identity. Each time, more people —now 29% of U.S. adults—check “none,” according to Pew Research. Yet, many of these “nones” are searching for spiritual meaning, and faith-based publishers are here to help. Upcoming books highlight a kaleidoscopic range of personalized religious, spiritual, and philosophical pathways—and defense of atheism, as well. Authors are drawing from their own inner journeys or tracing the travels of others as varied as singer Tina Turner, a Baptist turned Buddhist; 12th-century Jewish sage Maimonides; transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson; and actor Rainn Wilson, a Baha’i believer.
Brant Rumble, editorial director for Hachette Books, points to Wilson’s Soul Boom: Why We Need a Spiritual Revolution (Apr.) as an example of ways titles could reach the nones demographic. “This is an extremely big-tent book about what it can mean to be spiritual, and how the common dimensions of spirituality can help heal what ails us, individually and as a society,” Rumble says. (For our q&a with Wilson, see “Rainn Wilson Goes Boom.”)
Broadleaf Books acquiring editor Valerie Weaver-Zercher says nones and “dones” may be drawn to books that defy easy categorization. They may feel “out of step with books by Christian presses, which they sense may be trying to evangelize them,” she adds. “They may also feel ignored by irreligious publishers, which aren’t aware that many spiritual-but-not-religious readers want to read books about Jesus or prayer or the Bible, just written in a different key.”
Weaver-Zercher cites, for example, Spirit Wheel: Meditations from an Indigenous Elder (July), by Choctaw Nation elder and Episcopal priest Steven Charleston, which introduces readers to envisioning “the four directions that ground Native spirituality: tradition, kinship, vision, and balance.”
Lisa Kloskin, another Broadleaf acquiring editor, mentions Holy Runaways: Rediscovering Faith After Being Burned by Religion (Oct.) by psychotherapist Matthias Roberts, who also hosts Queerology: A Podcast on Belief and Being. Roberts isn’t capitalizing on a trend but rather is writing from personal experience so readers can join on a “journey to a spirituality that is more life-giving,” Kloskin says.
Tales and trails of transformation
Religious studies expert Ralph H. Craig III follows the movements of American religion and pop culture through Dancing in My Dreams: A Spiritual Biography of Tina Turner (Eerdmans, Nov.). The rock ’n’ roll icon moved away from the Black Baptist church of her youth through new age influences in the 1960s to find “wisdom and power” in Soka Gakkai, a Japanese Buddhist movement.
Readers are interested in authentic voices—authors who are “charting their own courses and relating their experiences in a clear and inspirational way,” says Joel Fotinos, v-p and editorial director at St. Martin’s Essentials. Among St. Martin’s upcoming spirituality books is I’m Ascending, Now What? Awaken Your Authentic Self, Own Your Power, Embody Your Truth (June), in which author Sydney Campos writes, “What if being human is actually the ultimate spiritual experience—and enlightenment is simply being our true selves?” Campos then offers a series of steps toward self-discovery.
Spiritual transformation books are so popular with the nones that Diana Ventimiglia, executive editor at Sounds True, says, “In a way, I think this audience is the backbone of our company.” For example, Sounds True is planning a 60,000-copy first printing for Travel Light: Spiritual Minimalism to Live a More Fulfilled Life (July) by meditation and spiritual teacher Light Watkins. More important than cleaning out your closet is “decluttering your choices and values and life,” he writes. Ventimiglia says that “doing the inner work, seeking purpose, etc., extends beyond organized religion. You don’t need to believe in God or attend synagogue to experience personal growth and healing.”
Secularism and atheism have also drawn publishers’ attention, with titles such as Rise of the Nones: The Importance of Science & Freedom from Religion (Hypatia, Aug.) by Adam Neiblum, a frequent writer on atheism. David G. McAfee, cofounder of the press, says he will promote Neiblum’s book through social media, “where atheists have seen huge success in getting an extremely stigmatized and relatively unpopular idea—that there are no deities—to be palatable to the masses.” Beyond Doubt: The Secularization of Society (New York Univ., May) details the detachment from organized religion in modern and modernizing regions around the globe. It’s written by three sociology professors: Isabella Kasselstrand at the University of Aberdeen, Phil Zuckerman at Pitzer College, and Ryan T. Cragun at the University of Tampa.
People may be leaving religion, but not all of them are walking—or running—away from God. Westminster John Knox offers Methodist pastor Mark Feldmeir’s Life After God: Finding Faith When You Can’t Believe Anymore (Aug.), which encourages people to open themselves to “the mystery, wonder, and compelling love we crave,” according to the publisher. Devotions for People Who Don’t Do Devotions (Sept.), by Episcopal priest and Clergy Confidential blogger Tim Schenck, uses the format to help people recognize and reflect on “God’s hand at work in both the mundane and miraculous day-to-day interactions of our lives,” according to Forward Movement, the publisher.
Those who claim no religion in research surveys are “rarely ever completely disentangled from Christianity,” says Jessica Miller Kelley, senior acquisitions editor for WJK. “We’re seeking to meet their needs whether they are still working through the baggage of a toxic religious upbringing, seeking truth and beauty without doctrine, or engaging social problems that are intertwined with ways religion has been manifest in our history.”
In WJK’s September title Every Step Is Home: A Spiritual Geography from Appalachia to Alaska, travel writer Lori Erickson, who specializes in spiritual journeys, reflects on human-made and natural wonders that have held sacred meaning to people for centuries.
To write Mother, Nature: A 5,000-Mile Journey to Discover If a Mother and Son Can Survive Their Differences (Nov.), Wilderness Magazine executive editor Jedidiah Jenkins and his mother, Barbara Jenkins, retraced the route she traveled with his father for their 1970s books A Walk Across America and A Walk West. Along the way, Jedidiah, a 40-year-old gay mystic, and Barbara, a 70-year-old conservative evangelical, mend their spiritual and personal rifts, according to Convergent, the publisher.
The famous X-Files tagline was, “The truth is out there.” Now, many spiritual writers contend that the truth can be found within. In Life Worth Living: A Guide to What Matters Most (The Open Field, out now), three scholars based at Yale Divinity School’s Center for Faith & Culture—Miroslav Volf, Matthew Croasmun, and Ryan McAnnally-Linz—argue that a vision of a good life can be seen by searching one’s own life for the underlying truth. In The Gentle Art of Spiritual Discernment: A Guide to Discovering Your Personal Path (Inner Traditions, July), sociologist and social justice activist Pierre Pradervand writes that a spiritual quest requires living with integrity and generosity. To write The Eloquence of Silence: Surprising Wisdom in Tales of Emptiness (New World Library, May), psychotherapist and former monk Thomas Moore considers spiritual traditions, folktales, literature, and his own life to explore how spaces of emptiness and silence can open the eyes and the soul.
Contemporary views of ancient traditions
Other authors go back in time to offer today’s seekers new spins on the wisdom found in Buddhist, Jewish, and transcendentalist visions of the spiritual life.
In [em]Rules to Live By: The Wisdom of Maimonides[/em] (Humanix, Aug.), Jeffrey Katz, who teaches rationalist religious philosophy, shows how guidelines and values Maimonides found in the Torah can offer timeless strategies for honorable, healthy living. Mark Matousek, a prolific author and founder of The Seekers Forum, a space for nonsectarian spiritual dialogue online, revisits the impact of Emerson’s transcendentalism to find messages for modern readers in Lessons from an American Stoic: How Emerson Can Change Your Life (Harper One, June).
Three upcoming books take distinctive approaches to Buddhism. Meditation teacher and author Sah D’Simone, host of the podcast The Spiritually Sassy Show, merges ideas from tantric Buddhism and contemplative approaches to psychotherapy for what he calls “Spiritually Sassy” techniques for seeking enlightenment and improving relationships in Spiritually, We: The Art of Relating and Connecting from the Heart (Sounds True, Dec.).
Christopher Wallis, founder of Tantra Illuminated, an online learning portal for his courses and teachings, writes in Near Enemies of the Truth: Avoid the Pitfalls of a Spiritual Life and Become Radically Free (Wonderwell, Nov.) that Buddhism is too often reduced to “bumper-sticker platitudes.” Wallis offers guided meditations and reflections to steer seekers back on track.
Scott Snibbe, who teaches secular forms of Tibetan Buddhism on multiple platforms, has turned his website and podcast A Skeptic’s Path to Enlightenment into a book by the same name, coming from Watkins in December. Snibbe takes on popular “mindfulness” trends by teaching what he calls “analytical meditation,” which, he writes, is based in utilizing science and psychology as pathways to enlightenment.