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Publishers Weekly Features

Tidings That Bloom in the Spring
Lynn Garrett -- 2/15/98
Publishers offer a wide array of books for every faith, interest and level of expertise

Though the natural year revolves through four seasons -- with changes subtle or extreme, depending on geography and the luck of the draw -- for publishers there are only two that really matter. Those seasons, spring and fall, book-ending the publishing year, see the launch of new titles onto the rough waters of today's retail book market. As unpredictable as the tastes of the reading public ultimately may be, publishers must still try to figure out what they will buy months, even years, before the final product will appear on bookstore shelves. In the rapidly shifting landscape of religion in America today, the task of publishers in religion and spirituality may be even more daunting than in many other topic areas and genres. As publishers continuously take the pulse of the religion book market, the following pages chart their diagnoses of what readers of religion and spirituality might be self-prescribing this spring.
Spring Titles
SPRING TITLES: An Islamic view of Jesus (One World); new fiction from Zondervan; and a history of messianic figures (HSF).
As with any publishing season, some topics and subcategories are remarkable for their consistency, while others have diminished in title output. Books on spirituality, prayer and inspiration continue to dominate the category, and there are, as always, some unique treatments within those subcategories -- such as the spiritual aspects of golf and Sherlock Holmes as a guru. Biographies, autobiographies and spiritual memoirs also continue to be generously published. One strong continuing theme across subcategories is "religion made simple" -- books that break down spiritual practices, scriptures and ideas into bite-sized pieces that are easily digestible for today's hurried readers. From Pocket Professors (Pocket Books) to Pocket Canons (Grove/Atlantic) to scriptures for the biblically inept (Starburst) and the clueless (Promise Press), many publishers are applying the Dummies model to make religion accessible.
Mostly missing from the line-up of lead titles this season are the biblical her s of last spring and fall -- David, Paul and Moses. (With the latter, it may be just as well-publishers of fall's The Prince of Egypt tie-in books have been disappointed with sales.) Also diminished in presence are books on the historical Jesus, though Polebridge Press, the publishing arm of the Jesus Seminar, weighs in with The Gospel According to the Jesus Seminar (May), whose billing as "a new gospel" composed of Seminar-approved excerpts from the New Testament will reliably horrify (if not surprise) traditionalists.

This being 1999, publishers are guessing there will be more interest in millennium-related topics, but they are doing so cautiously. Though the number of lead titles has increased since this past fall, it can hardly be called a flood. Evangelical Protestant publishers have always done end-times prophecy books, since that theology has long been a powerful stream of influence in American evangelicalism. With the unprecedented sales success of Tyndale House's Left Behind series of apocalyptic fiction, many other evangelical publishers are weighing in with their offerings in the genre.

Another (nonfiction) angle on the subject comes from Open Court, which in April will publish Archetype of the Apocalypse: A Jungian Study of the Book of Revelation by Edward Edinger (a founding member of New York's C.G. Jung Institute who died last year). Edinger proposes that phenomena such as the proliferation of cults, extraterrestrial sightings and even radical environmentalism grow out of an apocalypse archetype that has been firmly embedded in the contemporary psyche. Reflecting the recent resurgence in interest in Jung's thought, long-out-of-print titles from Princeton University Press (The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga and Jung on Christianity) also resurface in the religion category.

The intersection of religion and psychology intrigues other authors as well -- from Russell Shorto (Gospel Truth) comes Stranger Than Paradise: Psychiatry Opens Its Doors to Religion (Holt, Aug.), an examination of "the new science of the soul" that explores chemistry and consciousness. A more academic treatment of the topic -- The Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experience by Eugene d'Aquili and Andrew Newberg -- will be released in April by Fortress Press. Such books prompt questions: Given the increasingly swift advances in the science of how the brain works, will the concepts of mind and spirit become obsolete? Will religious or spiritual experience someday be reduced to the firing of synapses, the pharmacology of the brain? Stay tuned into the next century.
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