Category Close-Ups

The New Old Thing
Lynn Garrett -- 2/19/01
Spring titles bloom with fresh angles on ancient subjects

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After the overheated millennial celebrations of 2000, nothing really seemed to change. The economy continued to steam along at a record pace, the Clinton White House kept minting controversy and life went on much as before. But perhaps those who insisted that the real millennial turning came at New Year's 2001 were right, because this year has opened on an entirely different note. A new administration is settling into the White House after what has to be the weirdest election in American history, and the air is thick with recession talk. Finally, this really d s seem like a new century, for better or for worse. What it will bring culturally, economically and religiously remains to be seen, but if title output is any gauge, publishers are hopeful that reader interest in spirituality and religion will continue to be strong.

Most subcategories in religion remain remarkably full and stable this season, but certain shifts are noteworthy. Publishers appear to have throttled back their output of devotionals, a staple for many religion houses but overpublished after the sales boom of the late 1990s. There are also fewer titles on the Western monastic and contemplative traditions. Two topics show significant
Full spectrum: art (U. of Calif.), politics
(NavPress), baseball (J. Countryman).
increases: biography, autobiography and memoir continue to be popular forms for conveying ideas about religion and spirituality, with nearly 20 more titles submitted for our listings in this already well-populated subcategory than in the fall. Books on grief, death and dying--subjects that ebb and flow in publisher, if not reader, interest each year--are once again on the rise. And, after a doubled title output last fall, Buddhism extends its run with another fat season for readers.
Appropriately as we look ahead to a new century, a number of spring books offer critical examinations of religion as a cultural phenomenon. Among the most eagerly anticipated is A New Religious America: How a "Christian Country" Has Become the World's Most Religiously Diverse Nation (Harper SF, June) by Diana Eck, who heads the religion department at Harvard and is a widely acknowledged authority on world religions in America. Oxford University Press weighs in with Amanda Porterfield's The Transformation of American Religion: The Story of a Late Twentieth-Century Awakening (Mar.). Religion in the New Millennium (Mercer Univ. Press, Aug.), edited by Frederick J. Parella and Ray Bulman, collects essays in honor of Paul Tillich. And University of California--Santa Barbara professor Catherine Albanese is editor of a volume on what for many has replaced institutional religion: American Spiritualities: A Reader (Indiana Univ. Press, Apr.).

One area of growing interest is the relationship of religion and spirituality to the arts and the creative process. University of California Press has two titles: Creative Spirituality: The Way of the Artist (Mar.) by sociologist Robert Wuthnow, director of the Center for the Study of American Religion at Princeton, contains interviews with dancers, singers, sculptors, writers and painters who Wuthnow views as spiritual avatars for our time; The Visual Culture of American Religions (May), a collection of essays edited by David Morgan and Sally M. Promey, looks at the relationship between religion and the arts from the 19th century to today. InterVarsity Press also has two books: The Creative Life by Alice Bass is a practical workbook for Christians; Imagine by Steve Turner also urges involvement in the arts (both are June releases). Harper SF's God's Photo Album by Shelley Mecum (May) grew out of a project by this grade-school teacher in Hawaii to helped her students, their parents and teachers find God in their community through the art of photography. Among a number of other titles are One Nation Under God: Religious Symbols, Quotes, and Images in Our Nation's Capital by Eugene F. Hemrick (Our Sunday Visitor, Mar.) and Painters of Faith: The Spiritual Landscape in 19th Century America by Gene Veith (Regnery, May).

At the beginning of what promises (or, depending on your politics, threatens) to be a new era, readers in this vital category will find no shortage of choices at the bookstore.