After a winter of war and bitter weather, spring once again brings books that reflect the aspirations of publishers and, they hope, the deepest concerns of readers. The mood of the country is somber and cautious, and spring lists mirror that, both in more conservative levels of title output and in seriousness of subject matter.
The classically well-stocked religion subcategories such as spirituality and prayer remain stable. A few shifts in emphasis are evident, and some post—September 11 trends continue unabated. This season we note an uptick in the number of titles focusing on biblical characters (Religion, January 12) and an even more noticeable increase in the number of biblical studies titles overall, especially those for general readers. There is a resurgence of books of interest to African-Americans and of histories for a general audience. Books on sacred sites and pilgrimage have bounced back after a couple of slim seasons. There are fewer pop culture and religion books, though two are notable: Jossey-Bass's What Would Buffy Do? (May) and Continuum's Tangled Up in the Bible: Bob Dylan and Scripture (Mar.). Not surprisingly in the current climate and in an election year, the intersection of politics and religion continues to generate books. And while the number of titles of Catholic interest has subsided to pre—sex abuse scandal levels, that segment remains healthy, as does Buddhist publishing.
Although there are not more books on Islam, there are deeper and more thoughtful ones—fewer primers and basic guides—continuing the trend we spotted last fall. A stack of titles highlights various aspects of the West's troubled relationship with the Middle East. These include examinations of evangelical Christian support for Israel from Baker Academic, Chosen and Fortress, as well as Richard Ben Cramer's look at how American Jewish support for Israel may be ebbing (How Israel Lost, S&S, Apr.). There are ruminations on the roots of the stormy relations between Islam and Christianity from InterVarsity, Random House, Palgrave, Pantheon and Kregel; and at least one book that finds reason to hope for rapprochement among Judaism, Christianity and Islam (Modest Claims, Notre Dame, Apr.). There are books that contrast the teachings of Jesus and Muhammed and of the Bible and the Qur'an (Strang/Charisma House, Moody), and a major new translation of the Qur'an from Oxford. Other titles look at the roles and history of women in Islam (HiddenSpring, SUNY). Critiques and defenses of Islam—from both political and personal perspectives—come from Thorsons, Rodale and Harper San Francisco. And celebrations of Islamic lands and wisdom come from Random House and University of Washington Press.
In addition to books about the Bible and its people, the Bible itself continues to be central to religion publishing. This past fall, Thomas Nelson enjoyed wide media attention and swift sales for its innovative fashion-mag format Bible for teen girls, Revolve. Now comes a version for teen boys: Refuel resembles a sports or music magazine.
The money machine that is the Left Behind apocalyptic fiction series officially ends with the March release of the 12th book, Glorious Appearing (though prequels are planned). Two spring books—from Multnomah and Palgrave—take up the theological issues raised by the novels. Also intended to prevent readers from confusing fiction with fact is Thomas Nelson's Breaking the Da Vinci Code (May).
Finally, calling to mind Mark Twain's words about reports of his demise, some spring books predict or declare the death of religion. A Faith Worth Believing: Finding New Life Beyond the Rules of Religion by Tom Stella (Harper SF, Mar.) encourages radical reassessment, while The Death of the Mythic God: The Rise of Evolutionary Spirituality by Jim Marion (Hampton Roads, Aug.) assumes a "post-religion future." Llewellyn's Authentic Spirituality: The Direct Path to Consciousness (Mar.) advocates a similar view. On the other hand, in The Case for Religion, Anglican priest Keith Ward defends organized religion while calling for change. One thing seems certain—the challenges that lead human beings to embrace or struggle with faith continue to find expression in books.