Take you pick: books about religion and politics are hot because (a) it's an election year; (b) the sitting president is an evangelical Christian who is public about his faith; (c) Americans are more curious about the interplay between religion and politics since 9/11; (d) debates over the Pledge of Allegiance, gay marriage, abortion rights, sex education and school curricula are really about religion and politics...
The correct answer is, of course, (e) all of the above. And while most publishers agree the topic naturally gets a boost every four years, they also believe it is here to stay and gaining strength. "It goes beyond simply that this is an election year," says David Shepherd, senior v-p and publisher at Broadman & Holman, one of several evangelical Christian publishing houses where books on religion and politics have become a staple. "So much of what is happening today in politics impacts and challenges Christian faith and tradition," Shepherd adds. "The more our society and culture challenge Christian underpinnings, the more we will see these books."
Most of the books combining the two topics this year track religion's footprints on the American political landscape, examining such issues as the separation of church and state, Supreme Court freedom-of-religion decisions and faith-based social services initiatives. More volleys are fired in the ongoing war between the religious right and the secular left. Publishers, both religion specialty and general trade, use two words to explain the boom: culture wars. "You are seeing this because matters of faith are becoming so much more a part of public dialogue," says John Sawyer, director of marketing for Baker Publishing Group. A moderating voice comes from Brazos Press, a Baker division, with God Is Not... Religious, Nice, 'One of Us,' an American, a Capitalist, edited by Brent Laytham (July). The book examines the perils of claiming God is on one side or the other of a particular issue.
The fact that general trade houses are offering books on the conflict between religion and politics in America confirms the cultural relevancy of the subject, says Sara Bershtel, associate publisher for Metropolitan Books. "When these books are coming from small and religious presses, that's one thing," she says. "But these battles are everywhere, and I think you see that in the fact that these books are coming from the mainstream presses too." Metropolitan's entries into the fray are Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism by journalist Susan Jacoby (Apr.) and Crusade: Chronicles of an Unjust War (Aug.), in which Army-chaplain-turned-columnist/author James Carroll debates the Bush Administration's reasoning for the war in Iraq.
Also new is Religion on Trial: How the Supreme Court Trends Threaten Freedom of Conscience in America by Phillip E. Hammond, David W. Machacek and Eric M. Mazur (Alta Mira Press, May). Warner Faith has American Prophecies: Ancient ScripturesReveal Our Nation's Future by Michael D. Evans (Aug.), and WinePress Publishing offers The Myth of Separation Between Church and State by lawyer Dee Wampler (Apr.). Eerdmans examines religion's role in judgment and punishment in A Call for Reckoning: Religion and the Death Penalty, edited by Erik C. Owens, John D. Carlson and Eric P. Elshtain (July). Harper Perennial offers Persecution: How Liberals Are WagingWar Against Christianity by David Limbaugh (Sept.).
At Georgetown University Press, director Richard Brown says interest in the culture wars peaked about 10 years ago, and in its wake lies a growing and dramatic polarization in the national government. "You see these increasingly vitriolic attacks and entrenched positions on both sides," he says. "I am a publisher, so in a sense that's good for me. But I am not pleased or happy with the tone of some of these debates. It's divisive." Still, Brown continues, the situation has stimulated some good scholarship as academics probe further and deeper into the American religious and political psyche. New from academic presses are Christian Soldiers on Local Battlefields by Melissa Deckman (Georgetown, Mar.), an examination of conservative Christians' campaigns to promote their agenda in public schools. One Electorate Under God?A Dialogue on Religion and American Politics, edited by E.J. Dionne Jr., Kayla M. Drogosz and Jean Bethke Elshtain (Brookings Institution Press, May) is a collection of essays by scholars. Also on the church-state topic is Interpreting the Bible and the Constitution by Jaroslav Pelikan (Yale Univ. Press, May) and Myths America Lives By by Richard T. Hughes (Univ. of Illinois Press, July). The latter critically examines America's idea of itself as a "Christian nation."
Three new books look at one of President Bush's pet policies—faith-based social services initiatives. These include Of Little Faith: The Politics of George W. Bush's Faith-Based Initiatives by Amy E. Black, Douglas L. Koopman and David K. Ryden (Georgetown, Apr.); Saving America? Faith-Based Services and the Future of Civil Society by Robert Wuthnow (Princeton, May) and The Public Benefit of Private Faith: Religious Organizations and the Delivery of Social Services, edited by David J. Wright (SUNY Press, June). Bishop Bennett J. Sims, retired Episcopal bishop of Atlanta (see InProfile, this issue), digs at the religious roots of the president's "compassionate conservatism" in Why BushMust Go: A Bishop's Faith-Based Challenge (Continuum, June).
One indication that religion and politics will continue to share pages is the development by publishers of books for Christian conservatives. It's a market, says Tom Freiling, founder and publisher of Allegiance Press, widely overlooked by general trade houses. "This is a huge group of people who are politically active both in their churches and in their communities," Freiling says. Allegiance wants to serve these readers with We Will Pray for Election Day by Freiling and Michael Klassen (May) and Miracles of the American Revolution: Evidence of Divine Intervention and the Birth of the Republic by Larkin Spivey (Apr.).
Prominent in this field is WND Books, an imprint of Thomas Nelson partnered with World Network Daily, a Christian conservative media corporation. In these books, a religious worldview is more implied than stated, and the titles read like a list of conservative radio's top-ten hits: Bad Trip: How the War Against Drugs Is Destroying America by Joel Miller (June), Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America's Youth by Ben Shapiro (July), The Many Faces of John Kerry: Why This Massachusetts Liberal Is Wrong for America by David Bossie (July), Intelligence Failure: How Clinton's Incompetence Undermined America's Defense and Paved the Way for 9/11, also by David Bossie (May) and Reagan's Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started It All by Craig Shirley (Jan. 2005). WND's senior v-p and publisher David Dunham says this kind of "non-religion" publishing fulfills WND's Christian mission. "God said 'Take dominion,' and not just from the pulpit on Sunday but in every part of people's lives."
All We Are Saying...
Books about translating faith into political activism are a constant. Many new titles on the subject are actually old—or contain the writings of previous generations of activists—and that highlights a maturity in the subcategory as younger consumers discover them for the first time. Robert Ellsberg, editor-in-chief of Catholic publisher Orbis Books, says his house was surprised by sales of I'd Rather Teach Peace (2002) by Coleman McCarthy, who teaches courses on the subject using historical figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi as models, and Peace Is the Way (2000), an anthology of writings by King, Gandhi and others. "It was a reminder for me that there is a whole new generation of young people who are encountering this tradition and this literature for the first time in a situation where it is very personally relevant," Ellsberg notes. Orbis was encouraged enough to publish Peace in the Post-Christian Era by Thomas Merton (Sept.), a previously unpublished 1962 book by the Trappist monk about the relevancy of the Gospels in a world facing nuclear conflict. Ellsberg says, "I think there is more interest in world peace as people are feeling war and violence are not just historical, far-away things but that they touch us directly."
Jossey-Bass also is optimistic about the market for these books, as it approaches the topic for the first time with Broken We Kneel: Reflections on Faith and Citizenship by Diana Butler Bass (May). The book examines the potential conflict between Christian beliefs and American citizenship. Sheryl Fullerton, executive editor for the house's Religion-in-Practice program, says, "I thought it was very timely because obviously religion has a huge impact on politics and the way our world is." Also new are Blessed Are the Peacemakers: A Christian Spirituality of Nonviolence by Michael Battle (Mercer University Press, June) and Reasonable Ethics: A Christian Approach to Social, Economic and Political Concerns by Robert Benne (Concordia, Apr.), about how theology can lead to conservative political convictions.
Hail to the Chief
Another surge is in what might be called religious-political memoir or biography, recounting a public figure's blending of religious faith and political action. It comes as no surprise in this election year that religion houses are publishing books about the dovetailing of President Bush's faith and politics. Allegiance Press offers George W. Bush on God and Country: The President Speaks Out on Faith, Principle and Patriotism, a compilation of speeches, statements and writings that reveal Bush's evangelical Christian foundation, edited by Thomas M. Freiling (Feb.). W Publishing has A Man of Faith: The Spiritual Journey of George W. Bush (Apr.) by David Aikman (see InProfile in this issue). Also in the spotlight in this subcategory are the late Senator Paul Simon with 52 Simple Ways to Make a Difference (Augsburg Books, May) and Healing America: The Life of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and the Issues that Shape Our Times by Charles Martin (W Publishing, July). Broadman & Holman examines the activism of another important world leader in Defending Human Dignity: John Paul II and Political Realism by Derek Jeffreys (July).
Mormon political history is illuminated in The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle by Kathleen Flake (UNC Press, Mar.).
Not every activist who's the subject of a book is a household name—and that can be a problem, says Jon Sweeney, editor-in-chief of Skylight Paths. "I think you can market these books only to the extent that you can market these people." Sweeney doesn't foresee a problem in that regard with SkyLight's The Passion for Action: Nine Important Steps Along My Spiritual Journey by Andrew Harvey (Apr.). Harvey, a mystic and activist with a solid following, "is someone you can take to the marketplace," Sweeney says. Brazos feels similarly about its Performing the Faith: Bonhoeffer and the Practice of Nonviolence by Stanley Hauerwas (Apr.), about the perennially relevant martyred World War II German activist. Waterbrook Press has Saving Body and Soul: The Mission of Mary Jo Copeland by Margaret Nelson and Keri Pickett (Sept.), which documents the work of a single woman and her faith-based work among America's poor.
It's a Small World
One of the lessons of September 11 is that global politics is now local politics. That is also true of religion, and publishers tell PW they are producing more books that examine organized religion's role in world politics and society. New books scan the globe from Africa to India, South America to the United States, probing the Christian church's role, responsibility and culpability in events with global impact. Robert Ellsberg of Orbis, which publishes Justice: A Global Adventure by Walter J. Burghardt in June, says this growing interest reflects a broader awakening. "It's not just a matter of understanding our neighbors of other faiths, but there is now a kind of desperate, urgent requirement of global citizenship."
The topic's strength is seen in the variety of houses publishing these books, including academic and religion presses of all stripes. Breaking the Conspiracy of Silence: Christian Churches and the Global AIDS Crisis by Donald E. Messer (Fortress Press, Mar.), calls on churches to do more to combat the epidemic. Genocide in Rwanda: Complicity of the Churches, edited by Carol Rittner, Hubert Locke and John K. Roth (Paragon House, Mar.), released at the 10th anniversary of the slaughter, indicts the Christian churches for not stopping the violence. InterVarsity Press offers Why the Rest Hates the West: Understanding Global Rage by Meic Pearse (June), and Princeton University Press has The Dark Sides of Virtue: Reassessing International Humanitarianism by David Kennedy (May). A historical treatment comes from UNC Press with Rome in America: Transnational Catholic Ideology from the Risorgimento to Fascism by Peter R. D'Agostino (Apr.). This fall Brazos Press will publish Anxious About Empire: Theological Essays on the New Global Realities, edited by Wes Avram. SUNY Press will publish The Twenty-First Century Confronts Its Gods: Globalization, Technology and War, edited by David J. Hawkin, in August.
Engaged Buddhism, which teaches change through nonviolence, has a lot of appeal in today's political climate, says David O'Neal, managing editor of Shambhala Publications. "This is an era of increased political and social activism, and Buddhism has something very interesting to contribute to that," he says. Shambhala's Not Turning Away: The Practice of Engaged Buddhism, edited by Susan Moon (Apr.) outlines examples of engaged Buddhist practice from 25 years of articles in the magazine Turning Wheels. O'Neal says interest in books about Buddhism at work in politics is a logical next step for Americans recently introduced to this Eastern tradition. Also in this category is The Buddhist Visnu: Religious Assimilation, Politics, and Culture by John Holt (Columbia University Press, Dec.), which describes the role of faith in Sri Lankan politics, and America Needs a Buddhist President by Brett Bevell (White Cloud, June).
Books on Islam are not flying off the shelves the way they were just after 9/11, but publishers still report that some titles about Islam are topsellers. New from Harper San Francisco is What's Right with Islam: A New Vision for Muslims and the West by Feisal Abdul Rauf (Apr.). From Pantheon comes Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War and the Roots of Terror by Mahmood Mamdani (Apr.), which theorizes that U.S. support for insurgent groups during the Cold War laid the groundwork for today's terror networks. Being Modern in Iran by Fariba Adelkhah, a study of post-revolutionary Iran, and Islamist Networks: The Afghan-Pakistan Connection by Mariam Abou Zahab and Olivier Roy, about the links between radical networks in those two countries, came out in April from Columbia University Press. On the subject of how Judaism shapes politics is Urim Publications' Men and Women: Gender, Judaism and Democracy, edited by Rachel Elior (Apr.) and Oxford University Press's Jews and the State: Dangerous Alliances and the Perils of Privilege, edited by Ezra Mendelsohn (June).
While there is certainly an ample supply of titles on religion and politics, publishers have learned that achieving sales success with them is another issue. Richard Brown says Georgetown hoped for a broader trade audience for an anthology of writings on the subject it published in 2003, but they were ultimately disappointed. "It is much harder when you take an even-handed approach" rather than advocating one side of a religious-political issue, he says. "That is part of the challenge. But there are serious-minded books about religious issues that do make a breakthrough because they become the books people have to read."