The American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature held their joint annual meeting in San Antonio, Tex., November 20—23. The meeting drew 8,422 scholars—down from last year's 8,799, the largest ever—and 154 exhibitors, up from 142 in 2003. Attendees were almost universally positive about the San Antonio location, and some publishers expressed gratitude for the foul weather, which kept people indoors.
In addition to being a time-honored draw for the scholars—who crowd the displays to purchase books at 40%—50% discounts—the exhibit allows publishers to lobby for crucial course adoptions, as well as to meet with authors and scout for new projects. The meeting is also a place to key into trends and topics in the academy that are poised to spill over into general trade publishing. Many already have—books on religion and politics or pop culture abounded, along with the standard hot sellers in biblical studies and religion reference.
Although enthusiastic about this year's stellar sales at AAR/SBL, the mood among publishers was subdued, with low-level buzz about what the planned separation of the two meetings in 2008—referred to as the "Big Divorce" by some—will mean. Publishers are bracing themselves for the split—initiated unilaterally in 2003 by AAR—which will have significant financial implications. "I think it's going to hurt the academy, and it's definitely going to hurt the exhibitors, who may not be able to go to both shows," said InterVarsity Press executive director Bob Fryling. "And more importantly, it's going to hurt scholars, who won't be able to go to each other's shows. This will segment the dialogue." Since most of IVP's sales occur with the SBL conference-goers, he said that IVP would maintain a strong presence at both SBL and at the smaller Evangelical Theological Society conference that precedes it. The real question, he noted, was whether IVP would still go to AAR, which will move to an October date. "It'd definitely be a smaller presence, but if the scholars go to AAR in big numbers, we'd be there," he predicted.
Doubleday also plans to attend both shows ("like we need another show to go to," sighed Doubleday Religious editorial director Trace Murphy). Doubleday editor Andrew Corbin echoed the common frustration. "Most of our sales are driven by the SBL," said Corbin. "But we still have plenty of our list with the AAR crowd, especially with the new Three Leaves Press imprint" (a world religions line that Doubleday launched earlier this year).
On with the Show
Still, all was not doom and gloom. At Friday evening's Association of Theological Booksellers banquet, Baker Publishing Group's five-year-old Brazos imprint—with titles in spirituality, pop culture and cultural criticism as well as biblical studies—gained important recognition, garnering the Theologos Publisher of the Year Award, shared this time with six-time winner Eerdmans Publishing. Eerdmans also took awards for Best General Interest Book (Whose Religion Is Christianity?) and Best Children's Book (Clare and Francis). Westminster John Knox was the other big winner, with awards for Best Academic Book (An Introduction to the Old Testament) and Book of the Year (Credo). The American Academy of Religion's own Awards for Excellence went to Santeria Enthroned (Univ. of Chicago), Democracy and Tradition (Princeton Univ.), The Friend (Univ. of Chicago) and Effortless Action (Oxford Univ.).
A Sunday morning session featured Tariq Ramadan delivering the plenary address via live video feed to a crowd of 400. Ramadan (Western Muslims and the Future of Islam; To Be a European Muslim; Islam, the West, and the Challenges of Modernity) is the scholar who was on his way to a teaching post at Notre Dame this summer when his visa was revoked by the Homeland Security Department. AAR and the Middle East Studies Association of North America had sent a formal letter of protest to Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge.
Another well-attended session was "Ask the Experts: Turning the Dissertation into a Marketable 'Scholarly Trade' Book," cosponsored by Publishers Weekly and SBL. A standing-room-only crowd of scholars hoping to duplicate the success of colleagues like Elaine Pagels and John Dominic Crossan heard editors from Oxford, University of North Carolina Press and Continuum, as well as authors Stephanie Wellen Levine and Jim Bennett, offer tips on such topics as how to drop the academic jargon and write for general audiences, how to put together a trade book proposal and whether an agent is needed for the first book (the editors said no, the authors said maybe).