The rise of public intellectuals in religion and the financial challenges of technology are changing the nature of scholarly religious publishing, according to Publishers Weekly’s Religion Update (November 20).
Academic publishers’ traditionally issuing monographs on specialty subjects are facing decreasing library budgets and less demand for class texts (due to professors using reading packets) as well as the transition to the uncertain world of electronic publishing. One publisher predicts that the shrinking market will mean a significant reduction in the number of academic publishers, either through merger or death.
At the same time, scholars are facing new pressure from sales-hungry publishers to write for general audiences, “a task (often involving writing in a personal style) their training has ill equipped them for,” writes Lynn Garrett. The pressure has come from the success of recent academic books finding a popular audience by such “public intellectuals” as Elaine Pagels and Karen Armstrong. The growing realization of the importance of religion in the modern world, especially in politics and international affairs, has broken down the divisions between academic disciplines.
This is taking place as interdisciplinary books are also figuring in the business strategies of publishers, Garret writes. Academic publishers in religion have lagged behind those in the sciences and languages in moving beyond print into electronic publishing. The growth of blogs and “thousands of small affinity groups” on religion on the Internet will generate new publications. “Top-down religious authorities will increasingly find themselves in dynamic negotiation with bottom-up religious populism,” says one publisher.