Thursday, May 5, 2011

Theological work and general academic publishers

I recently learned from Tim Furry that the Wiley-Blackwell Challenges in Contemporary Theology series is coming to an end.  Only a day or two later I noticed that Cambridge is also ending its Current Issues in Theology series.

These are pretty significant cuts.  There are certainly many places to publish theological work, but one thing that I take to be important about the Wiley-Blackwell and Cambridge series is that they are well-respected avenues of theological publication, edited by some of the most prominent theologians doing English-language work, and put out by publishers that are not themselves particularly identified with religious or theological work.  That is, they are not like Eerdmans, Fortress, or St. Vladimir's, where the publisher's identity is closely tied to its theology catalogue and anyone working with them is likely invested or conversant in theological or other religious work.  I think that the discipline of theology will be at its healthiest when there are numerous publication options at publishers like Cambridge or Wiley-Blackwell.  Religious houses are of course important and will probably always provide the bulk of our published literature, but a presence amongst the other disciplines in the offerings of general academic publishers is an essential representation for theology to maintain.  Numerous places remain for pursuing this interdisciplinary standard: publishers like Continuum, Ashgate, Routledge, and Oxford (and to a lesser extent Duke, Indiana, Chicago, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, etc.) continue to offer theological work... Cambridge and Wiley-Blackwell will also surely continue to do so despite cutting their respective contemporary theology series (both carry important theological journals, too).  But the cuts are undeniably striking, especially because the editors for these book series are synonymous with a current constructive theological mainstream that seeks to bring theology into its own again and pursue work that is in conversation with, though not merely derivative of, other disciplines.  My concern is that the loss of these series might signal a trend towards theology being published by general academic houses primarily when it is embraced for this relatively weaker relevance of derivative relationships to other fields.

6 comments:

  1. That is extremely disappointing; those are two of the best ongoing series available.

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  2. What Brad said. I've not yet read a book in either of those series' that was not fantastic.

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  3. I can see where a constructive theologian would be worried about this. But historical theologians need not worry: series by Brill, Oxford and Cambridge are all producing and begging for high-quality work, which, mind you, need not neglect contemporary concerns....

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  4. I don't see how these titles were ever interdisiplinary in the way you suggest. I note, for example, the book on Divine Illumination (which aims to be about epistemology) doesn't have any blurbs from epistemologists or neuroscientists. Just theologist-types.

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  5. I don't take the books themselves to be especially interdisciplinary (although some of them are). What I was referring to when I spoke of an "interdisciplinary standard" was the actual situation of being published alongside other disciplines rather than only with other religious or theological titles by a religious publisher. You might almost say it was the interdisciplinarity of the publisher that I had in mind... I take it that it's important for theological work to be present in these places. Certainly simply being published by a general academic house doesn't make any particular title more interactive with other disciplines, but I take it to be valuable in a way that's analogous to a religion department where theology is done within a wider university setting... theology benefits from being present in these departments and not simply in seminaries where a theological or at least religious intention holds across the board.

    That's also not to say that theology is best done in these settings or that theology with an interdisciplinary focus can only be done in these settings. So for readers who work at Baker, Wipf & Stock, Eerdmans, etc., I'm not meaning to say that theological publication needs to be done at Wiley-Blackwell or Cambridge - only that theological discourse as a whole will be more healthy when it is present in general academic houses as well as religious houses.

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  6. Does this mean that the volumes currently only in hardback will not come out in paperback? Do you know? That was the saddest thing, imho, about Radical Orthodoxy in the end - some of the more interesting volumes just ended up costing far too much and were never made available in paperback. Perhaps what we need is a series on constructive theology published by an American press (e.g., Yale or Princeton), as American presses often charge far less than their British counterparts.

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