Sponsored in part by book publishers, the nation’s professional religion journalists gathered for their 63rd annual conference Oct. 4-6 in Bethesda, Md., where they heard authors, data meisters, and political campaign representatives offer numbers, analysis, and story ideas. The 2012 conference, likely because of its location in the metro Washington, D.C., area, was bigger than last year’s, with a total attendance of 267 that included 175 attendees as well as speakers and exhibitors.
The upcoming election was the topic du jour: the Romney and Obama campaigns both sent representatives to discuss faith outreach, and analysts from the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which has been following nine battleground states in the 2012 campaign, presented polling data on American values. But prominent authors with new books also got their share of time and attention.
Zondervan brought John Ortberg, author of Who Is This Man? The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus (Aug.), who pointed out at an evening cocktail reception that the ranks of Jesus followers included Dom Perignon, the man who improved the quality of Champagne. Over breakfast, Stephen Prothero, author of The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation (HarperOne, May)--which collects foundational American texts and commentary on them--likened his book to an American Talmud that demonstrates civic debate has been longstanding. “Our great thinkers model how to engage in public argument,” said Prothero, a scholar who is frequently quoted on religion and public life.
In the exhibitor area, WaterBrook/Multnomah/Image was touting its top titles for fall, among them Unstoppable by Nick Vujicic (WaterBrook, Oct.). Vujicic is an Australian motivational speaker who was born limbless; the California resident has an international following and recently did a taping with Oprah Winfrey, said Johanna Inwood, marketing manager for the publisher. HarperOne’s spring list will include an e-book-only title, Meeting Jesus By the Sea: An E-Retreat with James Martin, the bestselling Jesuit author (Between Heaven and Mirth), as well as Rob Bell’s newest, What We Talk about When We Talk about God (March).
Bell’s agent Christopher Ferebee was on a panel about publishing with PW’ s Marcia Nelson and Chris Cillizza, author of The Gospel According to The Fix (Broadway, July), based on Cillizza’s political blog The Fix for the Washington Post. The panel’s takeaway: have some “throw weight” on social media to let publishers know you’ve got content and a following; e-books are hot and e-book only is very hot, being quick to write and market and niche-oriented; and publishing is changing faster than ever, a mark of dizzying technological change and vitality.
Other topics that religion journalists will mull, possibly in book-length ways, post-election:
The “nones”--people who say their religion is “nothing in particular”--are at critical mass, with roughly a third of the population under 30 saying they have no religion, according to new data from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. “There are vast implications for this change in American society,” said John Green, senior research adviser for the Pew Forum.
Young evangelicals--Contemporary evangelicalism has yielded a second generation of young American evangelical Christians who don’t resemble their parents in important ways. They are more independent in political party affiliation, more liberal on the issue of gay marriage, and more populist on economic issues. Some of them are hanging out at a new social networking hub, faithvillage.com, which offers community, content, and channels for virtual faith experiences.
Next year’s RNA conference will be held in Austin, Tex., September 26-28.