Baylor Professors Among ALA's Top 10 Religion Authors for 2007

October 17, 2007

Media contact: Lori Fogleman, director of media communications, (254) 710-6275

The American Library Association has included the works of two Baylor University professors - The Listening Heart: Vocation and the Crisis of Modern Culture by the late Dr. A.J. "Chip" Conyers and Discovering God: The Origins of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief by Dr. Rodney Stark - in its list of Top 10 Books in Religion for 2007. The list was published in the Oct. 1 edition of ALA's Booklist Magazine.

In addition to books from Conyers and Stark, the Top 10 Religion Books list includes such diverse publications in the field as Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration by Pope Benedict XVI (Doubleday) and God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens (Twelve).

Conyers' Listening Heart was published posthumously in December 2006 by Spence Publishing Co. (A publisher's description of his book is below.) One of the founding faculty members of Baylor's George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Conyers died July 18, 2004, after a long battle with cancer.

"Dr. Conyers knew that this might be his last book," said Dr. David E. Garland, dean of Truett Seminary and The William M. Hinson Professor of Christian Scriptures. "Death was approaching all too rapidly, and the cancer was sapping his strength. With intrepid courage and unwavering dedication, he finished it. It is his last gift to us. It is a lasting witness to his steadfast faith."

Before joining Truett as professor of theology in 1994, Conyers served as chairman of the department of religion and philosophy at Charleston Southern University in South Carolina. He held the A.B. degree from the University of Georgia and earned his master of divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and his doctorate from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

His books include The Eclipse of Heaven: The Loss of Transcendence in Church and Society; A Basic Christian Theology, a theology textbook; The End: What Jesus Really Said About the Last Things; God, Hope, and History: Jurgen Moltmann's Christian Concept of History; The Long Truce: How Toleration Made the World Safe of Power and Profit; and Last Things: The Heart of New Testament Eschatology. His essays appeared in Christian Century, Christianity Today, First Things, Touchstone, Modern Age and Books and Culture, as well as a number of academic journals.

Stark's Discovering God was published this fall by HarperOne. A Booklist reviewer called Stark's latest book "an essential sourcebook" for "serious students of religion" and pointed out, "Skeptics such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett have just lost their monopoly on the topic of religious evolution. Only a believer, Stark asserts, can fathom the origins and subsequent unfolding of the world's great faiths."

Booklist continues, "In this wide-ranging investigation, Stark detects sacred reality--not pious deception--at the heart of transcendent beliefs shared by Aborigines and Anglicans."

A prolific author and renowned scholar in the field of sociology of religion, Stark's books include The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success and CITIES OF GOD: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome.

"Discovering God is another major contribution from Dr. Rodney Stark - in fact his 27th book on sociology of religion," said Dr. Charles M. Tolbert II, professor and chair of the department of sociology at Baylor. "We should not underestimate the impact of such prolific scholarship on Baylor and on Baylor sociology. Rod Stark is at the intellectual core of a rich synergy in the department and in Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion.

"Most importantly, there is a pedagogical side to this synergy," Tolbert added. "Rod's passion for his craft is catching. You can sense it among the students after one of his seminars. They leave with a bit of the passion themselves, energized to tackle a topic of great interest to them. Most will only know Rod Stark as a renowned writer. We at Baylor know him as a master mentor and great teacher."

Stark grew up in Jamestown, N.D., and began his career as a newspaper reporter. Following a tour of duty in the U.S. Army, he earned his doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley.

Stark joined the Baylor faculty in 2004 as University Professor of the Social Sciences and co-director of Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion. He previously served as professor of sociology and of comparative religion at the University of Washington and as a research sociologist at the Survey Research Center and the Center for the Study of Law and Society at Berkeley.

Stark is past president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and the Association for the Sociology of Religion and was founding editor of the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion. He also has won a number of national and international awards for distinguished scholarship.

For more than a century, Booklist magazine has helped more readers find more titles than any other publication. Published by the American Library Association, Booklist magazine delivers more than 8,000 recommended-only reviews of books, audiobooks, reference sources, video and DVD titles each year. Spotlight issues provide coverage on popular genres, topics and themes such as biography, young adult, multicultural literature, graphic novels, romance, sports and much more. Booklist provides full coverage of the prestigious ALA award winners, the annual Editor's Choice and Top of the List issue, ALA Notables and other "best" lists.

"Booklist magazine is one of, if not the premiere English language selection tool used by librarians across the country and around the world," said Bill Hair, associate dean and director of University Libraries at Baylor. "Booklist is published by the American Library Association, whose more than 67,000 members make it the largest and most influential library organization in the world. What a tremendous honor for Baylor University to have the books of two Baylor professors selected for inclusion in the list of Top 10 Religion Books of 2007. In fact, this year so many outstanding books on religion were published that an additional criterion was added to winnow the list down to 10. The result yields 10 books, Conyers' and Stark's among them, that are both 'large in scope and ideas.'"

American Library Association
Booklist Magazine
Oct. 1, 2007

Discovering God: The Origins of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief by Rodney Stark, HarperOne.

Evolving God: A Provocative View on the Origins of Religion by Barbara J. King, Doubleday.

God's Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis by Philip Jenkins, Oxford.

God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens, Twelve.

Head and Heart: American Christianities by Garry Wills, Penguin.

The Heirs of Muhammad: Islam's First Century and the Origins of the Sunni-Shia Schism by Barnaby Rogerson, Overlook.

Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration by Pope Benedict XVI, Doubleday.

The Listening Heart: Vocation and the Crisis of Modern Culture by A. J. Conyers, Spence Publishing.

Peace Be Upon You: The Story of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Coexistence by Zachary Karabell, Knopf.

Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--and Doesn't by Stephen Prothero, HarperOne.

Publisher's Book Descriptions:

The Listening Heart: Vocation and the Crisis of Modern Culture by A.J. Conyers (Spence Publishing, 2006)

A culture built upon the ideology of individual choice will be culture of alienation, loneliness, and violence. In a provocative new book, A. J. Conyers shows that Western culture was once informed by a sense of vocation, that men understood life as a response to a call from outside and above themselves. Beginning in the 16th century, however, the sense of vocation began to fade, to be replaced by the modern celebration of the unfettered human will. In such a society, Conyers argues, where relations among men are based on force, true community is impossible.

The idea of vocation is of central importance in the Judeo-Christian tradition, of course, but Conyers shows how it has shaped non-Western societies as well. In every tradition, the divine call to which men respond is usually both arduous and contrary to their own will. When men's responsibility to the One who calls them is replaced by the cult of choice for its own sake, the ties of family, church, clan--the ties of affection that constitute real community--are dissolved. Society is organized but not organic, obsessed with a radical equality that reduces men to interchangeability. In the culture of choice, there is only the individual and the omnipotent state.

In a stunning insight, Conyers shows that the quintessential institution of modernity is slavery, for the slave is the ultimate autonomous individual. Stripped of every human tie, he belongs to no community but to a stranger. It is no accident, then, that the rise of modern slavery coincided with the Enlightenment itself.

This wide-ranging study, refreshingly free of sentimentality, makes the barbarism and unparalleled violence of the twentieth century explicable. For a society that casts off the burden of vocation abandons that which makes it human.

Discovering God: The Origins of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief by Rodney Stark (HarperOne, 2007)

Discovering God is a monumental history of the origins of the great religions from the Stone Age to the Modern Age. Sociologist Rodney Stark surveys the birth and growth of religions around the world--from the prehistoric era of primal beliefs; the history of the pyramids found in Iraq, Egypt, Mexico, and Cambodia; and the great "Axial Age" of Plato, Zoroaster, Confucius, and the Buddha, to the modern Christian missions and the global spread of Islam. He argues for a free-market theory of religion and for the controversial thesis that under the best, unimpeded conditions, the true, most authentic religions will survive and thrive. Among his many conclusions:

  • ? Despite decades of faulty reports that early religions were crude muddles of superstition, it turns out that primitive humans had surprisingly sophisticated notions about God and Creation.
    ? The idea of "sin" appeared suddenly in the sixth century BCE and quickly reshaped religious ideas from Europe to China.
    ? Some major world religions seem to lack any plausible traces of divine inspiration.
    ? Ironically, some famous figures who attempted to found "Godless" religions ended up being worshiped as Gods.

Most people believe in the existence of God (or Gods), and this has apparently been so throughout human history. Many modern biologists and psychologists reject these spiritual ideas, especially those about the existence of God, as delusional. They claim that religion is a primitive survival mechanism that should have been discarded as humans evolved beyond the stage where belief in God served any useful purpose--that in modern societies, faith is a misleading crutch and an impediment to reason. In Discovering God, award-winning sociologist Rodney Stark responds to this position, arguing that it is our capacity to understand God that has evolved--that humans now know much more about God than they did in ancient times.