UNC Press is pleased to announce a new partnership with the Association for Public Religion and Intellectual Life on the publication CrossCurrents. The journal complements numerous areas of the Press’s book program such as religious studies, human rights, and social justice. Starting in 2021, CrossCurrents will be available from UNC Press to individuals who become APRIL members and to institutions. S. Brent Plate, who will be serving as editor after the retirement of Charles Henderson, discusses the journal and its network of scholars and writers.
CrossCurrents has been published since 1950, and published by the Association for Religion and Intellectual Life (ARIL) since 1990—that’s quite a run. Can you tell us about how it started and how it has evolved through the years?
SBRP: CrossCurrents was founded by Joseph Cunneen. He’d been a soldier in Patton’s 3rd army and after the war was stationed in Paris. While there, he soaked up the intellectual climate and wondered why so few European religious intellectual ideas were reaching the United States. When he returned to the U.S. he began working toward what would become CrossCurrents, with the first issue being published in Fall of 1950. In that issue the editorial statement read, “our primary function will be to reprint outstanding articles from foreign and out-of-the-way sources that indicate the relevance of religion to the intellectual life.”
While Cunneen was Catholic, his interests and the interests of the journal were ecumenical, and they quickly began publishing work from Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish perspectives. The journal retained a largely Jewish and Christian orientation through the 1980s when we began to see more Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim voices and outlooks. Since around 1990, when ARIL became the publisher, CrossCurrents has become much more broadly interreligious.
Significantly too, the journal moved away from its European intellectual heritage, and started looking at what is going on in Asia and the Americas, as well as paying more attention to gender and social justice issues. CrossCurrents published a good deal of early feminist theology, beginning in the 1960s with Rosemary Radford Ruether’s writings, and the focus on gender has continued through today, including work on masculinity/men’s studies and religion.
In 1969, just a few months after Catholic theologians and clergy met in Medellin, Colombia, David Abalos worked through the documents and gave one of the first ever English-language summaries of what became the start of Liberation Theology. By the early 1970s, we had published works by several of the key Latin American theologians in the movement. The 1970s also saw a number of publications in black theology (we’re reprinting James Cones’s “Black Church and Black Theology” in the first issue of The Commons) and the beginnings of eco-theology and concerns for the environment.
Over the past twenty years CrossCurrents has published special issues on interreligious education and dialogue, sexuality and LGBTQ issues, poetics and aesthetics, religion and science, and religion and politics.
We take a “big tent” approach to the ways religious life meets the publics! And our new editorial team reflects that. Our new associate editors—Melanie Barbato, Amanullah de Sondy, Tim Beal, and Stephanie Mitchem—are connected with a variety of scholarly and public endeavors around the world.
ARIL is changing its name to the Association for Public Religion and Intellectual Life (APRIL) starting in 2021. Can you tell us about that change and what it signals for you as an organization?
SBRP: For a few decades now, we’ve already been connecting with various “publics,” especially in the areas of education, activism, and the arts. In a sense, we’re just naming what’s already been in our agenda for years. Our network includes activists engaged with social justice issues, educators, artists, clergy and laypeople.
On the other hand, the clear foregrounding of the “public” in our name indicates the directions we are moving as we continue to find ways religion meets the public. We’re trying to indicate the breadth of ways this can happen. Connecting to the “public” does not only mean dealing with politics and policy. That may be part of it, but religion meets the public in all kinds of cultural and social ways that have nothing to do with official politics.
One of the ways we aim to help indicate this is by bringing on two “Cultural Connections Editors” to the journal, Rosalind Flynn Hinton and Hussein Rashid. They’ll oversee some book reviews—as a traditional scholarly journal might—but they’re also working to get reports on current scholarly and activist projects, reviews of museum exhibitions, and possibly even some film and television reviews.
And we’re also launching The Commons, which I’ll talk about in a minute.
Who do you see as the journal’s audience?
SBRP: As just noted, we’ve got a wide range of people we connect with: religious clergy and laypeople, activists and artists, academics and public intellectuals.
Both through the journal and the online Commons, we’re hoping to be a resource to each of those groups, to show the “cross currents” going on between these various nodes of the network. We strive to show why the arts are important in the midst of interreligious dialogue, why interreligious dialogue is crucial to social justice, why social justice is indispensable to education, and why education is a vital part of public life. By highlighting these currents, we help to fill some of the gaps between groups.
You’ve had some interesting contributors to the journal through the years. Who are some of the writers the journal has published?
SBRP: The journal’s archive is a who’s who of great religious thinkers through the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century!
The first two decades included essays by leading Jewish and Christian thinkers including Martin Buber, Karl Barth, Hannah Arendt, Paul Tillich, Nicolai Berdyaev, Teilhard de Chardin, Simone Weil, Abraham Heschel, Paul Ricoeur, and Emil Brunner. A browse through late twentieth-century contributors show the range of work we’ve published: the archaeologist W.F. Albright, the visual artist Junko Chodos, the media theorist Walter J. Ong, the sociologist Robert Wuthnow, the poet Denise Levertov, and the ecological essayist Wendell Berry.
As mentioned already, we published many of the Latin American Liberation Theologians, such as Gustavo Gutierrez, Leonardo Boff, and Jon Sobrino. And we also published a number of major Latin American thinkers, including Archbishop Oscar Romero, Eduardo Galleano, and Paolo Freire.
In the last thirty years we’ve published Muslim intellectuals such as Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Farid Esack, writers from South Asian traditions such as Varun Soni and Pravrajika Vrajaprana, leading feminist scholars such as Elizabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza, Rita Gross, and Judith Plaskow, and we have continued to publish thinkers in African-American traditions such as James Cone, C. Eric Lincoln, and Cornel West.
I could go on and on, but check out our archives.
Tell us about some of the issues coming out in 2021 and beyond.
2021 has a lineup of special issues, including a collection on “Jewish Objects, Jewish Affect,” and another on the “Spirituality of Parenting.” We’ll run at least one issue made up of submissions to the journal. After some years of relying mainly on special issues, we are beginning to push for more unsolicited submissions.
You have a new website with some nice features on it, such as the Commons. What kind of content can people can find there?
APRIL has needed a new website for some time and we’re thrilled to be launching AprilOnline.org as of December 1, 2020. We’ll have access to CrossCurrents, soon including tables of contents of the past two decades, links to subscriptions, and some occasional reprints.
The website also includes our brand new project The Commons. This is very exciting for us, as it fits so well with our new emphasis on the public. The Commons is a fully open access, online magazine that will showcase the many ways religion meets the public. We’ll include photo essays from artists, interviews with educators and activists, essays by leading writers and public figures, and creative essays from a variety of people.
You’ll also be able to find information about our summer colloquium.
Do you have plans for the annual colloquium to return once we are out of the pandemic?
Yes! We are beginning planning for July 2021. We are being cautiously optimistic about the possibility. We had to cancel the 2020 colloquium, and will be carrying over the theme from this past year: “Oppressions and Repair.” This includes a range of foci: the criminal justice system; reparations regarding slavery and native genocide and land theft; repair of the earth in the face of environmental racism; distributive justice around economic inequality and work for equity; and other modes of oppression.
And while we’ve run the colloquium in New York City for the past 20+ years, we are beginning to look toward partnering with other institutions in other places. Check back on the website for that, or better, sign up for our newsletter!