JAN KOK describes a cartoon he posted on the wall of his office:
A pastor is shown in a church, preaching to a congregation of only
two or three - but at the bookstore next door, people are lining up
to get in to buy books on spirituality and religious topics.
"The churches are getting empty, but people go for spiritual
books," says Mr. Kok, director of the publishing arm of the World
Council of Churches in Geneva.
Europe is, to a certain extent, following a trend that has been
evident in the United States for some time: seeking spirituality in
The spirituality trend was only part of the buzz at the
Frankfurt Book Fair, the word's largest, earlier this month.
This year's gathering focused on hot new markets, such as
Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, Asia, and Latin
America. New electronic formats - CD-ROM, interactive video, books
on-line - attracted plenty of attention.
Yet some publishing experts are looking for spirituality to
become an even hotter topic soon.
Europe adds a twist
The spirituality trend, or trend in the making, is playing out
differently in Europe than in the United States. Europe hasn't
experienced the same enthusiasm for books on angels, for instance,
as the US, or for books that might be described as "spiritual
A Scandinavian religious publisher says that some Christian
writers, like best-selling American author Frank Peretti, have not
done well in his part of the world.
But as Kok notes, "When I visit friends who don't go to church,
I see religious books on their coffee tables." He adds however that
he sees "less interest in Christian spirituality, more in New Age."
Some of those books may be there for social rather than
theological reasons. Kok points out that in places like his native
Netherlands, it is the custom to bring flowers or a small gift when
one is invited to the home of friends for dinner. For such an
occasion, a small picture book featuring one of the Psalms, for
instance, could be just right.
Still, "Europe is a place where serious theological books can
get onto the bestseller list," according to Kok. He cites the works
of Eugen Drewermann in Germany, a controversial Roman Catholic
priest who has been, in Kok's term, "corrected" by the Vatican. One
of Drewermann's latest projects is a speaking tour on the life of
the 16th-century Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno, who was burned
at the stake.
And the new Catholic catechism turned out to be a surprise
bestseller in France last year - along with Pope John Paul II's
book, which was a bestseller in many countries. …