Your titles and series emphasize religious scholarship, although that is not the sole focus. As the largest Catholic university press in the world, is there a particularly religious mission to your work?
Harv Humphrey: The University of Notre Dame Press supports the academic mission of the University of Notre Dame by publishing scholarly books for a diverse readership. These publications focus on a wide range of subjects, including philosophy, theology and religion, medieval studies, history, literary criticism, Latin American studies, Latino studies, and poetry and fiction. It is not uncommon for a religious or theological subtext to run through some of our books, but that is not always the case. In fact, that subtext is not always a Catholic or even Christian theme. We also publish books in Jewish and Islamic studies and are looking to enhance the depth of our list in those disciplines.
Looking at some of your award-winning books from over the past few years, one can see a range of topics, from essays on writing to the nature of courage, to history and, of course, religion. What do you look for in a book that is to bear your name?
Our books must pass a rigorous peer review process and be approved by our editorial board composed of scholars from a variety of university departments. After we identify a possible title that fits in one of the fields we publish, we then determine if the book has the exemplary scholarship or creative focus that is necessary to pass our vetting process.
Would you ever publish a work that was anti-religious in nature or advocates an issue that goes against Catholic teachings, such as abortion?
The University of Notre Dame is a place where faith is treasured and diverse traditions shared and respected. As a Catholic university we have an obligation to create an environment where many ideas can be considered, reviewed, and evaluated without prejudice. What the university asks of all its scholars and students, however, is not a particular creedal affiliation, but a respect for the objectives of Notre Dame and a willingness to enter into the conversation that gives it life and character. Therefore, the university insists upon academic freedom that makes open discussion and inquiry possible. As part of the academy, this mission is advanced by the Press in the books we publish.
There are those who think that as a Catholic university our tolerance of certain ideas, and the exploration of those ideas, would be restricted. In fact just the opposite is true. Both the university and the Press are catholic in our consideration of various perspectives in the disciplines we examine.
How do you view the role of university presses in general?
While commercial publishers concentrate on increasing sales by publishing books for general readers, the university press’s mission is to publish work of scholarly, intellectual, or creative merit, often for a small group of specialists or a regional community of interest. A university press is part of its parent institution, and it is also a participant in another system—including learned societies, scholarly organizations, and institutional libraries—that makes the scholarly endeavor possible.
Are university presses under less pressure than private publishers to produce a best seller?
Any press is pleased when one of its books becomes a best seller. We recognize that there are markets and readership that we can serve where certain publications will enjoy broader appeal, while at the same time, we are maintaining the integrity of our primary mission as a publisher of scholarly works.
Name some of the recent books you are most proud of.
One recent book that we are proud of is Miserere Mei: The Penitential Psalms in Late Medieval and Early Modern England by Clare Costley King’oo. This book received the 2012 Book of the Year Award from The Conference on Christianity and Literature and is included in the highly acclaimed ReFormations: Medieval and Early Modern series. Another book that has brought a lot of attention to the Press is The Chapels of Notre Dame by Lawrence S. Cunningham, photographs by Matt Cashore. This book brings to life the university’s most sacred spaces in rich color and story. It captures the centrality and significance of Notre Dame’s chapels in the spiritual life of our campus. And finally, Thomas Pfau’s recently published Minding the Modern: Human Agency, Intellectual Traditions, and Responsible Knowledge is not merely a chapter in the history of ideas; it is a thorough phenomenological and metaphysical study of the roots of today’s predicaments. Three symposia are scheduled about Minding the Modern at the University of Virginia, Northwestern University, and the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study.
Can you give us a peek into what’s coming out in 2014?
This year is the sixty-fifth anniversary of the University of Notre Dame Press and we have some great books in the pipeline. Aspiring to Fullness in a Secular Age examines Charles Taylor’s magisterial A Secular Age, focusing on Taylor’s insights regarding questions of religious experience. Kenneth M. Sayre’s Adventures in Philosophy at Notre Dame is an account about the personalities and ambitions that shaped the Philosophy Department at Notre Dame into one of the most distinguished departments in the world today. And Richard Rankin Russell’s Seamus Heaney’s Regions is a major and original contribution on the work of the beloved poet and 1995 Nobel laureate in literature.