Rounding out a long Saturday, I attended the Forum on Sports and Religion: Perspectives on the Pigskin, sponsored in part by Mercer University Press. The panelists included Joseph Price from Whittier College, Greg Sapp from Stetson University, Christopher Anderson from Drew University, Marc Jolley, director of Mercer University Press, Craig A. Forney from Arizona State University, and Eric Bain-Selbo from Western Kentucky University. This was by far the most promising session of the conference for me. Unfortunately, while the forum offered great contacts for further discussion/collaboration, the discussion within the forum just scratched the surface of a deep, yet youthful topic, perhaps due in part to the logistics of the forum itself.
Each panelist briefly discussed their interests and current research, all the while playfully insulting one anothers’ favorite team or alma mater, and then fielded questions from an audience of about 25 people. Topics of interest ranged from research into late 1800s/early 1900s Methodist colleges’ athletic programs to the social context of sports teams and its influence on sport as representative of civil religion. Joe Price, a pioneer in the field, discussed the use of religious language to inspire players or to reflect on a win. Greg Sapp talked about a fan’s association with a team as, in part, a determinant of self-worth. Marc Jolley discussed how and when football surpassed baseball as the powerhouse sport in American culture. Craig Forney researches the location of sports and its influence on American civil religion. Eric Bain-Selbo questions football as the new opiate of the masses and also researches the links between the South’s cultural/military history to its emphasis on football superiority as a compensating factor. Christopher Anderson is a research librarian at Drew University and the librarian for the Methodist Church, so his interests obviously lie in the early 1900s Methodist college athletic programs.
The most promising points in the forum are the on-going conferences about religion and sport at York Univeristy in York, England, and at St. Olaf University. Furthermore, a new journal will release in the summer of 2008 called The Journal of Religion and Sport, with an editorial board composed of members from seven different countries with extreme interest from the United Kingdom. The forum was sponsored by Mercer University Press which also publishes a sports and religion book series that includes, so far, these titles:
- From Season to Season: Sports as American Religion, edited by Joseph L. Price
- The Great God Baseball: Religion in Modern Baseball Fiction, by Allen E. Hye
- An Unholy Alliance: The Sacred and Modern Sports, by Robert J. Higgs and Michael C. Braswell
- Safe at Home: A Memoir of God, Baseball, and Family, by Marc A. Jolley
- Rounding the Bases: Baseball and Religion in America, by Joseph L. Price
- The Holy Trinity of American Sports: Civil Religion in Football, Baseball, and Basketball, by Craig A. Forney
I certainly look forward to more work in this emerging field.