Tag Archive | America

Christian Minister ‘bored’ by the ‘bland majority’

I have just read the following ‘reflection’ from Lillian Daniel, the senior minister of the First Congregational Church, UCC, Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Have a read of it yourself and try and guess what might have got my heckles up:

Spiritual but Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me.

August 31, 2011

Matthew 16:18

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

Reflection by Lillian Daniel

On airplanes, I dread the conversation with the person who finds out I am a minister and wants to use the flight time to explain to me that he is “spiritual but not religious.” Such a person will always share this as if it is some kind of daring insight, unique to him, bold in its rebellion against the religious status quo.

Next thing you know, he’s telling me that he finds God in the sunsets. These people always find God in the sunsets. And in walks on the beach. Sometimes I think these people never leave the beach or the mountains, what with all the communing with God they do on hilltops, hiking trails and . . . did I mention the beach at sunset yet?

Like people who go to church don’t see God in the sunset! Like we are these monastic little hermits who never leave the church building. How lucky we are to have these geniuses inform us that God is in nature. As if we don’t hear that in the psalms, the creation stories and throughout our deep tradition.

Being privately spiritual but not religious just doesn’t interest me. There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself.

Thank you for sharing, spiritual but not religious sunset person. You are now comfortably in the norm for self-centered American culture, right smack in the bland majority of people who find ancient religions dull but find themselves uniquely fascinating. Can I switch seats now and sit next to someone who has been shaped by a mighty cloud of witnesses instead? Can I spend my time talking to someone brave enough to encounter God in a real human community?  Because when this flight gets choppy, that’s who I want by my side, holding my hand, saying a prayer and simply putting up with me, just like we try to do in church.


Dear God, thank you for creating us in your image and not the other way around. Amen.

As someone who studies religion, this is admittedly a similar conversation that I dread (however, I have yet to have this conversation on a plane – maybe this only happens in the US). My current conversation runs as follows:

– What do you study?

– Religious Studies

– Oh, so you want to be a priest, or a Religious Education teacher?

– <Sigh>. Religious Studies is not the same as Theology. Religious Studies is a social science. It makes no comment on the truth claims of religious individuals or institutions, but considers all people and their ‘beliefs’ worthy of study. For instance, I have written a lot about contemporary atheism, and I currently study the nonreligious from the perspective of Religious Studies and would generally advocate a movement away from labeling individuals as ‘religious’ or ‘nonreligious’ as in almost every case, both labels can be shown to be inaccurate, and they don’t tell us very much about what being (non)religious might mean to that individual.

– So, you want to be the new Richard Dawkins then?

– <Sigh> Did you listen to anything I just said?

However, this was not the same conversation Lillian Daniels purports to have encountered.  I’m not going to get into whether or not her beliefs are more valid than those of the man on the plane. However, it is interesting to see how Daniels labels this gentleman as part of the ‘bland majority of people’, whilst seeing herself as part of a ‘real human community’. I am curious to know:

  • how she defines real;
  • what gives her a right to make this assertion;
  • and how she feels that making this sarcastic diatribe will encourage individuals like this gentleman to decide that he actually wants to do as she presumably wishes and join her church…

Maybe I am getting the wrong impression here, but it seems that Daniels does not want individuals like this to be part of her ‘brave’ community. If so, why does she bother trying to engage with them online? Perhaps this is because her community would become the ‘bland majority’ if it were, in fact, the majority. Perhaps it is because her worldview is threatened by individualism. I find it personally encouraging, however, to see the leader of a mainline Protestant institution exhibiting the same tendency to sarcasm and ridicule as the rest of the ‘bland majority’.

Most importantly, however, this is a prime example of someone defining their terms to suit their own agenda. As I have just been discussing with my friend Suzanne, this is all about power… Daniels is defining her sort of belief as worthy of attention and engagement, but the beliefs of others as bland, boring and unworthy. This unjustified behaviour is one of the main objections I have to inter-faith dialogue (although I see many positives as well): groups of ‘religious’ individuals get together and talk politely about what they believe, all the time acknowledging that whilst they may have nothing else in common, at least they are ‘brave’ enough to believe in ‘something’ and belong to a ‘tradition’. This is a prime example of the Western Christianised bias to see religion as being a ‘monogamous’ commitment to some established tradition, which does not scan with non-Western traditions, and with the scene portrayed by the 21st century world at large.

We mustn’t commit the faux pas of tarring an institution, movement or group of individuals with the same brush as their leaders. However, blandness is fine by me :)

The Day the World Changed – Conversation – Edinburgh


Saturday 27 August, 9.30am – 10.30am

St John’s Church (Venue 127), Edinburgh

As we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11 what is the legacy of that day and the conflict which ensued? Is the predicted ‘clash of civilisations’ being played out? We welcome Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, founder of the Cordoba Initiative in Manhattan and visionary leader of the so-called ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ – who was at the eye of the storm last September as US public opinion wrestled with the bitterness of 9/11, the threatened burning of the Quran, overseas wars in Muslim countries and growing Islamophobia at home. Can the US exorcise the ghosts of 9/11? In conversation withProfessor Hugh Goddard from the Alwaleed network of centres promoting mutual understanding between the World of Islam and the West.

In partnership with the Prince Alwaleed Centre for the Study of Islam in the Contemporary World at the University of Edinburgh. www.alwaleed.ed.ac.uk

 For further details and tickets:  www.festivalofspirituality.org.uk

A dark and turbulent sea of despair stretches endlessly ahead…

Just came across the following nice bit of fundamentalism, and thought I’d share.

“We have come into an electronic dark age, in which the new pagan hordes, with all the pwer of technology at their command, are on the verge of obliterating the last strongholds of civilised humanity. A vision of death lies before us. As we leave the shores of Christian western man behind, only a dark and turbulent sea of despair stretches endlessly ahead… unless we fight!” From Francis Schaeffer, Time for Anger (1982:122)

In Castells, Manuel. 1997. The Power of Identity – Volume 2: The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture. Vol. 2. 3 vols. Oxford: Blackwell, p. 21.

Apparently, “Francis Shaeffer is one of the leading inspirations of contemporary American Christian fundamentalism. His Christian Manifesto, published in 1981, shortly after his death, was the most influential pamphlet in the 1980s’ anti-abortion movement in America.” (ibid:21fn)

One wonders what he would have to say about the situation 30 years on?

Christopher Hitchens, Douglas Adams and George Orwell on Cups of Tea

This morning, I had the pleasure of coming across an article on Slate, written by world famous atheist Christopher Hitchens, on “How To Make a Decent Cup of Tea” (inspired, in part by George Orwell’s 1946 “A Nice Cup of Tea“). It was a thoroughly entertaining read, and certainly told me a few things I didn’t know about the idiosyncrasies of the British tea-drinker.

Particularly humourous passages include the following, regarding his disdain for the way tea is served in his now-native United States:

“It’s quite common to be served a cup or a pot of water, well off the boil, with the tea bags lying on an adjacent cold plate. Then comes the ridiculous business of pouring the tepid water, dunking the bag until some change in color occurs, and eventually finding some way of disposing of the resulting and dispiriting tampon surrogate.”

And his ridicule of the standards set by our (Brits) second favourite hot beverage… the wonderful coffee!

“Until relatively few years ago, practically anything hot and blackish or brackish could be sold in America under the name of coffee. It managed both to be extremely weak and extremely bitter, and it was frequently at boiling point, though it had no call to be. (I use the past tense, though there are many places where this is still true, and it explains why free refills can be offered without compunction.) At least in major cities, consumers now have a better idea how to stick up for themselves, often to an irksome degree, as we know from standing behind people who are too precise about their latte, or whatever it’s called.”

Upon singing the praises of this article, my friend Alex chipped in with “I see your Hitchens and raise you Adams”, and directed me to the following article on Douglas Adams’ love of “A Proper Cup of Tea“. Another entertaining read, filled with a similar disdain for the typical American tea-making ability.

However, whilst these two idols (appropriate choice of words, no?) of mine seem to agree on most points regarding tea-making, there is one major point of contention. Adams writes:

“Some people will tell you that you shouldn’t have milk with Earl Grey, just a slice of lemon. Screw them. I like it with milk. If you think you will like it with milk, then it’s probably best to put some milk into the bottom of the cup before you pour in the tea. If you pour milk into a cup of hot tea, you will scald the milk.”

However, Hitchens writes:

“If you use milk, use the least creamy type or the tea will acquire a sickly taste. And do not put the milk in the cup first—family feuds have lasted generations over this—because you will almost certainly put in too much. Add it later, and be very careful when you pour.”

Clearly taking his cue from Orwell, who wrote:

“One should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.”

What are we to do? What am I to think? My family always put milk in the cup first… I always put the milk in after. But then I am a heathen and make my tea with a teabag in the mug. Oh the dramas which occupy our middle-class lives, eh?

I think in this, as in all other tea related matters, I shall defer to my dear friend and unassailable expert tea-drinker, Samuel. Perhaps I shall invite him to respond to these three literary greats. [UPDATE: In fact, I did… you can read his response here.]

Samuel ensured that we all had a constant supply of tea during the "get in" for a production of "The Mikado"

Looking through Orwell’s 11 “outstanding points” on tea, I would emphatically agree with the following:

“Tea should be made in small quantities — that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.”

I don’t think I have EVER had a good cup of tea that has come out of an urn… cafeterias and burger vans take note.

However, I think he is being somewhat harsh when he pens:

“Tea — unless one is drinking it in the Russian style — should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tealover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.”

Drinking tea with sugar was certainly something that I grew out of a long time ago, though it was only thanks to tea with lashings of sugar at my Grannie’s that allowed me to appreciate tea in the first place. However, sugar in a nice cup of Chai Tea rarely goes amiss… and you can’t beat some Peppermint Tea and Honey… although Orwell wouldn’t have approved: “there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it” – I think I would disagree on the optimism part!

The secret to getting elected? A proclamation of faith and a libel suit!

“In the 2008 North Carolina senate race, incumbent Elizabeth Dole accused her Democratic opponent Kay Hagen of being an atheist. This last ditch effort, however, failed to persuade votes to abandon Hagen, the contest’s eventual winner. Like the residents in the union’s others states, North Carolinians simply could not conceive of a nonreligious public figure and simply scoffed at the allegation. Hagen quickly responded with a proclamation of faith and a libel suit. She then charged Dole of wilfully breaking the ninth commandment (thou shalt not bear false witness). Few people considered the fact that unbelief is not a crime, and despite what former presidents have uttered [i.e. George Bush Snr.], atheism is not implicitly unpatriotic. In eighteenth-century New England, women confessed to cavorting with the devil in order to avoid execution on charges of witchcraft; in twentieth-century America, charges and counter-charges of “communist” destroyed careers and ruined lives. With the rise of the Christian Right in the post-Cold War world, the accusation of atheism holds the same power as these earlier scare tactics in its ability to send public figures scrambling for religious cover. Despite a shared past filled with the good words and deeds of nonbelievers, Americans cling to a myth of unimpeachable religio[sity] from the first colony to the “end times.” To question the veracity of this myth is tantamount to resigning from public life. Those who do not heed this advice, such as Thomas Morton, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Robert Ingersoll, find themselves in the dustbin of history.”

Cady, Daniel. 2010. Freethinkers and Hell Raisers: The Brief History of American Atheism and Secularism. In Atheism and Secularity – Volume 1: Issues, Concepts and Definitions, ed. Phil Zuckerman, 229-249. Santa Barbara: Praeger, p. 247.

And this from a country with the following in Article VI of its constitution?

Article VI: “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” (my italics)”

Cited in Fitzgerald, Timothy, 2007. Discourse on Civility and Barbarity: A Critical History of Religion and Related Categories. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 284.

“No religious test” my arse!

The Need to Dissolve the Religion/Secular Dichotomy

A massive, thought-provoking quotation from Timothy Fitzgerald, with which I couldn’t agree more:

“From our own postcolonial standpoint, it should be easier for us to question the idea that, whereas other, less-advanced peoples are permeated with ritualism and therefore with a ‘religious’ worldview, we in Anglophone cultures do not ‘do’ ritual, except minimally in church. I ask, rhetorically, but with serious theoretical intent, why should the legal procedures and taboos surrounding our courts and ideals of justice, our separation of the branches of government, our concept of private property, the practices of the stock exchange and the capital markets, the traditions of the civil services, be considered ‘nonreligious’, but the practices of divination, or the Islamic Shari’a, or the generic potlatch of various indigenous American peoples, or Buddhist meditation be assigned to the ‘religion’ basket? Why are transcendental values such as the belief in progress, or individualism, or nationalism, or the democratic virtues of ‘freedom’ and ‘equality’, the practice of secret ballots and elections of governments, which many millions of people died to establish and institutionalise, not included in books on ‘religion’? Why should state institutions that defend the freedom of Americans such as the Pentagon, the White House, and the Congress be treated as nonreligious rather than ‘religious’ or ritual institutions? Is the queen of England, who is supposedly head of a secular state, but who is also the head of a national religion, to be treated as a religious or a secular functionary? Is the raising and lowering of a national flag of religious or secular significance? It seems we are trapped by language when we consider these issues. For, arguably, they are all both religious and secular, and in that sense neither, for they undercut this grand dichotomy. We need to dissolve these reified binaries if a new paradigm is to have a chance to get articulated in public discourse.”

Fitzgerald, Timothy, 2007. Discourse on Civility and Barbarity: A Critical History of Religion and Related Categories. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 38.

Just how religious is “sport”?

Whether one assumes that religion’s influence on society is declining, or is as strong as it has ever been, none can doubt that “throughout history, religion has had significant influence on the way sports have been organised, diffused, ameliorated or suppressed” (Peiser, 2000:321). Due to natural preconceptions “it would normally be assumed there is little, if any, relationship between sport and religion” in the modern world (Slusher, 1976:380), however, Shirl Hoffman plainly states: “wherever sport is played at high levels, one invariably finds traces of religion. […Likewise, in] the organised church, sport is likely to lurk in the shadows” (1992b:vii).

I aim to show that sport in the modern West can reflect religious motives and/or take place in a religious context, but that this is highly subjective, and by no means allows sport to be considered as religion.

After briefly considering the religious origins of sport (specifically the ancient Olympic Games [Olympics]), I focus upon two key themes: ways in which sport can be seen to function as a religion; and ways in which it utilises ritual. Another area worth mentioning is the contemporary and historical promotion and utilisation of sport by Christianity[1], however this shall only be considered in passing. Due to the nature of the question addressed, it is likely that within this context, “religion” will become almost synonymous with “Christianity”, and that the focus shall mostly be directed towards the relationship between men, religion and sport[2].

FC Barcelona

Sport and religion have a long and well-documented history. Scholars have considered the ball games of the Mayans and Aztecs as “religious sports” (Guttmann, 1992:145), acknowledged the “obvious” ritual connections of sumo wrestling (Sansone, 1988:23) and concluded that “for more than 3000 years, ancient sports and sport cults […] were integral to Greek, Roman and near Eastern religions” (Peiser, 2000:321).

Whilst the first Olympics were “by no means the beginning of Greek athletics,” they are seen as the point where Western civilisations began “to produce some degree of organisation in a game” (Harris, 1972:15), and are thus an appropriate case study for the religious origins of sport. There is ample evidence that the Olympics were held “in honour of the gods,” particularly Zeus (Sansone, 1988:23; Novak, 1992:35): “those who took part did so in order to serve the god and the prizes which they won came from a god” (Harris, 1964:36); the timing of the games “was carefully determined in accordance with strict observance of ritual propriety” (Sansone, 1988:23; cf. Guttmann, 1992:147); women were (almost entirely) excluded because of the games’ sacred nature (ibid); and, “according to most accounts, the fifth and last day [of the games] was devoted entirely to religious ceremony” (ibid).

Although some would conclude from this that “the religious character of the [Olympics] was never in doubt” (ibid), this position is not the consensus. In the West, the occurrence of sporting events on Sundays or “religious” holidays is largely due to the time commitments of the populace – might it not be the case that “in earlier societies […] the connection between the two was [also] only superficial” (Sansone, 1988:24 cf. Harris, 1972:17)? A.H. Harris describes how the Greeks assumed that “what gave pleasure to themselves – music, drama or sport – would equally be gratifying to the gods”, and how the large crowds gathering for religious festivals would guarantee spectators for the games (ibid:16). He also highlights how the steps of Apollo’s temple at Didyma “provided admirable accommodation for [sports] spectators” (ibid:19). These observations suggest pragmatism on behalf of the ancient Greeks, seeking to combine two major social occasions. And even if religious status is granted to the ancient Olympics, some contend that “track and field events such as running and throwing are virtually direct descendants of our ancestors’ chase of prey” (Cashmore, 1996:48-9), which suggests that athletics cannot be considered to have “religious” origins. However, it is significant that “Christians were uncompromising in their attitude towards [what they perceived as] pagan contests and spectacles”, resulting in the outlawing of the Olympics at the end of the fourth century CE – clearly they were seen in religious terms. These brief observations indicate that there is great variety of opinion amongst scholars regarding the religious origins and significance of the Olympics. When turning to sport’s contemporary manifestations, it would be wise to learn from this variety.

Discussions on the religious motives and context of sport are largely dependent upon what are accepted as suitable definitions for “religion” and “sport”. These are not questions which can be adequately assessed in this short post, but it should suffice to say that whilst some definitions would define nothing more than strict Roman Catholicism as “religion”, others – such as Paul Tillich’s “the state of being grasped by an ultimate concern…” (Hoffman, 1992c:3) – allow almost anything of “significance” to be considered “religion”. However, there are many similarities in both the functional, and the ritual aspects of sport and religion which can be expanded upon.[3]

Shirl Hoffman describes how “sport, specifically American football, may represent the worship of American society in a way that mimics the social function of religions as outlined by Durkheim” (1992c:7), and this theory can be applied to almost any sport in a Western context. Sports, like most religions, place great emphasis on the worth of one’s fellows (ibid:6; Slusher, 1976:386), and the development of “character, habits of hard work, perseverance [and] competitive spirit” through participation (Hoffman, 1992c:7).  Both also embody negative aspects of human life – for instance “aging, dying, failure under pressure, cowardice, betrayal [and] guilt” (Novak, 1992:40). And there are parallels “in the area of justice. In religion God is just; while in sport the credo is “may the best man win”” (Slusher, 1976:380).  This societal “worship” can be seen in the focus on “heroic” sports figures – “fallible gods” (Watson & White, 2007:66), who provide models “to try to live up to: patterns of excellence so high that human beings live up to them only rarely…” (Novak, 1992:41). Ellis Cashmore believes, that whilst “it might seem insulting to religious adherents”, people do follow the dictates of these heroic figures in much the same way as they follow religious leaders – a fact recognised by the advertising industry (1996:94-5).

Another religious characteristic of sport is that it is “a great developer of social solidarity” (ibid:93). Jordi Xifra describes how Barcelona FC “bestows social energy” upon its fans, enabling them to create necessary bonds, “meeting the need for community belonging,” and providing them with “emotional unity” (2008[4]). An unconscious longing for these characteristics is likely to be behind the angry reaction of English soccer fans to news last year that a match was to be broadcast solely on the internet and not in public houses.[5] This desire for social solidarity is exemplified by “born-again” runners “attempting to convert the non-believers into practitioners of their new-found sport/faith under the theory that if it feels this good to me, everybody else should be doing it too” (Higdon, 1992:77).

A final point is that functional similarities can even be found in Marxist critiques of religion – “both religion and sport work as an opiate that temporarily dulls pain and gives a false sense of well-being; [… they siphon] off potential that might otherwise be put to political use” (Cashmore, 1996:85). The problem with this assertion, and those previously discussed, is that they only show sport fulfilling some of the functions ascribed to religion. What about the relationship to the sacred/supernatural (Hoffman, 1992c:8), which many would consider essential to religion? Or indeed the assertion that “whatever emotions may be elicited by a sporting event, that event does not seek to explain anything” (Chandler, 1992:58)[6]? And even if it was shown that sport fulfilled all of the functions of religion, this would not mean that sport and religion are synonymous.  “The parallels that have been drawn between sport and religion can equally well be drawn between opera and religion, theatre and religion” and more (ibid:56).  However, it is worth noting that whilst the editors of Christianity Today rarely omit the caveat “not to get carried away” with sport, “the same concerns are not expressed about” other diversions (Hoffman, 1992d:133).

Before turning to ritual, it is necessary to have at least a minimal understanding of what rituals are. Durkheim defines rituals as ““rules of conduct which prescribe how a man should comport himself in the presence of… sacred objects” or their representations” (Birrell, 1981:357)[7]. Another possible definition is “a relatively rigid pattern of acts specific to a situation which construct a framework of meaning over and beyond the specific situational meanings” (Goodger, 1986:220)[8]. Within the context of these similar definitions it is easy to enumerate instances of ritual in sport. Rituals may be ancient, such as “bowing before and after [judo] practise or contest[s]” (ibid:223), or modern, such as the lighting of the Olympic torch, which “has no precedent in the ancient games” (Sansone, 1988:25). Every “play” in American football can be interpreted as a “conquest of territory”, with the football characterised as “the ritual object” (Price, 1992:14 cf. Baker, 1992:185), and enormous ritual significance can be attached to the numbers assigned to particular athletes (Womack, 1992:198-9).

The performance of rituals in sport can produce effects which are remarkably similar to religious ritual. For players, ritual can help to focus their attention; it can signal intent; and it can provide means of “coping”, help to establish order, and “direct individual motivations and needs towards achieving group goals” (ibid:200). And many fans, through the performance of established rituals, “chants and songs, [and] the rhythm of bodies in unison” will be familiar with “the indescribable feeling of [being part of a collective…] as if they were each members of a single body” (Novak, 1992:41). The rituals employed by individuals and groups on the day of a sporting event may even be overtly religious. In America, “almost every team in professional sport holds chapel services on Sundays” (Prebish, 1992:47), and some athletes “paint crosses on their athletic footwear, shave crosses on the backs of their heads, print scripture verses on T-shirts, cross themselves before free throws, and kneel in the end zone after scoring touchdowns” (Hoffman, 1992e:130). It is unsurprising, therefore, that Prebish should conclude that “if sport can bring its advocates to an experience of the ultimate, and this (pursuit and) experience is expressed through a formal series of public and private rituals […], then it is both proper and necessary to call sport itself a religion” (1992:53).

However, there are two major problems with this equation of sport and religion based upon their ritual content. Firstly, “ritual is not always or fundamentally connected with religion” (Sansone, 1988:24). Whilst many rituals have, or have had, religious associations, there are others such as graduation ceremonials, which have no religious associations (ibid). It is true that “ritual in sport, just as [… in religion], plays a part in the unification of the participants” (Slusher, 1976:90), however this does not make legitimate the assumption that sport is a religious activity (Sansone, 1988:24). Secondly, whether religion is “pressed into service for sport” through individual action, or whether individuals feel that their sport serves their religion (Hoffman, 1992f:156), neither makes any difference to the fact that the two are not mutually dependent. Whilst there is nothing to prevent “Christian athletes from sanctifying a limited space in the stadium, […] and treating [sport] as a ritual of worship” (Hoffman, 1992d:113), there is also nothing preventing any religious person from treating almost anything as an act of worship – sport is simply one arena among many where this concurrence takes place.

This all-too-brief survey of the functional and ritualistic commonalities between religion and sport illustrates how sport in the modern West can reflect religious motives and take place in a religious context. Like the ancient Olympics, modern sporting events can become important ritual events for all participants, reinforce commonly held values of “ultimate concern” and promote social solidarity. However, I have contested that these similarities in function and rituality are just similarities – “sport per se cannot tell us where we came from, where we are going, nor how we are to behave while here” (Chandler, 1992:59). The best that can be said is that sport can function as a “secular, quasi-religious institution” (Hoffman, 1992c:8).[9] This discussion has not intended to trivialise ritual in sport, which serves a very valuable purpose[10], or to discredit the worthwhile examination of the religious side of sport. It is, however, important to appreciate “the non-empirical nature of [religious] events” (Hoffman, 1992g:65), which means that attention must primarily be given to whether people  expect their religion and sport to meet the same needs (Chandler, 1992:55).


  • Baker, James T. 1992. “Are you blocking for me, Jesus?” in Shirl J. Hoffman (ed.), Sport and Religion. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics Books, pp. 183-190.

  • Bernstein, B., Evin, J. L. & Peters, R. S. 1966. “Ritual in Education” in Philosophical Transactions 251 (772), pp. 429-36.

  • Birrell, Susan, 1981. “Sport as Ritual: Interpretations from Durkheim to Goffman” in Social Forces, Vol. 60, No. 2. Special Issue (Dec. 1981), pp. 354-376.

  • Cashmore, Ellis, 1996 [1990]. Making Sense of Sports (London: Routledge)

  • Chandler, Joan M. 1992. “Sport is Not a Religion” in Shirl J. Hoffman (ed.), Sport and Religion. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics Books, pp. 55-61.

  • Durkheim, Emile, 1915. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. New York: Free Press.

  • Edwards, Harry, 1973. Sociology of Sport. Homewood, IL: Dorsey Press

  • Flake, Carol, 1992. “The Spirit of Winning: Sports and the Total Man” in Shirl J. Hoffman (ed.), Sport and Religion. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics Books, pp. 161-176.

  • Goodger, John, 1986. “Ritual Solidarity and Sport” in Acta Sociologica, Vol. 29, No. 3 (1986), pp. 219-224.

  • Guttmann, Allen, 1992. “From Ritual to Record” in Shirl J. Hoffman (ed.), Sport and Religion. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics Books, pp. 143-151.

  • Harris, H. A. 1964. Greek Athletes and Athletics. London: Hutchinson

  • Harris, H. A. 1972. Sport in Greece and Rome. London: Thames and Hudson

  • Hart, Marie, 1976 [1972]. Sport in the Sociocultural Process. Dubuque, Iowa: William C. Brown.

  • Higdon, Hal 1992. “Is Running a Religious Experience?” in Shirl J. Hoffman (ed.), Sport and Religion. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics Books, pp. 77-81.

  • Hoffman, Shirl J. (ed.) 1992a. Sport and Religion. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics Books.

  • Hoffman, Shirl J. 1992b. “Preface” in Shirl J. Hoffman (ed.), Sport and Religion. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics Books, pp. vii-ix.

  • Hoffman, Shirl J. 1992c. “Sport as Religion” in Shirl J. Hoffman (ed.), Sport and Religion. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics Books, pp. 1-12.

  • Hoffman, Shirl J. 1992d. “Evangelicalism and the Revitalisation of Religious Ritual in Sport” in Shirl J. Hoffman (ed.), Sport and Religion. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics Books, pp. 111-125.

  • Hoffman, Shirl J. 1992e. “Religion in Sport” in Shirl J. Hoffman (ed.), Sport and Religion. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics Books, pp. 127-141.

  • Hoffman, Shirl J. 1992f. “Recovering a Sense of Sacred in Sport” in Shirl J. Hoffman (ed.), Sport and Religion. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics Books, pp. 153-159.

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[1] See Flake (1992); Hoffman (1992d; 1992e; 1992f); Peiser (2000); Prebish (1992); Watson & White (2007); Watson (2007)

[2] See Flake (1992) for a stimulating discussion on the peculiarly male nature of this discourse.

[3] For brevity, it shall be assumed that the reader has a basic understanding of the meaning of “sport”.

[4] Pagination absent in online journal

[5] See http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/internationals/8286886.stm, http://www.football.virginmedia.com/page/Football/Headlines/0,,12555~1817900,00.html and http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/blog/2009/oct/06/england-ukraine-qualifier-kentaro-internet for details and comments.

[6] Emphasis added.

[7] Citing Durkeim (1915:56).

[8] Citing Bernstein, Evin, & Peters (1966:429).

[9] Citing Edwards (1973:90)

[10] See Prebish (1992:49)