WES 100: Sports & Religion


The Wesleyan Seminars are an immersion into liberal arts education. Within the seminars, students will learn how to identify complex problems and issues, consult expert sources, question assumptions, consider disparate points of view, develop complex personal positions, and present conclusions. The three seminars are progressively more sophisticated in their approaches and expectations.

Seminars are not merely places where knowledge is imparted, but where it is exchanged and created. To successfully complete a seminar, you need to engage actively with the course material, professor, and your classmates. As a community of learners, we will work together to explore and consider our topic from a number of different perspectives. Each person’s participation is crucial.

In this section we will explore the relationship between sports and religion. From the use of sports as a means of acculturation (immigrants playing sports to “fit in”), to the use of legitimate competition as a surrogate for interreligious conflict (BYU vs. Liberty), and the competition between organized sports and organized religion for money, attention, and devotion (on any given Sunday), to the way stadiums have become “sacred” and players have become “gods,” the world of athletic competition (“sports”) is overflowing with religious elements, particularly (but not exclusively) in the United States. Using a variety of disciplinary methods, this class will examine this relationship, the ways in which religion and sport reinforce similar ideals, and the ways in which they are in competition with one another for the minds, hearts, and bodies of their “fans.”


By the end of the semester, you should:

Have an appreciation for the ideological overlap between religion and sports;

Have an understanding of the ways in which sports reinforce and challenge traditional religious institutions and religious identities in the United States; and

Have an appreciation of the inter- and cross-disciplinary use of method in the study of social phenomena like (but not limited to) sports and religion.

Achieve “AAC&U [Association of American Colleges & University] milestone level 2 standards”:

“Issue/problem to be considered critically is stated but description may leave some terms undefined, ambiguities unexplored, boundaries undetermined, and/or backgrounds unknown”;

“Information is taken from source(s) with some interpretation/evaluation, but may not enough to develop a coherent analysis or synthesis. Viewpoints of experts are taken as mostly fact, with at least minimal questioning”;

“Questions some assumptions. Identifies several relevant contexts when presenting a position. May be more aware of others’ assumptions than one’s own (or vice versa)”;

“Specific position (perspective, thesis/hypothesis) acknowledges different sides of an issue”; and

“Conclusion is logically tied to information (because information is chosen to fit the desired conclusion); some related outcomes (consequences and implications) are identified clearly.”

Texts & Readings

The following texts are available at the bookstore. You are free to purchase them elsewhere, but you are responsible for purchasing the correct title (and edition) if they do so.

Baker, William J. Playing with God: Religion and Modern Sport.

Jackson, Phil. Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior.

In addition, articles are linked to the class Web site (“Schedule of Readings & Assignments“), and may occasionally be distributed in class.



In-Class Participation (18 points):

You are expected to attend all classes and complete all assignments. In addition, you are expected to participate fully in class discussions and engage the materials in class. Regular and thoughtful participation in class, as well as enthusiastic participation in the assignments, will be rewarded in this category; mindless blather will not. In addition, on occasion I will engage you directly in informal conversation about the materials during class, and will evaluate you based on your ability to discuss the materials substantively and meaningfully.

Film Responses (8 x 4 points, or 32 points)

Eight times during the semester you will respond in writing to films (put on reserve and viewed in preparation for class). (You are free to obtain—rent, stream—the film on your own, but you are still required to view it before the assigned class.) Each response should have a thesis related to the intersection of religion and film, should briefly summarize the plot (in no more than a paragraph), and then expound on your thesis using data from the film, class readings, and class discussions.

The Applications Project (50 points total)

The “Applications Project” is an opportunity for you to put to use methods and materials you learn in our investigation of religion and sport. You are required to use at least two of the scholarly methods we explore (anthropological, historical, ethical, or religious/comparative) in evaluating Phil Jackson’s book Sacred Hoops.

The “Applications Project” is comprised of several component parts:

1) Topic approval

In consultation with me (if necessary or requested), you must select—and commit to completing the necessary steps for—a topic related to the study of religion and sport as presented or suggested in Jackson’s Sacred Hoops. That commitment must be made by the date specified on the syllabus. This element is ungraded, but is designed to encourage a diversity of topics. Any “Applications Project” presentation / paper on a topic that has not been approved by me may not be accepted / graded. (For approval deadline, see “Schedule of Readings & Assignments.”)

2) Research methods

Throughout the semester—but especially on the dates assigned in the syllabus—we will spend time becoming familiar with the basic elements of research for primary and secondary source material to be used in your “Applications Project.” This element is ungraded; however, any “Applications Project” not using sufficient primary and secondary source materials will not be accepted. (For specific dates, see “Schedule of Readings & Assignments.”)

3) “Applications Project” draft submission

You are expected to submit a near-complete draft manuscript for your “Applications Project.” This draft must include a preliminary evaluation of primary and secondary source materials, as well as the basic elements of an outline leading from the thesis (assertion of issue / problem; statement of argument) through the evidence, and toward a conclusion. (For the purposes of the draft, conclusions need not necessarily be fully elaborated.) (For draft submission deadline, see “Schedule of Readings & Assignments.”)

4) “Applications Project” presentation (20 points)

In the final week of the semester, you will present the basics of your “Applications Project” to the class. Presentations may include hand-outs; however, the use of presentation software (PowerPoint, Prezi) will not be permitted.

5) “Applications Project” paper (30 points)

THERE IS NO FINAL EXAM IN THIS CLASS. However we will meet on the date / time that has been reserved for this class by the Registrar (see “Schedule of Readings & Assignments” for actual date / time). On that date / time, you will submit the final written version of your “Applications Project.”

You will be evaluated not only in how well you have developed an argument (with a thesis, evidence, and conclusion based on that evidence), explored and evaluated primary and secondary sources, and utilized methods explored in class and in the readings, but also in how well you have incorporated the comments and suggestions provided by me (to the draft) and by your classmates (during the presentation). The final paper must be at least 2500 words.

This final written assignment will serve as an artifact that can be assessed at a later date. It therefore needs to demonstrate your engagement with the Wesleyan Seminar objectives. (More on this as the semester progresses).

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