RELST 363 / WES 300-05: 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;

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; and

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 you do so.

Alpert, Rebecca. Religion & Sports: An Introduction & Case Studies.

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

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

[“Borrow” the books for free (1 hour at a time, renewable) by clicking on the book titles [or here] to take you to, an online academic database of books. Here’s a brief downloadable tutorial for Using]

In addition, links for electronic versions of various articles have been added to the course “Schedule of Readings & Assignments.” Others may occasionally be distributed in class, put on electronic reserve, or linked to the class Web site.



Attendance (10%)

You are expected to attend all classes and complete all assignments. Absences will be calculated and deducted from your final grade.

In-Class Participation (20%)

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 (5% x 7 = 35%)

Seven 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 be no less than 2 pages long (double spaced, 1″ margins, 12-point font), have a thesis related to the intersection of religion and film, should briefly summarize the plot (in no more than a paragraph), and should expound on the thesis using data from the film, class readings, and class discussions.

The “Case Study Project” (5% + 10% +  20% = 35%)

The “Case Study” Project is an opportunity for you to put to use methods and materials you learn in our investigation of religion and sport. You will be assigned one of the case studies from Alpert’s Religion & Sport; you will be expected to read that case study, investigate it further (using Alpert’s sources as well as those you identify on your own), and develop a case study on the same topic but of a different case.

Case Study Topics

1. “Cast Study Project” consultation

You are expected to make an appointment to talk to me (in person during office hours or via ZOOM) about your case study. You will be expected to discuss the nature of the case study as presented in Alpert’s Religion & Sports, as well as how you intend to deepen / expand the topic beyond what is presented in the text.

2. “Case Study Project” draft submission (5%)

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.”)

3. “Cast Study Project” presentation (10%)

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

4. “Case Study Project” paper (20%)

We will meet during the exam period, 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 “Case Study 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 / theories 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).


Schedule of Readings & Assignments

Classroom Policies