The spectacle of modern sport displays all the latest commercial and technological innovations, yet age-old religious concerns still thrive at the stadium. Coaches lead pre-game and post-game prayers, athletes give God the credit for home runs and touchdowns, and fans wave signs with biblical quotations and allusions. Like no other nation on earth, Americans eagerly blend their religion and sports. Playing with God traces this dynamic relationship from the Puritan condemnation of games as sinful in the seventeenth century to the near deification of athletic contests in our own day.
Early religious opposition to competitive sport focused on the immoderate enthusiasm of players and spectators, the betting on scores, and the preference for playing field over church on Sunday. Disapproval gradually gave way to acceptance when "wholesome recreation" for young men in crowded cities and soldiers in faraway fields became a national priority. Protestants led in the readjustment of attitudes toward sport; Catholics, Jews, Mormons, and Muslims followed. The Irish at Notre Dame, outstanding Jews in baseball, Black Muslims in the boxing ring, and born-again athletes at Liberty University represent the numerous negotiations and compromises producing the unique American mixture of religion and sport.
That old quarterback Bill Baker, once the passing preacher, plays with the old question, Is sports America's true religion?, then scores with this readable and fascinating study of their interlocking history.
William Baker's Playing with God is a natural. Baker reveals the countless ways that religious ideas infuse sports, and the complex ways that sports resemble religion. Along the way he tells great stories, and unearths a range of beliefs and practices across time and faiths. This is a fascinating history.
Playing with God is sprightly, humorous, fast-paced, and judicious. No other book on modern religion and sport is as expansive, well-researched, or satisfying. Yet another touchdown by a former college quarterback!
Playing with God surveys the complex and dynamic relationship between sport and religion throughout American history, with a keen eye for the shifting dynamics between these two staples of American life. This is a superb book that invites us to consider even more carefully the relationship between play and piety.
In his carefully researched, beautifully written Playing with God, Bill Baker demonstrates that athletes and ministers have long worked together, and that the idea of sport as a civic religion is far from being an accident or a turn of phrase.
Baker has long specialized in sports. In this worthy addition to his works, he again considers sports in America, this time studying the mutual influence of sports and religion...Well written and highly informative.
Baker takes the reader on a fascinating and informative trek through the history of the intimacy between religion and sports in America, and he even includes a chapter on Athletes for Allah.
It is the best presentation of this interplay [between sports and religion] published to date...This book is must reading for anyone interested in sports and religion.
A valuable story about the engagement of religion with sports. [Baker] focuses on U.S. history from the time of the Puritans to the present day, pausing at times to delve deeply into the stories of a few prominent figures, such as Knute Rockne, the tough-as-nails football coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and a convert to Catholicism. As a historian and researcher, Baker is exceptional, and his writing is fluid and energetic.
- 336 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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