While I'm not one for absolute truth claims, it is an objective truth that people get weird about college football (not me of course--other people). An example... While researching Florida State University's Indian mascot controversy, I noticed a problem with the logo. In 1838 during the Second Seminole War, Seminole leader Chief Osceola was captured and died soon after. An army doctor then removed his head and and embalmed it. The jar eventually found its way to the window of a St. Augustine drugstore, on display as a rather macabre trophy.
So it doesn't take an interpretive genius to notice that FSU's present logo looks like, well, a disembodied Indian head. In an effort to raise the issue, I wrote about this in a letter to the editor to a Tallahassee newspaper. On the morning that my letter was published, I was flooded with "FEAR THE SPEAR"-themed e-mails. Needless to say, this didn't expose me to the noblest qualities of the FSU fan base. But I couldn't help but notice that, for fans, the Seminole symbol is sacred territory. Accordingly, the debate between opponents of the mascot and FSU fans has become something of a "holy war on the football field." Opponents of the mascot often say that they want to protect the sacred symbols and history of Native Americans from stereotyping and exploitation. In contrast, for FSU fans, the Seminole sits at the center of their civil religious world of college football.
Others have identified a localized form of civil religion in college football. In the new volume of the Journal of Southern Religion (notice that I just transitioned from one form of self-promotion to another--beat that!), Eric Bain-Selbo's “From Lost Cause to Third-and-Long: College Football and the Civil Religion of the South,” traces the rise of college football in the South. He then presents and comments on three examples (each has an accompanying video) of game day rituals. Bain-Selbo concludes, "[Southern civil religion] has a history of courage, stubbornness, honor, and shame. It is the Lost Cause—sometimes racist, despicable, and divisive. For example, the playing of 'Dixie' and the chanting of 'The South will rise again' continues to be controversial and divisive among students, faculty, and fans at Ole Miss. At the same time, southern civil religion—emerging out of the Lost Cause but not restricted to it—provides a pride in southern identity that can be uplifting and uniting once stripped of its offensive (Confederate) trappings. And woven into this civil religion is college football, drawing from and adding to these elements and often holding them all together at once on beautiful autumn Saturdays in towns and cities all across the South."
Other highlights of the new volume include:
- An interview with Wayne Flynt, conducted by JSR editor Randall Stephens. As Stephens writes in his preface, “Wayne Flynt is the great contrarian of southern religious history. Whereas other scholars describe broad trends that mark the region—a white homogenous evangelicalism, parochialism, a regressive social outlook, etc—Flynt finds jack-leg socialist preachers, white liberal professors, and agrarians that certainly don't fit the mold.”
- A panel review of Erskine Clarke’s, Dwelling Place: A Plantation Epic, done by Anne Blue Wills, Beth Barton Schweiger, and Kelly Baker. As Schweiger summarizes, “Erskine Clarke shows over and over how the same event—a visit, a death, a birth, a purchase of property, a church service, a trip to town—meant one thing for the slave and another for the master. . . . Clarke shows as no historian has done before that the history of American slavery should be written as a single narrative of ‘two histories of one place and one time.’”
- A panel review of Ed Blum’s, W.E.B. Du Bois: American Prophet, done by Sandy Dwayne Martin, Reiland Rabaka, and Alan Scot Willis. Blum also responds. The book and the panel (as well as various discussions on this blog!) indicate, as Blum writes, “that the days of ignoring Du Bois as a critical figure in American religious history may be over.”
- Randal L. Hall’s, “A Black Minister at the Nadir: The Poetry of Charles Roundtree Dinkins.” Before presenting some of Dinkins’s poems, Hall offers an insightful commentary. “Dinkins vividly diagnosed the problems of early Jim Crow America. Residing in the heart of a segregated society while explaining its rotten underbelly, he desperately tried to keep hold of both religion and poetry to pull him away from the depths of despair.”
- An author’s reflection essay by Charles Irons on his new book, The Origins of Proslavery Christianity. “My initial research question for The Origins of Proslavery Christianity,” Irons explains, “consisted of little more than a desire to understand how white southerners justified the enslavement of those with whom they professed spiritual brotherhood.”
- Curtis Evans and Fitzhugh Brundage continue a discussion started in Volume Ten on David Sehat’s article, "The Civilizing Mission of Booker T. Washington," Journal of Southern History 73 (May 2007), 323-62. “The recent exchanges between Curtis J. Evans and David Sehat about Booker T. Washington,” Brundage observes, “have been models of thoughtful and learned debate.”
- Book reviews of, Marcie Cohen Ferris and Mark I. Greenberg, eds. Jewish Roots in Southern Soil; Paul D. Sanders, Lyrics and Borrowed Tunes of the American Temperance Movement; David John Marley, Pat Robertson; Charles F. Irons, The Origins of Proslavery Christianity; Steve Goodson, Highbrows, Hillbillies, and Hellfire; Jason R. Young, Rituals of Resistance; Joe L. Coker, Liquor in the Land of the Lost Cause; Barry Aron Vann, In Search of Ulster-Scots Land; Amy L. Koehlinger, The New Nuns; and a review essay by Kelly Baker on Anthea D. Butler, Women in the Church of God in Christ, and Laura R. Olson, Sue E. Crawford, and Melissa M. Deckman, Women with a Mission.
If I had to pick a favorite from this volume, I would choose the interview with Wayne Flynt. Make sure to check it out, along with the video clip, "The Gospel According to Wayne Flynt."