O God of Movies -- Kelly Baker

O God Of Movies
Kelly Baker

My dear colleague and one of our contributing editors, Art Remillard, alerted me to this story today. For those of you who believed that American religious historians produced monographs of topics that might not be the most interesting to the general public, think again. Julie Byrne’s O God of Players: The Story of the Immaculata Mighty Macs is being turned into a movie. Bryne’s work traced the lives of the Immaculata Macs, basketball players, at Immaculata College, a Catholic women’s college located outside of Philadelphia. The Macs won the first national championship that they attended, and this is a great sports story that is ripe for film.

Mark Herrman writes for Newsday.com:
It is sort of a women's version of "Hoosiers," captured neatly by Byrne in her 2003 work, "O God of Players: The Story of the Immaculata Mighty Macs." The book, published by Columbia University Press, was a scholar's tale of how some people live their faith and Catholic culture in daily lives - a view of religion from the ground up.

Producer/Director Tim Chambers contacted Byrne, who became a consultant for “Our Lady of Victory.” The film stars Ellen Burstyn, David Boreanaz, and Carla Gugino. The film centers on Carla Gugino, who plays Cathy Rush, the Protestant basketball coach. In "Hoop Dreams" , Kathy Matheson talked with Rush. Matheson writes:
Rush, now 60 and semiretired, describes the film as part “Sister Act,” part “Hoosiers” and part “A League of Their Own.” Maybe toss in “Rocky,” the movie of the fictional boxer who was perhaps Philadelphia’s most famous underdog since, well, the Mighty Macs.

Now, my word of caution for the day would be for most of us not to give up our day jobs as academics to enter into the world of film. As I daydream about my dissertation on the 1920s Klan being turned into a feature-length film, I also realize that I am not as lucky as Byrne to have found a fantastic story (no sports, for me!) that works both as a monograph and in celluloid. My work might be a harder sell! And really, how many other historians of American religion have films? What a unique way for our field to gain recognition by popular audiences, so maybe it won’t be so tedious for me to explain what I do.


John Fea said…
Kelly: Thanks for calling our attention to this. As an American historian, former CYO hoopster, and a general sports junkie I have been wanting to read this book for some time. I believe it was published in Randy Balmer's Religion and American Culture series with Columbia. I did some exploring and found that Byrne just became a chair of Catholic Studies at Hofstra. You can listen to her inaugural address at http://hofstra.edu/Academics/Colleges/HCLAS/REL/rel_chairinstall.html
Phil said…
Very cool post. Another important book on the general subject of religion and sports is William J. Baker, _Playing with God
Religion and Modern Sport_ (Harvard UP, 2007).

In light of work mentioned in this post, and as a former college golfer who once had aspirations of playing professionally, I've often wondered what a project dealing with religion and golf might entail. Golfers I talk to often describe their practice time in devotional terms, and how humiliating the game can be....
John Fea said…
Phil: Great idea. Golf is certainly a religion. I was talking to my brother the other day (who had a brief stint on the Nike Tour) and he was telling me that his evangelical megachurch just started a golf ministry called "In His Grip."

BTW, did you play golf at U of Houston? If I remember correctly both Jim Nantz and Fred Couples played there.
Phil said…
The "In His Grip" group sounds really interesting, and may provide a site to do some interesting ethnographic work while working on my golf game! I know there are several similar groups aimed at college golfers as well. When did your brother play on the Nike Tour? I'd love to contact him about the group (I presume) he's involved with.

I did play golf at the University of Houston (after two years I transferred and finished my golf career at Sam Houston State U), though many years after the Couples-Nantz era. I heard some great stories about their time in Houston.
Art Remillard said…
I'm not familiar with too many scholarly discussions of religion and sports that go beyond the "holy trinity" (baseball, basketball, and football). So indeed, golf has always seemed like fertile ground (no pun intended) for such a study. _Golf in the Kingdom_ enjoys cult-like status among golfers. And there's a healthy batch of golf/Zen items in popular literature, to include the appropriately titled _Zen Golf_.
Kelly J. Baker said…
As a non-sports fan, I am interested in the devotion of fandom in general, especially how it relates to masculinity. Well, I didn't find anything on golf, but I did find this link at Religion & Ethics Newsweekly: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/
Phil said…
Art, I had forgotten about all the golf and Zen stuff; thanks for the reminder. _Golf in the Kingdom_ is a classic. Kelly, thanks for the link. I heard recently about faith night for the Houston Astros, but didn't know it was something of a national movement.

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