The Holy Trinity of Sports -- Exposed! And More on Politics in the Academy


If you listen closely, you’ll hear the sound of me kicking myself…hard and often. Yesterday, I scanned the pages of the newest Journal of the American Academy of Religion only to find three outstanding articles on religion and/as sports from the University of Florida’s Bron Taylor (focus: surfing), A. Whitney Stanford (focus: kayaking), and Samuel Snyder (focus: fly fishing). Concentrating on what Taylor calls “Aquatic Nature Religion,” the authors use their subject to investigate the definition of religion, referencing theoretical frameworks from the likes of David Chidester, Robert Orsi, Catherine Albanese, Benson Saler, and Thomas Tweed. As Taylor writes in his introduction to the series, the articles “challenge dominant, contemporary constructions of religion. Whether they blur or expand our understanding of the boundaries of religion is less important than whether they help explain the ‘organic-cultural flows’ wherein water-related practices and perceptions are experienced and construed by their participants as spiritual and religious.” To be sure, the theoretical examination of religion is the principal contribution of these articles. But I also appreciate the authors’ choice to look beyond what Michal Novak calls the “holy trinity” of sports (baseball, football, basketball). Studies that venture beyond ball sports are noticeably rare.

These superb articles will, I suspect, generate more discussion on the topic. And I will probably use them both in my own scholarship and teaching. So why, you may ask, am I kicking myself? Some time ago, I composed an essay on religion and distance running. I looked through various journals, and briefly considered sending it to the JAAR. I quickly dismissed this option. “They would never consider this; it’s too trivial,” I speculated. I now stand corrected. Hopefully this will serve as a reminder in the future. To use a sports metaphor, in this instance, I chose to sit on the sidelines rather than get in the game. In all reality, I suspect my essay would have been rejected. Many do. Nevertheless, I still should have tried. Lesson learned, I hope.

On to another item of interest for blog readers…

In Sunday’s Washington Post, Robert Maranto of Villanova wrote a provocative op-ed entitled, “As a Republican, I’m on the Fringe.” He dismisses claims that academics have coordinated a vast conspiracy to eliminate conservatives. Still, the author posits that Republicans face unique challenges advancing through the ranks, as liberal colleagues unconsciously permit politics to cloud their judgment. Maranto concludes…

“Ultimately, universities will have to clean their own houses. Professors need to re-embrace a culture of reasoned inquiry and debate. And since debate requires disagreement, higher education needs to encourage intellectual diversity in its hiring and promotion decisions with something like the fervor it shows for ethnic and racial diversity. It's the only way universities will earn back society's respect and reclaim their role at the center of public life.”

On Wednesday, Maranto’s former undergraduate mentor from the University of Maryland, Eric Uslaner, wrote a response. He notes that Maranto’s argument rests largely on anecdotal evidence rather than systematic research. “A more fruitful way to begin a discussion of bias among academics,” writes Uslaner, “is to ask why so many academics are liberal in the first place.” Put simply, conservatives go where the money is, and that’s not academia. He concludes, “We have no evidence that ideological discrimination is common. If Robert Maranto believes it is, there is at least one concrete step he can take to combat it: Encourage his best conservative students to join him in the academy.”

I’m interested to know what others think of this exchange. When thinking about my limited experience, both sides made convincing points. I’ve been in many conversations with colleagues that would make Michael Moore blush. But I’m not fully convinced that this translates into wholesale alienation of conservatives.

But I can’t think about this now. I’ve still got more kicking to do…


Randall said…
I'd love to hear the sort of conversations Eugene McCarraher, Villanova Dept of Humanities, might have with Maranto. McCarraher's Mencken-esque diatribes against the high priests of capitalism that appear in Books and Culture are always wildly entertaining.

I wonder if there are political opinion surveys of academics?

Though this does not necessarily have much to do with the left/right spectrum... In a survey conducted in the last year or so professors from Harvard and George Mason saw some surprising stats concerning academics' beliefs about God:

"A professor’s field of research or discipline is also predictive, he adds: psychologists and biologists are most likely to be nonbelievers (61 percent are atheist or agnostic), followed by mechanical engineers, economists, and political scientists. The most likely believers are professors of accounting (63 percent have no doubt that God exists), followed by professors of elementary education, finance, art, criminal justice, and nursing."
Anonymous said…
Craig Forney just published a book on religion and sports with Mercer. I have not read it, but I thought anyone interested in the topic should know. Forney also wrote a fantastic dissertation on religion in the life of W. E. B. Du Bois if you are looking for some ILL fun.

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