Hoops and Heaven Class takes a look at basketball

January 23, 2004

In Kentucky, many say that basketball is a religion. A course at Centre College uses basketball as a way to learn about religion.

David Hall, assistant professor of religion, is teaching "Basketball as Religion" during CentreTerm - Centre's innovative three-week term in January in which students take one class.

"We're getting a handle on what religion is in terms of a sociological reality," Hall says. "We're looking at religion from the angle of sports."

Like religion, sports are based on rituals.

"Let's be clear that they're different things," says Hall. "But they also share many of the same ideas, activities and structures."


Performing a ritual, Hall maintains, is an exercise done to insure a positive outcome or to ward off a potential threat. A baptism is one example of a religious ritual. Wearing the same basketball uniform or socks for weeks without washing them to keep a winning streak alive is a common sports ritual.

Class discussions in the morning address rituals, as well as the increasing tendency for athletes to cite God for helping them in their achievements.

"I find that fascinating," Hall comments. "I don't know what it would mean if God helped one team against another."

Then it's off to the hardwood for the afternoon session of the course. The class, made up of 17 men and 13 women, plays basketball and other sports.

The students have been split up into teams and are responsible for developing celebration rituals.

"I hope this helps them to understand how rituals are formed and to reflect on the communal activity of rituals," Hall says.

Caitlin Donohue, a sophomore from San Antonio who plans to major in religion, is playing for a team that calls itself "The Magic." The players on the Magic made uniforms for their games.

"It's interesting to see how uniforms create a sense of community," she says. "It's been apparent with our team. It's also interesting that fans of a particular team will wear their team's uniform to a game and how that also builds community.

"I like this class because I've been looking at things in a way I never have before," she adds.

The class takes field trips, and each student keeps a journal about their experiences in the group activities.

Hall with his wife, Sarah Scott Hall, director of residence life and housing, came up with the idea for the course. Hall was surprised at the amount of literature and research he found on the subject.

Ryan Reynolds, a sophomore double major in religion and philosophy from Sumter, S.C., says he finds the course phenomenal.

"There are too many comparisons to list, but the relationship between religion and basketball are extensive," he says. "This is evident in other sports as well, but can also extend to politics, science and other realms of life.

"The class is awesome. I'd recommend it to anyone who loves a great mind challenge as well as a good game of basketball."

Hall wants his students to expand their minds, however, before their shooting range.

"My hope is that they learn to view and think critically about a social phenomenon such as religion

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