The question to be addressed is ‘to what extent is sport like religion’. The dominant argument will be that sport is like religion. Readings by the following will be used to discuss this question Weber, Durkheim, Overman , Rojek (1995), and Coakley (1993). Weber theorised a correspondence between 17th century Protestant religion and the values of modern capitalism. Weber’s thesis was then used by Overman to describe the puritans relationship to sport.
“Puritans emphasised mind over emotion, and revealed a profound fear of sensual pleasures and extravagant spontaneous activities such as play and dance were especially feared” (Overman 1997 pp. ). It was a puritan belief that they should live by the following characteristics self-control, thrift, hard work and modesty. Idleness and luxury were morally condemned “Waste of time is the first and in principle the deadliest of sins. The span of human life is infinitely short and precious…Loss of time through sociability, idle talk, luxury, even more sleep than is necessary for health, six to eight hours, is worthy of absolute moral condemnation” (Weber 1976 cited in Rojek 1995 p.46). They did this to glorify god, they believed living their life this way would secure them a place in heaven. ”
As asceticism evolved the Protestant society became less moralistic and more rational. “Rationalisation refers to the process in which human activity became increasingly subject to calculation, measurement, standardisation and control” (Weber 1947 cited in Overman 1997 pp. ). With the society changing peoples’ values also began to change and so society developed further. Human conduct now had to be justified according to what were the acceptable norms (Overman 1997). Puritans now became secularised (detached form their religious origins) and so all aspects of life were influenced (Rojek 1995). Puritans habits had produced them a large amount of wealth, they demonstrated that rigorous hard work result in the production of material improvement in their lives. And so they were transformed into the work ethic. As a result of this capitalism developed, and so the spirit of capitalism was an unintended consequence of the Protestant ethic.
Sports have been influenced by the values of the Protestant ethic. Protestants believed in the work ethic-that hard work is good. Athletes work really hard to develop their skills, but they see this as good because it will have positive outcomes i.e. winning. They also believe in the time ethic-time is not to be wasted. Athletes will train as often as physically and mentally possible to achieve their highest standard possible.
Finally Protestants believe in asceticism- self denial and endurance of pain. Athletes will push their bodies as far as possible to achieve the best standard, they also deny themselves luxuries like alcohol and junk food so that they can be the best performer possible. Webers idea can be described as being ironic. The end result of puritans was to glorify god which was religious the end purpose of sport is to win which is secular. It is ironic that something religious gave rise to something secular.
Durkheims theory was very different to that of Webers but he also saw the links of sport and religion. His theory was functionalist, he wasn’t concerned with the content of religion but with what it does (its function). Durkheim studied an aboriginal tribal society to find out what is common to all religions. He also studied totenism. A totem is a symbol or emblem of a clan, individual members of the clan gather together to worship the totem.
By doing this they are worshipping their own society i.e. celebrating that they are part of something bigger than the individual. Crawford (1989) took the idea of totems and religious symbols and related this to sport the best way to explain it is to relate the finding s to an example in this case football. Religions have cathedrals which are used for mass worship where as sports fans have the millennium stadium or what used to be Wembley.
Religions then have their local churches and places of worship but in football the equivalent would be the local football ground e.g. Highbury. In religion gods are who are looked up to but in sport its players such as David Seamen Or Michael Owen. Crawford also explained how religions have symbols of their faith like a cross, St Christopher these are believed to guard and protect the person, it also shows a following to a certain faith. In sport people have flags, badges, or the kit that their sports team wear. This gives them unity with their team. The final aspect is the use of rituals, religious rituals can be things such as singing hymns or reading psalms where as sports spectators have chants at matches e.g. national anthem.
However there are also arguments which say that sport and religion are completely different categories. “Religion is ‘a personal set or institutionalised system of religious attitudes beliefs and practices”(Crawford 1989 p.120) As we can see this is a very different definition to that of sport. Sport is described by Coakley (1993) as a competitive activity using complex skills or enduring physical exertion. Both religion and sport conform to different values and have different beliefs. Religion basses itself on beliefs and predestined attitudes where as sport basses itself on competition and self expression.
Coakley describes the main differences between religion and sport. Religious beliefs are grounded in the sacred world but sporting beliefs are grounded in the profane. The purpose of religion is to transcend the material life in the pursuit of spiritual gain, the purpose of sport is to material issues such as winning and rewards. Religion involves co-operation where as sport involves competition. Religion emphasises a love for others but sport emphasises personal achievement and the defeat of others. Religion is dominantly process orientated and sport is goal orientated (Coakley 1993)
Although both arguments are strong it is in my opinion that sport is like religion. They both share some of the same values and both give people the same degree of social inclusion. Both sport and religion integrate people and so are very similar aspects.
Coakley, J (1998) Sports and Society: Issues and Controversies 6th edition, Boston. MA: Irwin McGraw-Hill Crawford, S. (1998) American football as religion: some theoretical perspectives Physical Education Review, 12(1) Hoffman, S.J. (ed) (1992). Sport and Religion, Champaign IL: Human Kinetics.