January is a time on Centre College’s campus during which students take and professors teach just one course for three weeks. And during CentreTerm, many courses aren’t designed around traditional college subjects…but they’re just as important.
This coming CentreTerm, Dr. David Hall, NEH Associate Professor of Religion and Philosophy, is teaching his signature “Basketball as Religion” course. He first taught the class during CentreTerm 2004 and did so to much fanfare from the media, attracting attention from The Paul Harvey radio show, the Associated Press, theChronicle of Higher Education and NPR.
So just what’s this CentreTerm offering all about?
“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,” Hall says. “But they also share many of the same ideas, activities and structures.”
Performing a ritual, Hall maintains, is an exercise designed 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 will address rituals as well as the increasing tendency for athletes to cite God with helping them in their achievements.
“I find that fascinating,” Hall says. “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 actual basketball. The class also plays other sports, and students will be 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.
The class will also take field trips, and each student will keep a journal about their experiences in the group activities. Hall with his wife, Sarah Scott Hall, Centre associate dean and director of residence life and counseling services, came up with the original idea for the course.
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—that they see how social phenomenon shape world views.”