7 Questions with Jeff Scholes, author of “Religion and Sport in North America: Critical Essays for the 21st Century”

Jeff Scholes is Associate Professor of religious studies in the Department of Philosophy and the Director of the Center for Religious Diversity and Public Life at UCCS.

Described as “a rigorously researched introduction to the relationship between Christianity, race, and sport in the United States,” Scholes’ book examines how Protestant Christianity and race have interacted, often to the detriment of Black bodies, throughout the sporting world over the last century.

Religion and Sport in North America: Critical Essays for the 21st Century” was published by Routledge in 2022 and co-authored with Randall Balmer, John Phillips Chair in Religion at Dartmouth.

To share more, Scholes answered seven questions about his book below.

1. If you were describing your book to someone outside of your field, what would you say?

As the title suggests, this book is geared towards those who write in the fields of religious studies and sport studies. However, our book also entreats those who write within the fields of Economics, Ethnic Studies, Political Science, Sociology, Theology, Anthropology, History, English, and everything in between to glean something from the volume.

2. How did you get the idea for your project?

I wanted to update the position that scholarship is in regards religion and sport. And to do that, I needed to bring in scholars who were writing cutting edge stuff. Curating an edited volume is one way to do that.

3. Did your focus develop or change throughout the research and writing process? 

I decided to write the introduction as a kind of history of scholarship in the field of religion and sport. What I found is that there are generally three epochs in its history and that we find ourselves in the third epoch. Defining the third epoch, one that brings issues such as race, gender, class, disability, sexual orientation into hyper-capitalistic sport, helped me focus the thrust of the introduction and more boldly locate my scholarship and that of the contributors firmly within the third epoch.

4. Which idea do you write about that most excites, invigorates or inspires you?      

I’m most interested in ways that popular culture (specifically sport) intersects with religion. And I’m most excited when this intersection changes the way we think about religion. Most religious studies scholars scoff at popular culture as a trivial thing cut off from “serious” religious things. They do this at their own peril as popular culture does much of the heavy lifting that traditional religion used to do.

5. Describe your writing space. Where do you do your best work? What time of day? Do you have any writing routines you are willing to share?           

There’s not one space. My home office, work office, coffee shops – all are spaces where work is done. I write best in the morning, and then sometimes dictate thoughts into my phone in the afternoon, which are then transposed onto the page the next morning.

6. Is there a favorite quote or passage you want to showcase from the book?

“Much to the chagrin of many theologians and religion scholars who believe that the only ones to be writing about sports are journalists, scholars writing in this third period instead recognize the value of the religion and sport connection to make a point about something else altogether. In other words, the value of the religion and sport relationship has become largely instrumental rather than substantive, material instead of metaphysical. We view this as a positive development in the field.”

7. What new questions for future exploration have you discovered?

I think new developments in hyper-mediated sports are forcing and molding questions for religious studies scholars. Heightened agency of high-profile athletes in bargaining situations, the ubiquity of sports gambling, transgenderism and sport to name a few – all are areas that invite a religious studies analysis.

UCCS celebrates faculty and staff who author and edit books each year. In recognition of their achievement, and as part of the UCCS Author Spotlight initiative, authors are invited to submit details on their published works.