Playing for God

Evangelical Women and the Unintended Consequences of Sports Ministry

256 pages

July, 2015

ISBN: 9781479818136

$30

Paper

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Author

Annie Blazer is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the College of William and Mary (VA).

All books by Annie Blazer

When sports ministry first emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, its founders imagined male celebrity athletes as powerful salespeople who could deliver a message of Christian strength: “If athletes can endorse shaving cream, razor blades, and cigarettes, surely they can endorse the Lord, too,” reasoned Fellowship of Christian Athletes founder Don McClanen. But combining evangelicalism and sport did much more than serve as an advertisement for religion: it gave athletes the opportunity to think about the embodied experiences of sport as a way to experience intimate connection with the divine. As sports ministry developed, it focused on individual religious experiences and downplayed celebrity sales power, opening the door for female Christian athletes to join and eventually dominate sports ministry. Today, women are the majority of participants in sports ministry in the United States. 
 
In Playing for God, Annie Blazer offers an exploration of the history and religious lives of Christian athletes, showing that evangelical engagement with popular culture can carry unintended consequences. When sport became an avenue for embodied worship, it forced a reckoning with evangelical teachings about the body. Female Christian athletes increasingly turned to their own bodies to understand their religious identity, and in so doing, came to question evangelical mainstays on gender and sexuality. What was once a male-dominated masculinist project of sports engagement became a female-dominated movement that challenged evangelical ideas on femininity, marriage hierarchy, and the sinfulness of homosexuality. Though evangelicalism has not changed sporting culture, for those involved in sports ministry, sport has changed evangelicalism.

Reviews

  • "If you've ever wondered about the close connection between sports and evangelical Christianity today, this book will provide a window into the world where they meet. With vivid prose and keen insight, Annie Blazer tells compelling stories of Christian men and women athletes and how their commitments to God and sports are changing not only their lives and their sports, but also the religion they hold dear. Blazer brings a fresh perspective to the study of religion and sport as she tackles questions of gender and sexuality that are often overlooked but critical to understanding the world of evangelical sports today."

    —Rebecca T. Alpert, Temple University

  • "What an intimate and perceptive work of ethnographic scholarship! Playing for God takes you into the profound epistemology of athleticism. Blazer uses her conversations with Christian sportswomen to delve into the ways that all people, religious and not, understand themselves through their bodies. A first-rate exploration of the intersection between spiritual knowledge and the disciplining effects of sporting life."

    —Kathryn Lofton, Yale University

  • “[…] [T]he book will generate much discussion around various issues: e.g., are fundamentalists even ‘evangelical,’ given that the heart of the gospel is kindness, love, and forgiveness?  People and groups are not necessarily ‘evangelical,’ even though they may claim to be.  The media need to be aware of this fact.  Good notes and bibliography.” 

    Choice

  • "[A]n excellent book which raises important issues about how contemporary sportswomen perceive themselves.”

    Verite Sport: International Sports Ministry

  • “[T]he research illustrates that religion can be and is blended with and into any and all aspects of culture, with ‘unintended consequences’ for religion based on the undeniable agency of individual members.”

    Anthropology Review Database

  • Playing for God is a finely crafted sociology of evangelical sports ministry and Christian female athletes who participate in and help promote a particular strand of Christianity.”

    Sociology of Religion