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Religious Faith and Modern Sports

Shriver-BillBakerStetson University presents the George H. Shriver Lectures featuring guest speaker Dr. William Baker: “Of Gods and Games: Religious Faith and Modern Sports,” on Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 4 and 5. All lectures, free and open to the public, will be held in the Stetson Room, second floor of the Carlton Union Building, 131 E. Minnesota Ave., DeLand. (Baker’s photo, left, is courtesy of Bangor Daily News.)

Dr. George Shriver, a 1953 Stetson graduate, endowed the George H. Shriver Lectures at Stetson University in appreciation for his educational experience as an undergraduate. An emeritus professor of history at Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Ga., Shriver created this series as a fulfillment of one of his dreams joining together two of his academic passions—religious studies and history. The purpose of these lectures is to bring to Stetson’s campus distinguished scholars who lecture on the role of religion in shaping America’s past and present. They are jointly sponsored by Stetson’s History and Religious Studies departments. Baker, a graduate of Furman University, Southeastern Seminary, and Cambridge University, served for many years as Professor of History at the University of Maine, specializing in modern British history and sports history. He has written extensively on the interplay between religion and sports.

“As a Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Maine now retired in the coastal village of Bass Harbor on Mount Desert Island, I am a misplaced southerner,” Baker describes himself. “I was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and grew up in North Georgia immersed in sport and Baptist religion, the two dominant features of my 1950s culture. In high school, I played varsity baseball, basketball and football, leading our team to two state football championships, then attended Furman University on a full athletic scholarship. A quarterback for all four years, as a sophomore I briefly led the nation in forward passing. A charter member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, I engaged in youth revival activity throughout the Southeast. Upon graduation from Furman, I went abroad to begin theological training in a Baptist seminary near Zurich, Switzerland, but upon returning home to Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., I soon became disenchanted with Baptist racial and theological conservatism. After Southeastern, I enrolled in Cambridge University for a Ph.D. in British history. For the past 30 years or so, I have taught British and European history at several American and Australian universities, and have pioneered a new field of academic pedagogy and research in the history of sports.

“Among my some 50 or so scholarly articles and 10 books, Sports in the Western World (1982) and Jesse Owens: An American Life 1986), both have enjoyed a long shelf-life. Directly related to my lectures at Stetson are two more recent publications, If Christ Came to the Olympics (2000) and Playing with God: Religion and Modern Sport (2007).”

The lecture schedule is as follows:

  • Tuesday, Feb. 4 – 7 p.m. – “Playing the God Game: A Tale of Two Christian Athletes”
  • Wednesday, Feb. 5 – noon – “Beyond the Scoreboard: Tackling the Tough Issues”
  • Wednesday, Feb. 5 – 7 p.m. – “Taking the Fake: How Sport Becomes a Religion.” 

For more information, contact Dr. Mitchell Reddish, professor of religious studies at Stetson University, at mreddish@stetson.edu, or call (386) 822-8930.