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date: 11 December 2018

Religion and Spirituality in Sport

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Psychology. Please check back later for the full article.

Human ways of being are characterized by a wide range of various possibilities and go beyond the empirical circumstances of everydayness. However, transcendent dimensions of the world should be perceived in miscellaneous phenomena, both natural and supernatural. One of the most ancient displays of religious manifestation was sport. More precisely, human movement activities were part of religious cults and rites. Antique races and competitions (agón) in old Greek Olympia and similar human experiences in other cultural spheres (e.g., in Mesoamerican ball games) were not sport sensu stricto, but part of religion. Thanks to this tradition, the founder of modern Olympic games, de Coubertin, wrote about religio athletae where he tried to show transcendental aspects of modern sport. However, contemporary sport is not connected with religion in such a direct way. Concrete sportspersons keep his/her own religious tradition. We can speak more adequately about spirituality in sport meaning a deeper value of sport activities.

Religion and spirituality are not differentiated in common language. Nevertheless, when we think about their connections to sport, we should perceive their various levels, not only in psychological and sociological extents, but also in ontological dimensions. While spirituality in sport should be visible in the natural dimension of the personal authenticity of players and referees, the interpersonal relationship, looking for a deeper meaning of such activities and transcendence in the level of celebration, religion stretches across such a level of naturalness. Religion transcends human (including spiritual) ways of being from the profane to the sphere of deity and sacral otherness.

Contemporary society with its pressure on performance, outputs, beauty, also including virtuality and the increasing problem with sedentary behavior and obesity, does not satisfy all human needs. This is why numerous people are looking for deeper, spiritual value of their activities, including in the dimension of sport. Thanks to this, we can register an increasing interest in religious and spiritual aspects of sport, including the establishment of specific professions, like spiritual care by sport psychologists or sport chaplains, as well as university centers for the study of religion and spirituality in sport.