Sport and Christianity in American cinema ‘The beloved grew fat and kicked’ (Deuteronomy 32:15)
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Crosson, S. (2017). Sport and Christianity in American cinema ‘The beloved grew fat and kicked’ (Deuteronomy 32:15). In A. Adogame, N. J. Watson, & A. Parker (Eds.), Global Perspectives on Sports and Christianity. London: Routledge.
Christianity has been an enduring feature of films featuring sports or sporting figures since the early twentieth century, such that religious icons, references and rituals have now become naturalised as familiar and recurring presences in the cinema. Recent Christian drama films such as the American football-themed Facing the Giants (2006) and the surfing biopic Soul Surfer (2011) have employed the emotive and seductive qualities of the mainstream sports film to affirm Christian themes. They each remind us that sport is a powerful vehicle for the promotion of faith-based narratives; while offering the considerable challenges of sporting competition, the drive to success and its realization by characters who foreground their Christian belief may appear to provide convincing evidence to some of the importance of Christian faith. Film, as a form that is characterized by its ability to convincingly capture aspects of the world around us, also responds to societal developments, including the manner through which sport and Christianity have interconnected historically. For administrators and promoters of particular sports, conscious that they were engaged with a cultural form viewed at times with considerable suspicion, Christianity provided an important means of legitimizing sport and its importance in society, a feature reflected in particular in American films featuring sport from the early twentieth century. This process took a number of forms including the trope of the boxer-and-the-and-priest and the manner through which athletes themselves appeared to incorporate aspects of Christian figures. Both sport and Christianity are also central supporting elements for a core ideology in American life, the American Dream, and this is apparent in one of the most popular and recurring trajectories found within the American Sports film. Through a close reading of relevant film texts, this essay maps the developing relationship between sport and Christianity as revealed in American cinema.
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