Sports Totems Represent Our Civic Religion

Sports Totems Represent Our Civic Religion

The Super Bowl, professional sports' highest holy day, is again upon us. As fans paint their faces and torsos, pile on licensed apparel, and quixotically arrange beer cans in the shape of team logos, the question must, again, be asked: Why exactly do we do this for our teams?

Why, in my own case, do I feel the need to sport a Chargers cap on fall Sundays sitting in front of the television when decades of futility, not to mention common sense, suggests it has little effect on outcome?

The answer—and the secret of fandom—might just be found in a context far removed from professional football.

Almost precisely a century ago, Emile Durkheim pondered along similar lines. Durkheim, a pioneering sociologist, began digging through accounts of "primitive" cultures like the Arunta tribe of Australia, hoping to excavate the ancient source of ties that bind. His conclusion—as revealed in The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life—remains as profound and relevant today as it is elegantly simple: Whenever a society (or, here, sports subculture) worships a divine form, it is, in fact, also simultaneously worshipping itself.

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