Interdisciplinary Honors Seminars

The Culture of Sport

Course # 01:090:295:H1
Index# 06040
T/F 8:30AM-9:50AM
HC N106 CA
Larry Scanlon

Sport is one of the most visible and influential aspects of modern popular culture. This course will explore the cultural aspects of sport, focusing on basketball, soccer, American football, and track using literature, film, journalism, memoirs, and secondary material from a variety of scholarly fields. The course’s basic question will be how should we think about sports as a social, cultural, and ideological phenomenon? Is it best understood as a set of communal rituals, or some sort of civic religion?  Or is better understood as a form of spectacle largely specific to modern societies and the complex technology that constitutes their media landscape?

 The course will offer students a number of theoretical and conceptual frameworks to help answer these questions, as well as historical accounts of the development of modern sport and social political analyses of its various manifestations and institutional contexts. These will include modern sport in many of its most typical instances: personal exercise; community organizations; college and professional events both live and televised.  The course will concentrate on two major American sports: football and basketball, but for contrast it will also examine two older and more international sports: soccer and track and field.  Intersections between sport and the categories of race, gender, and national identity will provide a particular focus.

The reading in the course can be divided into four categories: scholarly writing from a wide variety of fields; literary works; journalism; and memoir.  We will also view four films and a sports broadcast, either football or basketball, depending on the semester the course is offered.  The scholarship not only ranges in field but in difficulty.  Some of it (e.g., Barthes and Bourdieu) is quite challenging. Some of it, such as Allen Guttman’s classic study From Ritual to Record, is extremely accessible. The key scholarly work in the course will be The Power of Sports: Media and Spectacle in American Culture (2019), by Michael Serazio, a Communications scholar. It is a rigorously researched and argued scholarly monograph essentially presented as a work for a general audience.

About Larry Scanlon

Professor Scanlon is the author of Narrative, Authority, and Power: The Medieval Exemplum and the Chaucerian Tradition (1994). He is the editor of The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Literature, 1100-1500 (2009), and co-editor of John Lydgate: Poetry, Culture, and Lancastrian England (with James Simpson, 2005). He has published numerous essays on Middle English, Old French, Medieval Latin texts and traditions. He has also published on medievalism, and American and African-American Literature. He is currently completing a lengthy study on homoeroticism in later medieval literature and culture. Its tentative title is At Sodom's Gate: The Sin Against Nature from Plato to John Lydgate.  He is also co-editing (with Susan Nakley) an anthology of essays entitled Barbarous Tongues that focuses on problem of race, religious alterity, and Christian, Muslim, and Jewish relations in later medieval culture.