Baseball as a Road to God: This NYU Class Isn’t as Crazy as It Sounds

What do Joe DiMaggio, Lord Krishna, Ernest Hemingway, and a sacred tree in South America have in common? No, the answer is not a bad joke like your dad might tell. Instead, these four things are all part of the subject material for a course that is currently being taught at New York University called “Baseball as a Road to God.”

Dr. John Sexton is teaching this class to 18 undergraduates at NYU. Some of them are serious baseball fans, while others don’t really know or care what Babe Ruth’s curse is. However, they all are in process of “touching the ineffable,” as Sexton describes what students are learning in the course.

“The real idea of the course,” Sexton said, is to develop heightened sensitivity and a noticing capacity. So baseball’s not ‘the’ road to God. For most of us, it isn’t ‘a’ road to God. But it’s a way to notice, to cause us to live more slowly and to watch more keenly and thereby to discover the specialness of our life and our being, and for some of us, something more than our being.”

Sexton is the president of NYU and also the former dean of NYU Law School, so many people expected him to teach a political or law class. However, there is more to Sexton than just this. He grew up in Brooklyn, wears the number 42 on his academic robe in order to pay respect to Jackie Robinson, and is a practicing Catholic with a PhD in religion. He was a long time Dodgers fan, but after the team left Brooklyn, he became a Yankees fan.

Baseball clearly runs near and dear to Sexton’s heart, so it’s not surprising that he chose this sport to base his class around. There are many discussion sections in the class and each one is named after a famous baseball player, such as Willie Mays or Derek Jeter. The discussion sections are lead by teacher’s assistants, who are called “Celestials.”

“In my life, Judaism and baseball had always played a central role,” said Noam Mintz, a Celestial who took Sexton’s class last year. “But they always diverged from each other. They had different compartments. Now I can see where these passions might intersect.”

Students in this class are required to read “The Sacred and the Profane,” by religious historian Mircea Eliade, in addition to works by Michael Novak, Robert N. Bellah, and Abraham Joshua Heschel. Then, Sexton asks them to apply their knowledge of religion to baseball. These teachings are helping students understand areas of their own lives that they did not understand before.

“I always viewed baseball as kind of my family’s religion,” said Emily Ruth Grose, a junior in the class. “Baseball was filling a void in their heart, and when they didn’t have it, what did they fill the hole with? I really wanted to learn why baseball mattered so much to them. And I’ve come to really see that it doesn’t need to be an organized religion, that anything can serve as your religion.”

Via The New York Times

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