In his article “The Church of Baseball, the Fetish of Coca-Cola, and the Potlatch of Rock ‘n’ Roll: Theoretical Models for the Study of Religion in American Popular Culture”, David Chidester considers the connectedness between religion and American popular culture. Particularly, by employing the archetypes of the Church of Baseball, the Fetish of Coca-Cola, and the Potlatch of Rock ’n’ Roll, Chidester demonstrates the manner in which popular culture can actually exist as religion in the United States (1996).
With regard to the model of the Church of Baseball, Chidester takes a functionalist approach to demonstrate how the American pastime of baseball acts as a church in the United States. In doing so, he draws on a number of shared purposes that the two institutions embody, such as providing its followers with continuity through tradition and heritage, or stability and consistency in an ever-changing world. The Church of Baseball further offers its faithful with the notion of conformity, or a deeply rooted sense of belonging and community (1996: 745). Fans of a particular baseball team, for instance, feel a great deal of solidarity amongst one another. Finally, both the Christian church and the Church of Baseball institute a sacred space of home and sacred time of ritual for their believers. By this, Chidester means that baseball both creates a familiar and safe space away form the chaos of the real world, and follows a sacred routine entwined with moments of astonishing excitement (1996: 746).
To corroborate his argument that the sport of baseball functions as a church for its followers, Chidester further draws on numerous structural and symbolic analogies between baseball and the church. Examples of this connectedness entail the involvement of organs, hymns and clapping, characteristic robes and vestments, and equality under God for participants (1996: 746). Additionally, Chidester cites the exaltation of players as superhuman, Annie Savoy’s connection between the 108 stitches on a baseball, and the 108 beads on a rosary, and journalist Thomas Boswell’s assertion that the base paths of the baseball diamond resemble the Christian cross (1996: 747). In utilizing the framework of the Church of Baseball, Chidester effectively proves that what constitutes as religion is highly contingent upon how religion is defined. For this reason, he is able to contest that forms of popular culture, such as baseball, can operate as religion in American popular culture.
Chidester, David. "The Church of Baseball, the Fetish of Coca-Cola, and the Potlatch of Rock ‘n’ Roll: Theoretical Models for the Study of Religion in American Popular Culture." Journal of the American Academy of Religion. LXIV.4 (1996): 743-765.