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Play, Sport and Spirit

Play, Sport, and Spirit retrieves a much needed ‘play ethic' from Catholic cultural and theological sources and brings this into dialogue with evolutionary theory, contemporary philosophy and psychology to illuminate the human and spiritual meaning of sport and work.

After a discussion of the marginalization of the play element in contemporary sport in the U.S., the author uses the work of cultural historian Johan Huizinga to understand the meaning of play and how it is related to culture, ritual, festival, and spirituality. Basic to this "play ethic" is an acceptance of play as a part of human life. For Aquinas, play is enjoyable and done for its own sake. However, the enjoyment we experience in play is directed to the "good of the player" in that it brings pleasure and relaxation.

Using the work of scholars Gordon Burghardt (evolutionary psychology), Randolph Feezell (philosophy), and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (psychology) the book demonstrates that when sport is enjoyable and engaged in for its own sake (i.e., as play), it leads to human flourishing and openness to transcendence. In this way, the book provides a contemporary account of how play can be autotelic and yet benefit the human person, as Aquinas had claimed.

The in-depth consideration of play in this book also illuminates our understanding of the human and spiritual meaning of work and vocation.


"Sports fans, philosophers, and theologians will delight in this magisterial exploration of sport's inexorable power to ennoble, enrich, and delight the human spirit."
—Clark Power, professor of psychology and education, University of Notre Dame

"Fr. Kelly has given us a book to be taken to heart by all those sports lovers who have always thought that this wonderful human activity was worth pursuing for its own sake. Scholarly yet accessible, this work shows how a Catholic understanding of sport rests on a spirit of play—holistic, creative, and full of joy. A vivid counter cultural thesis, so necessary for our times."
—Mark Stephen Nesti, PhD, sport psychologist for thirty-five years with professional and elite athletes, including four English Premier League teams

"Patrick Kelly's hope-filled exploration of the complex relationship between sport and play provokes more questions and offers enticing theological possibilities for flourishing in sport. Kelly shows us how the joy of play in sport can be a profound dimension of being human. In the pages of this delightful book, existential struggles weave into the lightness of being human and walking with the Divine in the fullness of life."
—Professor Tracy J. Trothen,, author, Winning the Race? Religion, Hope, and Reshaping the Sport Enhancement Debate

"We play 'for its own sake,' and yet play also contributes to our flourishing. In Play, Sport, and Spirit, Patrick Kelly masterfully unpacks this paradox, drawing in particular on his rich Catholic tradition, including Ignatian spirituality."
—Robert K. Johnston, senior professor, Fuller Theological Seminary; author, The Christian at Play

ISBN: 978-08091-5644-3

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