What would FIFA President Sepp Blatter make of the Hand of God? With his declaration that there is “no room for religion in soccer” and that religious gestures could pose “a danger” at the World Cup, maybe Blatter would dub Maradona’s iconic 1986 goal the Hand of Fate…or perhaps even the Unmoved Mover. This story kicked up limited dust after Brazil’s celebratory team prayer after the 2009 Confederations Cup, and has drawn recent protests from the Paraguay Association of Evangelical Priests (APEP) as the World Cup kicks off and players are apparently prohibited from showing “manifestation of religious faith” in moments of celebration.
Thinking through the DPDF After Secularization research group’s San Diego meeting, I just couldn’t pass up this fantastic story of the secular and the sacred. The political context of secularization debates is of course not far below the surface. Blatter was born in Switzerland, a country which has had its own minaret-shaped public debates about the nature of religion and social life. While I know little about the APEP, I would imagine that they are but one example of the rapid growth of evangelicalism in Latin America that is reshaping the political and social life of the continent. Of course just a bit farther below the surface are debates about the definition of religion itself; it’s hard to miss the rituals of football itself, from appropriate garb to chants sung with Gregorian devotion.
As my colleagues and I from the DPDF After Secularization section prepare for our departures into the field for summer research, our diverse goals are wrapped up in these and related debates about the secular, the religious, and what it might mean to do scholarship after secularization. My road leads to Senegal first, a country without a spot in the Coupe du Monde, but with its own fascinating history and contemporary politics of laïcité. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for cracks in the wall between soccer and state, and keeping this blog up to date with what else I find off the pitch.