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The Grace of Playing: A Conversation on Sports and Their Role in Human Flourishing

Villanova Hosts Panelists to Discuss Philosophical, Theological and Spiritual Foundations of Sports

The Grace of Playing: A Conversation on Sports and Their Role in Human Flourishing

Sports play a fundamental role in human development, with the desire to engage in play appearing universally through distinct social, political and historical contexts. On March 24, Villanova University will host “The Grace of Playing: A Conversation on Sports and Their Role in Human Flourishing.” The event is being organized by the Institute for Catholic Social Thought, Office for Mission and Ministry at Villanova University. This panel discussion is free and open to the public, and will be held from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the Driscoll Hall auditorium on the University’s main campus. Registration is not required.

Panelists will include scholars of sports and theology as well as professionals from the world of sports who will first explore the philosophical, theological, and spiritual foundations of sport. A second, consecutive panel will examine the various ways that the culture of sports contributes to both human development and flourishing, while it can also be co-opted into systems of exclusion and injustice.

“With sports, we often think in terms of who won and who lost,” said event organizer Stefanie Knauss, Th.D., Assistant Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Villanova University. “In this event, we want to go back to the basics: what does play mean for human development, and how can we understand human existence as playful – creative, communal, and enjoyable? How can we then, departing from these fundamental philosophical and spiritual reflections, think about the conditions under which play and sports can contribute to the flourishing of all human beings?”

Attendees will be able to take part in discussions with panelists on how participating in athletics can free the human spirit, create community and provide opportunities for self-knowledge about people’s physical and mental capacities. Sport teaches how to deal with failure as well as with success and provides a rich source of meaning and value in life.

“A Catholic University, especially one which places an Augustinian commitment to the intersection of faith, culture, and reason at the heart of its mission like Villanova does, possesses a unique capacity and obligation not just to help guide these conversations but to model athletic truth, beauty, and goodness in its internal practices,” said event organizer Kathleen Grimes, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Villanova.

Panelists will include:

  • Mark Jackson, Athletic Director, Villanova University (opening remarks via video).
  • Kevin Blackistone, M.S., longtime national sports columnist currently writing for The Washington Post, panelist on ESPN’s “Around the Horn, and visiting professor in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.
  • Santiago (Yago) Colás, PhD, Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and in the Residential College at the University of Michigan, where he researches and teaches the culture of sports.
  • Edward Hastings, PhD, Assistant Professor of Theology and Director of the Graduate Program in Theology and Ministry at Villanova University.
  • Nicole LaVoi, PhD, Senior Lecturer in the area of social and behavioral sciences in the School of Kinesiology at the University of Minnesota.
  • Marcia Mount Shoop, PhD, theologian, minister, activist, and blogger based in North Carolina. Shoop’s writing reflects her experiences as a woman, mother, and football coach's wife as well as from her years of work on dialogue and healing around race, gender, cross-cultural community formation, ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue, and sexual violence.
  • Cesar Torres, PhD, Professor in the Department of Kinesiology, Sport Studies, and Physical Education at The College at Brockport, State University of New York.

About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six colleges—the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. Ranked among the nation’s top universities, Villanova supports its students’ intellectual growth and prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them. For more, visit