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John Sexton
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March 12, 2010

Whether blazing a path from humble Brooklyn beginnings to president of a leading university, or finding room in theology for baseball, John Sexton has always approached things his own way.

Sexton credits a memorable high school teacher named Charlie for helping him chart his course, "Charlie began to lead us down a mystical journey of thinking strange. I mean, he taught us to see things we never would have seen by looking at them in a way we never would have thought to look at them. So, he would ask questions or say things to us that would just jog you to a different vantage point."

This week, Sexton joins Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL for a wide-ranging conversation about God, baseball, and the importance of thoughtful discourse in society.

>>Read Sexton's article on discourse in universities.

Baseball as a Road to God: A Reading List

Along with his responsibilities as president of NYU, Sexton still finds time to teach a seminar in the Gallatin School for Individualized Study, "Baseball as a Road to God." Sexton realizes its an odd course title, but explains to Bill Moyers that that's part of helping the students "think strange."

For Sexton, the word 'God' evokes "the sense that there's meaning in our lives. There's meaning that goes beyond us." Sexton explains that such a complicated concept cannot always be approached directly, and the strange route may be the most effective: "In a way that no course I taught when I was teaching religion as a formal discipline did, it forces them to develop their own understanding of what religion is — and I don't care whether they decide whether baseball is or is not for the characters. [...] In the process, they — in their papers — have to give their definition of religion. And they come more deeply into contact with this element of humans' existence."

Viewers can peruse the reading list for "Baseball as a Road To God" below.
  • SACRED AND PROFANE, Mircea Elliade
  • THE FAITH OF 50 MILLION, edited by Christopher Evans and William Herzog II
    • "The Kingdom of Baseball in America: The Chronicle of an American Theology," Christopher Evans
    • "Baseball as Civil Religion: The Genesis of an American Creation Story," Christopher Evans
  • "Civil Religion in America," Robert Bellah, in DÆDALUS, JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF ARTS AND SCIENCES, Winter 1967, Vol. 96, No. 1, pp. 1-21.
  • THE CHOSEN, Chaim Potok
  • SUMMER DREAMS, Leonard Kriegel
  • GOD IN SEARCH OF MAN, Abraham Joshua Heschel
  • TAKE ME OUT, Richard Greenberg
  • THE PITCHER, Andre Dubus
  • A GREAT AND GLORIOUS GAME, A. Bartlett Giamatti
  • BASEBALL: A LITERARY ANTHOLOGY, edited by Nicholas Dawidoff
  • THE JOY OF SPORTS, Michael Novak.
  • HOMO LUDENS, Johan Huizinga
  • BASEBALL: A LITERARY ANTHOLOGY, edited by Nicholas Dawidoff
    • "Underworld," James DeLillo
  • "Casey at the Bat," Ernest Thayer
  • THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA, Ernest Hemingway
  • THE ERA, Roger Kahn
  • THE FIRESIDE BOOK OF BASEBALL, Fourth Edition, edited by Charles Einstein
  • WAIT 'TIL NEXT YEAR, Doris Kearns Goodwin

John Sexton

John Sexton is the fifteenth president of New York University, the Benjamin Butler Professor of Law and NYU Law School's dean emeritus, having served as dean for 14 years. He joined the Law School's faculty in 1981, was named the School's Dean in 1988, and was designated the University's president in 2001.

President Sexton is chair of the Independent Colleges and Universities of New York, chair of the New York Academy of Sciences, and vice chair of the American Council on Education. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of both the Association of American University Presidents and the Council on Foreign Relations. He has served as the chairman of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (2003-2006) and chair of the Federal Reserve Systems Council of Chairs (2006). He served as a board member for the National Association of Securities Dealers (1996-1998), and was founding chair of the board of NASD Dispute Resolution (2000-2002). He also serves on the boards of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Institute of International Education and the Association for a Better New York. While dean of the Law School he was President of the Association of American Law Schools.

President Sexton received a B.A. in History (1963) from Fordham College; an M.A. in Comparative Religion (1965) and a Ph.D. in History of American Religion (1978) Fordham University; and a J.D. magna cum laude (1979) from Harvard Law School.

He is an author of the nation's leading casebook on Civil Procedure. He also is the author of REDEFINING THE SUPREME COURT'S ROLE: A THEORY OF MANAGING THE FEDERAL COURT SYSTEM (a treatment of the Supreme Court's case selection process) in addition to several other books, numerous chapters, articles and Supreme Court briefs.

He holds honorary degrees from Fordham University, Saint Francis College; Saint John's University, University of Rochester and Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. The student editors of NYU's Annual Survey of American Law dedicated their Volume 60 in his honor. He was named by Emory University "Outstanding High School Debate Coach of the Last 50 Years" for work he did from 1960-1975. He has been honored at the HARVARD LAW REVIEW Annual Banquet, and has been named "Alumnus of the Year" both at Fordham and at his high school, Brooklyn Prep. In July 2008 he was named a Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur, the national order of the Legion of Honor of France.

Before coming to NYU, President Sexton served as law clerk to Chief Justice Warren Burger of the United States Supreme Court (1980-1981), and to Judges David Bazelon and Harold Leventhal of the United States Court of Appeals (1979-1980). For ten years (1983-1993), he served as special master supervising pretrial proceedings in the Love Canal Litigation. From 1966 until 1975, he was a professor of religion at Saint Francis College in Brooklyn, where he was department chair from 1970-1975.

Published March 12, 2009

Guest photos by Robin Holland.
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References and Reading:
NYU: Selected Communications, Writings and Television Appearances of John Sexton

Stephen Colbert's full interview with John Sexton.

The Brennan Center Redistricting Project
NYU's Brennan Center promotes redistricting reform. Their Web site also has "Redistricting 101," a comprehensive guide to redistricting and the practice of gerrymandering.

Also This Week:
Bill Moyers talks to NYU president and modern renaissance man John Sexton in a wide-ranging conversation about God, baseball, and the importance of thoughtful discourse in society. Previously a champion debate coach and scholar of religion and law, Sexton discusses his unique take on theology, contemporary politics, and the evolving role of universities throughout the world.

View highlights from Bill Moyers long career championing poetry across many television series.

Watch Bill Moyers discuss religion with leading thinkers on the JOURNAL and in past series such as NOW, GENESIS, A WORLD OF IDEAS, and FAITH AND REASON.

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