The Miss America pageant has extraordinary staying power. Despite the cultural winds of the past century, Miss America continues to captivate the nation, giving America what it wants most—sex, entertainment, competition, religion, and even self-discovery.
In Miss America’s God, Mandy McMichael traces the pageant’s long and complicated history. She demonstrates that the pageant is a little explored window into American culture, one that reveals a complex cocktail of all Americans hold dear. Ultimately, McMichael contends that the pageant is an unexpected cultural space of religious expression and self-discovery for many contestants whose faith communities support and validate their pageant participation.
Miss America’s God utilizes feminist theory, women’s history, sociology, psychology, ethnography, and religious studies to explain the enduring popularity of the pageant, as well as religion’s curious embrace of its spectacle. While contestants use the pageant to build faith and identity, the pageant uses the faith of the contestants to remain relevant in a society that is increasingly suspicious of it. McMichael shows just how central religion has been to Miss America. Religion, for Miss America, sanctifies sex, ritualizes entertainment, justifies competition, and enables self-discovery. Religion makes Miss America a cultural icon that withstands the test of time.
Introduction 1. Miss America as Sex 2. Miss America as Entertainment 3. Miss America as Competition 4. Faith of the Pageant, Faith and the Pageant 5. Faith in the Pageant Conclusion: Born Again: Miss America 2.0
Mandy McMichael is J. David Slover Assistant Professor of Ministry Guidance at Baylor University.
Miss America’s God traces the history of the Miss America pageant from its origins in 1921 to the present, demonstrating that its persistence over the past century derives from some alchemy of sex, entertainment, and religion, thereby tapping into Americans’ insatiable and enduring passions. Mandy McMichael demonstrates how the Miss America pageant has variously stood against, amplified, and capitulated to the zeitgeist, and its ability constantly to reinvent itself makes it quintessentially American.
~Randall Balmer, John Phillips Professor in Religion and Director of the Society of Fellows, Dartmouth College
What sets this manuscript apart is the way it takes a pageant that every one of us has watched – an event that readers think they understand (and which many of us may well hold in scorn) – and unmasks it as a form of sacrificial atonement that sounds for all the world like "The Lottery," that short story that blew us away in ninth-grade English class. What a read!
~Valarie H. Ziegler, Walter E. Bundy Professor of Religious Studies and Chair of Religious Studies, DePauw University
This book skillfully explores the complicated relationship between faith and the Miss America pageant. McMichael’s deep immersion in pageant culture, her nuanced analysis of pageant testimonies, and her knowledge of religion provide a fascinating portrait of the ways that the secular and sacred have been navigated on the runway.
~Karen W. Tice, Professor of Gender and Women's Studies and Educational Policy Studies and Director of Graduate Studies, University of Kentucky
McMichael’s extensive ethnographic study demonstrates the depth and sincerity of her scholarship and gives weight to her critique. No one could accuse the author of an armchair understanding of the Miss America Pageant and its contestants, as she spent many years surveying and speaking with hopefuls... All of her painstaking ethnographic work was undertaken in an effort to decipher pageant narratives and situate them within American religious history’ (9). In this effort, McMichael deserves a crown, sash, and bouquet of roses.
~Carissa S. Wyant, Reading Religion
Miss America’s God is not only an enjoyable read, but also an incredibly versatile book that could be a useful text in countless course syllabi. From American Studies to Cultural History to American Religion to Gender and Sexuality, McMichael’s work provides a valuable contribution to understanding and thinking about the evolution of gender roles in American society as seen through the nation’s oldest pageant.
~Andrew Gardner, Baptist History and Heritage
McMichael deftly brings together a multitude of voices to examine the alliance between religion, mostly conservative Christianity, and the Miss America pageant. The resulting story is strikingly smart and compulsively readable.
~Darren J. N. Middleton, Perspectives in Religious Studies