When I tell people that I study religion and beauty pageants in America, they usually ask, "What do beauty pageants have to do with religion?" "Everything," I reply. So I was excited to see that another pageant participants' religious beliefs are in the news—if only because it confirms my hypothesis.

This is the second consecutive year the Miss USA pageant prompted a media explosion surrounding the religious beliefs of one of its contestants. The attention given to Carrie Prejean and Rima Fakih prove, perhaps surprisingly, that a number of people still pay attention to beauty pageants in America.

Last year, many speculated that Prejean's answer to a question about same-sex marriage cost her the crown. Prejean's answer stemmed from her evangelical beliefs about marriage. Since then, she has talked about her Christianity on talk shows and in an autobiography. Many in the conservative Christian community embraced Prejean as one of their own, believing that she did not win because she stood up for her religious beliefs. Others questioned her youthful indiscretions. Fewer questioned her participation in the pageant that made her famous.

This year, for the first time, a Muslim was crowned Miss USA. Rima Fakih is a 24-year-old Lebanese American who identifies as both Muslim and Christian. In the days following the pageant, the Internet exploded with commentary about the winner. Fakih's faith yielded much press among her faith community, as Prejean's did last year. Some Muslims celebrated Fakih as an example of diversity within Islam. Others applauded her win as proof of wider acceptance of Muslims into American society. Still others criticized her participation as out of keeping with Islamic teaching.

The intriguing commonality ...

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