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Holy Hills of the Ozarks

Religion and Tourism in Branson, Missouri

Over the past century, Branson, Missouri, has attracted tens of millions of tourists. Nestled in the heart of the Ozark Mountains, it offers a rare and refreshing combination of natural beauty and family-friendly recreation—from scenic lakes and rolling hills to theme parks and variety shows. It has boasted of big name celebrities, like Wayne Newton, Andy Williams, and Petula Clark, as well as family entertainers like Mickey Gilley, the Shanghai Magic Troupe, Jim Stafford, and Yakov Smirnoff.

But there is more to Branson's fame than just recreation. As Aaron K. Ketchell discovers, a popular variant of Christianity underscores all Branson's tourist attractions and fortifies every consumer success. In this lively and engaging study, Ketchell explores Branson's unique blend of religion and recreation. He explains how the city became a mecca of conservative Christianity—a place for a "spiritual vacation"—and how, through conscious effort, its residents and businesses continuously reinforce its inextricable connection with the divine.

Ketchell combines the study of lived religion, popular culture, evangelicalism, and contemporary American history to present an accurate and honest account of a distinctly American phenomenon.

About the Author

Aaron K. Ketchell, who writes on American popular religion, teaches at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.


"Fascinating. There is no work that approaches the remarkable history of Branson in such complex fashion. Ketchell weaves together engaging analysis of The Shepherd of the Hills, the music business, and hillbilly lore and culture with interpretation of built environment and observations on the national mood. Holy Hills is rich with insights into the world of 'family-values,' Christians in America, and the commercial aspects of American Protestantism, regional distinctiveness, and the trajectories of literary influence."—John Corrigan, Florida State University

"A fascinating, fair-minded assessment of a unique American subculture."—Choice

"As Ketchell brilliantly argues, Branson entrepreneurs wove Christian sentiment 'into a fabric of nostalgia, premodern longing, and whitewashed rusticity.'"—Matthew Avery Sutton, Christian Century

"Thoroughly researched and carefully documented . . . includes a great deal of material that challenges basic assumptions in the scholarly study of religions. Ketchell confronts readers with the implications of a popular tourist destination founded on the values and sentiments of American evangelical Protestantism."—Thomas S. Bremer, Journal of the American Academy of Religion

"A sophisticated interdisciplinary study . . . Ketchell squarely tackles this important and complex story with sensitivity and skill."—Tona J. Hangen, Journal of American History

"Punctuated with moments of humor . . . Ketchell's treatment is fair, including his description of organized religion's distaste for Branson's 'alternative worship opportunities' . . . well illustrated with reproductions of historical cards, photographs, and advertisements."—Stanley M. Burgess, Religious Studies Review

"This is one of those books that seems to deal with a fairly minor topic but is in fact quite important . . . At a time when Jim Wallis and other observers have forecast the end of the prominence of right-wing-religion on the U.S. political stage, this book will cause many readers to question that prediction."—David Stricklin, Journal of Southern History

"The vivid written descriptions as well as photographs, thorough historical documentation, and a keen eye for cultural landscape formation make this book an excellent piece for geographic education and a great starter for discussion of the essence of Missouri heritage."—Larry G. Brown, Missouri Historical Review

"Holy Hills of the Ozarks is a delightful case study of popular religious practice in America. It should find a broad audience. Ambitious in scope, Ketchell has written a thought provoking work."—Chad E. Seales, Pneuma: Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies

"Holy Hills of the Ozarks provides the colorful story of how this tiny town on the Missouri-Arkansas border became host to the spectacular example of religious tourism (and tourism as religion)."—Kathryn Lofton, Journal of Religion

"Ketchell has done a wonderful job."—Eric Michael MAzur, American Studies

The Johns Hopkins University Press
Lived Religions

9780801886607 : holy-hills-of-the-ozarks-ketchell
344 Pages
$35.00 USD
9781421402437 : holy-hills-of-the-ozarks-ketchell
Electronic book text
344 Pages
$35.00 USD

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