Where is God on ‘Mad Men?’

I’m a Mad Men fan and watched the season finale Sunday night with great interest.

I look forward each week to dissecting the show with my mad colleagues at the JN.

But, honestly, it never occurred to me that religion is an afterthought on the show until I read a blog post today by Diane Winston, a religion scholar who holds the Knight Chair in Media and Religion at the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at USC (not a bad gig).

She starts off:


Religion never registered in this season’s installment of Mad Men. It didn’t need to. The implications of faith, morality and Protestant privilege echoed through the episodes, delineating expectations about work and family, gender roles and even child-rearing. Off-screen in 1965, the Supreme Court Case Griswold v. Connecticut upheld women’s right to contraception, the Rolling Stones spread “Satisfaction” and the Roman Catholic Church absolved present-day Jews for the crucifixion. LBJ declared the Great Society, Vietnam escalated and Watts burned. In each instance religious tropes and taboos that had seemed immutable were summarily overturned.


She’s right on, I think. The show deals largely with the social transition from the ’50s to the ’60s. And part of that transition was the loosening of religious observance in the U.S., across traditions and denominations.

I don’t think a single character on MM attends church — or, at least, mentions it. I have to assume that most are Protestants.

The character Peggy did have an interesting relationship with a Catholic priest during the first few seasons. I couldn’t possibly summarize it here.

Winston notes that Don Draper, the show’s central figure, has had relationships with two Jewish women (among a cast of thousands). She writes:


n 1960, Don Draper never seemed fully comfortable with Rachel Menken, the Jewish department store heiress with whom he had an affair. Seeing her as another “Other,” his uncomfortable kinship climaxed with a surprising proposal that they run away together. But five years later, Faye Miller’s Jewish identity barely rates a mention. When she compliments Don’s handsome punim (Yiddish for “face”), Don barely arches an eyebrow. Could it be that the Herbergian trinity–Protestant, Catholic, Jew—has, ten years after the publication Herberg’s seminal essay, finally taken hold?


The season just ended with Draper, recently divorced, getting engaged to his secretary.

I wonder if they’ll marry in a church.

(AP Photo/Evan Agostini for Chase Sapphire)