The Public Broadcasting System (PBS) will televise a six-hour documentary series on the history of religious life in America. The series — “God in America” — produced by WGBH in Boston, will air in November 2010.
“In America, religion matters and in American history, religion has always mattered,” says promotional material for the year-from-now series. “The American story cannot be fully understood without understanding how religious ideas and spiritual experience shaped that history.”
The shows will cover 500 years of American religious history, from the arrival of Columbus to the 2008 election of Barack Obama as president. It will track “the potent and complex interaction between religion and politics in the United Sates,” as well as “the key role religious ideas and spiritual experience have played in important social reform movements from abolition to the social gospel and civil rights.”
Included in “God in America” will be stories such as the native rebellion against Spanish colonizers and their priests; the mass spiritual upheavals of the Great Awakenings; the religious and spiritual dimensions of the Civil War; the high stakes debates in the courts and conflict in the streets over the meaning of religious liberty; and the intellectual and political struggles between the country’s secular and religious cultures.
It will profile ordinary Americans and such religious and political leaders as John Winthrop and Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and William Jennings Bryan, Billy Graham and the Rev. Marin Luther King, Jr.
Titles of the six hour-long episodes are “Revolutionary Religion”; “The Great Experiment” — about the constitutional guarantee of religious liberty and the separation of church state; “Baptized in Blood” — about slavery and the spiritual journey of Abraham Lincoln; “Is Nothing Sacred?” — about how the major faith traditions split and were transformed by their varying responses to modernity; “Freedom’s March” — about the resurgence of organized religion after World War II in response to communism and the civil rights movement; and “In God We Trust” — about the contentious three decades from the mid-1970s to the 2008 election that led to the rise of conservative evangelicals as a political force and the explosion of religious diversity in the country.
A Web site will go live in April 2010 to provide resources for civic and religious groups that wish to use the series for educational and other programmatic activities.