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God in America: Series Q&A

By Michelle Michalos
Friday, October 8th, 2010
  • comments (4)

God in America, a new three-part documentary produced by PBS, explores the historical role of religion in the U.S.  The film takes a look at the complex relationship between democracy and religion, and considers the role religion has played in social reform movements from abolition to civil rights. Learn more about the film with this in-depth series Q&A.

Why has PBS chosen this moment to explore the issue of religion’s impact on America?

You don’t have to look any further than today’s controversies about plans to build an Islamic center near Ground Zero or the threat by a pastor in Florida to burn copies of the Quran to realize how deeply intertwined religion and politics are in the public life of America. These stories are reminders that the struggle for religious liberty and the country’s religious identity is an enduring part of the American story. Those struggles are the major themes and storylines of the God in America series — from the earliest attempts by European settlers to convert Native Americans to Christianity to the religious ideas than animated the political crusades of the civil rights movement and the religious right. To explore more than 400 years of that history is surprising and enlightening journeys that will help viewers understand their country’s history in a fresh way and give rich context to today’s current events.

Why have FRONTLINE and American Experience come together to explore this topic?

The subject matter of God in America benefits from the strengths of both of these iconic series, which last partnered in 2007 to present a four-hour series, The Mormons. American Experience excels at revealing the resonant historical moments that have shaped our common development as a nation and a people. FRONTLINE trains a contemporary reporter’s eye on how the dynamics of history impact on today and inform the future. Together, the two programs bring unusual filmmaking experience and expertise, giving greater depth and perspective to an important discussion.

How were the series’ experts chosen?

Beginning with the film’s initial research and development phase, the God in America team worked with a wide array of scholars with a broad range of interests and expertise, from universities and colleges across the country. Those scholars interviewed in the films were ultimately chosen because they presented the most compelling and illuminating perspectives on the subject, offering historical imagination, their specialized knowledge and expertise and their broad-gauged interests, and a genuine commitment to bringing a complicated and controversial history to a public audience.

Why does God in America seem to focus on Protestant Christian denominations?

In fact, the series contains several major historical chapters on Catholicism and Judaism, and also explores the rich diversity of the contemporary American religious marketplace –with its millions of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and non-believers. But the historical story of God in America tracks back to the earliest days of the country and for much of that history, the central religious and political struggles were dominated by those of Protestant faiths. Even today, with all its religious diversity, the U.S. remains 75% Christian, with half of the population identifying themselves as Protestants.

Is God in America suggesting that America is a Christian nation, founded on Christian principles?

God in America reports that America’s Founding Fathers were Christian and were guided in many ways by Christian teachings, they intended for the new nation to be secular by law and expected its people to be religious by choice. They intentionally refused to allow the establishment of a national religion or a national church supported by taxes; did not demand that the nation’s leaders follow a particular religious belief or pass any sort of religious “test,” and left the word “God “ out of the nation’s Constitution (although the Declaration of Independence does invoke “Nature’s God”). And the fervor of religious revivals spilled into the political sphere and fueled the rebellion of the American revolution.

God in America airs October 11-13 at 9 p.m. on THIRTEEN.  God in NY, the local NY companion documentary, airs on October 11 at 11 p.m.

Watch the God in America extended preview:

Watch the God in NY preview:

Watch the full episode. See more Previews.


  • Betty Newman

    Tried to place order for the series entitled God in America but had no luck. Can you please send me an order form to the abopve email address. I am a contributor to 13 and a devoted watcher of the MacNeil Lehrer show. Thanks, Betty Newman

  • Ben@Thirteen

    Hi Betty – you can order God in America online through ShopTHIRTEEN:
    http://www.shopthirteen.org/product/show/93062

  • Alan Eisenberg

    Dear Channel 13… Two issues. #1… I heard your series on God in America was as big and balanced a triumph as anything that PBS has ever run! So why have you NEVER repeated it in more than a year? I can only guess… and every guess I come up with is bad news for you and for me. How about taking a shot at trying to tell me something that resembles the truth and not the corporate mumbo-jumbo spinning you are in the habit of delivering in your truly unresponsive fashion as you pretend to be different than other communications networks and worldwide HUGE business concerns that seem to run everything. Issue #2 will wait a while. Right now my dinner is getting cold. Thanks for whatever you choose to do. Alan Eisenberg, Hackensack, NJ

  • Alan Eisenberg

    Dear Channel Thirteen… Issue #2… There is no question that much of your programming is quite valuable to myself and many others who like to get reasonably honest and factual information from a TV. I wish PBS and Thirteen could be more responsive to my needs, however. I realize my own viewership means as much to you folks as it does to any of the people in charge of the other major networks. I lived too long and aged myself into the wrong demographic. “Where does the time go?” “Did we have that conversation?” At the end of the day, we probably did. Moving forward…

    You guys have plenty of money. I don’t anymore. I just hope I have enough so that it lasts just a little longer than my heart does. “If I knew I knew I was going to live this long, I might have taken better care of myself.” If I knew I had some extra green for the rest of my lifetime, I’d probably give to you freely, even though that too would probably be foolish. You get more than enough, like all the rest of the networks, to pay your executives large salaries. The money comes from large corporations who run their ads before and after all your programs at far less cost than they pay the other networks. On the other hand, I now have a $1,500 cable bill each year. I hope you’re getting some piece of that. What I get a kick out of is the audacity of your company to conduct The Big Beg at least four times a year, and every other chance you get, to lay on your guilt trips and plead for more money as if my $50 or $100 is going to save you from bankruptcy or make any difference whatsoever. “Viewers like me”… indeed! It would be more of a trip if your beggers and pleaders did their shpiels with squeegees in hand. That would be a level of honesty that would be totally unexpected on primetime network TV. But no… you would rather continue the charade by asking for $125 so that I might buy a CD or two or pay $50 for a tote bag. Just trying to maintain normal intelligence these days has become a quite a racquet. What a sham!

    No need to worry about me. Me and my generation are so over, the generations behind us are chomping at the bit for the 70+ crowd to keel over and be done with already. The Bible seems to say “three score and ten” … Methuselah, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, et al to the contrary. I can’t blame those who are younger. Those of us who came of age in the late 50s and 60s made this mess, and we’re eating up all the Social Security and Medicare funds to boot with each day we remain alive.

    So good luck with those $100 CDs and $350 Broadway tkts… and watch your trans fats and driving while on the cell phone. These are the things we now feel are most important now that Bernie Madoff is in jail, and I need to remove the belt around my pants THREE times before I can go to the top of THE STATUE OF LIBERTY (notice any irony there?) and everything is honest again from Wall Street to Main Street to Liberty International Airport in our new post-racial society where honesty, justice and integrity run freely like a mighty stream. We may run out of fossil fuels, but as long as we keep manufacturing all that baloney and BS our great country and the free world will never run out of enough energy to keep our planet spinning.

    Time to go. I have to see what’s growing in Lydia’s Garden and where my friend, Bert Wolff, will be taking us next. Just a weary armchair traveler way past his prime. It was a great trip while it lasted. “Between the bookends.” 13 has always been my lucky number. Thanks for watching. Ciao! A. Eisenberg, Hackensack, NJ

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