Major new TV series and films will explore faith in America

By staff writers
August 3, 2009

The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) network in the USA has announced that it will present three documentaries next year exploring faith and the varieties of religious expression in the United States.

'God in America', 'The Buddha' and 'The Calling' will air in 2010 - in what the broadcaster describes as "one of the most religiously observant and spiritually diverse countries in the world."

"For many Americans, exploring religion and faith is one of life's biggest and most central questions and PBS seeks to offer some of the most compelling, wide-ranging programming on this subject any where on television," declared John F. Wilson, PBS Chief TV Programming Executive.

"In 2010, viewers will be able to enhance their understanding from three different documentary perspectives providing a truly multi-dimensional experience that will also continue online with materials and video."

'God in America', a six-hour documentary series, will tell the sweeping and dramatic story of religious life in America, examining more than 500 years of American religious history from the voyage of Christopher Columbus to the 2008 presidential election.

The series will examine this history as it has played out in public life, exploring the complex interaction between religion and democracy in the United States; the origins of the American concept of religious liberty; the dynamics of the ever-evolving American religious marketplace and the vital role played by religious ideas and institutions in many social reform movements in the country's history.

The United States, until recently primarily seen as "a Judaeo-Christian nation", now encompasses religious groups relatively unknown in the early days of the republic.

Buddhism - the world's fourth largest religion after Christianity, Islam and Hinduism - has been steadily gaining adherents in America. 'The Buddha', a two-hour documentary from Emmy Award winner David Grubin, relates the life of the Indian sage who famously gained enlightenment as he sat beneath a fig tree two-and-a-half millennia ago.

The film tells the Buddha's story through painting and sculptures by some of the world's greatest artists and tracks his biography across the sweeping landscapes of northern India. The testimony of contemporary Buddhists, from Pulitzer Prize-winning poet W.S. Merwin to the Dalai Lama, provide insight into the ancient narrative of the man who never claimed to be God or God's emissary, but merely a human being who, in a world of unavoidable pain and suffering, had achieved a serenity that others, too, could find. 'The Buddha' is scheduled to air in Spring 2010 on PBS.

Meanwhile, 'The Calling', from independent producer Danny Alpert, is a four-hour documentary series following eight individuals on their dramatic journey into the clergy from the perspective of different faiths - Islam, Catholicism, Evangelical Christianity and Judaism.

A new look at an old job, religious leadership, the series takes viewers into the unknown world of seminaries to tell the compelling stories of young, dynamic and thoughtful subjects, all of whom struggle to balance religious convictions, rigorous academic study, personal relationships, dedication to lifelong service - and occasional spells of ambivalence and uncertainty. The resulting portraits provide a rich, nuanced portrayal of faith in America.

PBS, with its 357 member stations, aims to offer Americans from every walk of life "the opportunity to explore new ideas and new worlds through television and online content. Each month, PBS reaches more than 115 million people on-air and online, inviting them to experience the worlds of science, history, nature and public affairs, hear diverse viewpoints and take front row seats to world-class drama and performances."

More information about PBS is available at

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.