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God In America: A Nation Reborn/A New Light

Airs Sunday, October 24, 2010 at 12 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Photo of Frederick Douglass, one of the foremost leaders of the abolitionist movement, who was also a licensed preacher at the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. Douglass condemned Christianity for sanctioning slavery.

How has religious belief shaped American history? What role have religious ideas and spiritual experience played in shaping the social, political, and cultural life of what has become the world’s most religiously diverse nation? "God In America," a presentation of AMERICAN EXPERIENCE and FRONTLINE, will explore the historical role of religion in the public life of the United States. The six-hour series interweaves documentary footage, historical dramatization and interviews with religious historians.

Photo of President Abraham Lincoln. The personal beliefs of President Abraham Lincoln remain a source of mystery to historians and biographers.
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Above: Photo of President Abraham Lincoln. The personal beliefs of President Abraham Lincoln remain a source of mystery to historians and biographers.

A Methodist Episcopal Church schoolhouse in the 1870s.
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Above: A Methodist Episcopal Church schoolhouse in the 1870s.

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"A Nation Reborn"

The third hour explores how religion suffused the Civil War. As slavery split the nation in two, Northern abolitionists and Southern slaveholders turned to the Bible to support their cause. Former slave and Abolitionist Frederick Douglass condemned Christianity for sanctioning slavery.

In the White House, Abraham Lincoln, who had put his faith in reason over revelation, struggled to make sense of the war's carnage and the death of his young son. In his anquish Lincoln embarked on a spiritual journey that transformed his ideas about God and the ultimate meaning of the war.

"A New Light"

The next hour focuses on the 19th century, when the forces of modernity challenged traditional faith and drove a wedge between liberal and conservative believers. An immigrant from Bohemia, Isaac Meyer Wise, embraced change and established Reform Judaism in America while his opponents adhered to Old World traditions.

In New York, Presbyterian biblical scholar Charles Briggs sought to wed his evangelical faith with modern biblical scholarship, leading to his trial for heresy. In the 1925 Scopes evolution trial, Christian fundamentalist William Jennings Bryan faced off against freethinker Clarence Darrow in a battle between scientific and religious truth.

"God In America: A New Adam/A New Eden" aired Monday, October 11, 2010 at 9 p.m.

"God In America: Soul Of A Nation/Of God And Caesar" repeats on Sunday, October 31, 2010 at 12 p.m.

Video

Preview: God In America

Above: For the first time on television, "God In America" tells the sweeping history of how religion shaped public life in America. Presented by AMERICAN EXPERIENCE and FRONTLINE, the six-hour series covers four hundred years of American religious history ranging from the story of the Europeans who brought their religious traditions to the New World to the modern struggle between secular and religious cultures. "God In America" explores how the quest for religious liberty created a vibrant spiritual marketplace that made the country the most religiously diverse nation on earth.

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