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God In America: A New Adam/A New Eden

Airs Sunday, October 17, 2010 at 12 p.m. on KPBS TV

Promotional image of a Franciscan monk from the documentary

Credit: Courtesy of Julie Cresswell © WGBH

Above: Promotional image of a Franciscan monk from the documentary "God In America." In New Mexico, Franciscan monks met resistance from native pueblos in the Revolt of 1680.

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.

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"A New Adam"

The first hour explores the origins of America's unique religious landscape -- how the New World challenged and changed the faiths the first European settlers brought with them. In New Mexico, the spiritual rituals of the Pueblo Indians collided with the Catholic faith of Franciscan missionaries, ending in a bloody revolt.

In New England, Puritan leader John Winthrop faced off against religious dissenters from within his own ranks. And a new message of spiritual rebirth from evangelical preachers like George Whitfield swept through the American colonies, upending traditional religious authority and kindling a rebellious spirit that converged with the political upheaval of the American Revolution.

"A New Eden"

The next hour considers the origins of America's experiment in religious liberty, examining how the unlikely alliance between evangelical Baptists and enlightenment figures such as Thomas Jefferson forged a new concept of religious freedom.

In the competitive religious marketplace, unleashed by religious freedom, upstart denominations raced far ahead of traditional faiths and a new wave of religious revivals swept thousands of converts into the evangelical fold and inspired a new gospel of social reform. And in a fierce political struggle, Catholic immigrants challenged Protestant domination of the public schools and protested the daily classroom practice of reading from the King James Bible.

"Americans are awash in a sea of faith, but their knowledge about religious faiths and religious history often runs as shallow as their commitment to religion runs deep," notes Stephen Prothero, chief editorial consultant for "God In America," professor of religion at Boston University, and author of "Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know -- And Doesn't." "A series like God in America can help correct that imbalance and provide the basis for a common understanding of the role religion has played in American public life."

Learn more about episode two "God In America: A Nation Reborn/A New Light".

Learn more about episode three "God In America: Soul Of A Nation/Of God And Caesar".

Preview: God In America

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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