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October 20, 2010

Documentary Recommendation: God in America


On Sunday, I found myself completely sucked into the entire six-hour run of PBS's God in America. This sort of thing isn't for everyone, of course, but if you'd at all interested in American history or religious studies or sociology, I highly recommend you check it out. (You can watch it online and find all sorts of accompanying resources here.) It traces the way that religion has played a role in major events of American history from the first interactions between the native peoples and Spanish missionaries all the way through this summer's Koran-burning and "Ground Zero mosque" controversies. The broad outlines, of course, will be familiar to anyone who's been paying attention, but it's presented well and had enough new-to-me information to keep me intrigued. Did you know that Hearst ordered his publications to make Billy Graham into a celebrity as a way to fight Communism, for example? That story was fascinating.

The film has a good mix of expert commentary and reenactments based on primary sources. Stephen Prothero, one of my favorite writers on religious issues, comments throughout, and I have to mention that he's not at all hard to look at. Other names I knew popped up from time to time - Mary Beth Norton, Amy Sullivan. I would have preferred that they give more time to some religious events that were less directly tied to major historical events - the Mormons were only mentioned in passing (perhaps because they did a whole documentary on Mormonism already), and I don't think the Salem Witch Trials came up at all. Still, it was cohesive, informative, and surprisingly watchable.

Posted by Kat at October 20, 2010 03:00 PM
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