PBS Looks at. . . Religion in the U.S. Eight Interviews Show the Diversity of Beliefs Held by Americans

Article excerpt

Hugh Hewitt, host of the four-part series Searching for God in

America , admits he came close to getting the theological bends

while preparing for the eight interviews in the new PBS series

that premiers tonight.

"We were moving pretty quickly between traditions," he said.

Working with a research staff, Hewitt and producer Martin Burns

compiled a list of 50 well-known personalities in American

religion. The list was whittled down to eight.

The people chosen for the 30-minute interviews are not

necessarily household names. Charles Colson, speaking for

evangelical Christianity, and the Dalai Lama, who addressed

Buddhism, are the best known.

"We had the general goal of making sure that we had the full

range of the diversity of American belief. And we found people

with compelling personal stories and sound theological

credentials who could convey what they believe and why," Hewitt

said.

The series, which airs at 10 p.m. each Friday in July on WJCT

TV-7, examines several Christian traditions, Judaism, Islam and

Buddhism.

While the topic of religion in America is covered in its

breadth, the interviews themselves seek the depths of personal

experience and conviction. Hewitt said he consciously avoided

conventional questions about abortion and other controversial

issues.

"No one is on a conversion mission," he said. "They are

witnesses, certainly. But over and over again, they said people

should stay within their tradition, practice the norms with

which they have grown up or chosen. People will come away with a

sense of the diversity of approaches to God and that the most

important thing anyone can do is engage in this search."

Hewitt describes the series as "curiosity-driven interviews."

He is an attorney with no formal religious training. He is an

Emmy Award-winning host of Los Angeles' KCET's public affairs

series Life & Times and is a former public affairs radio talk

show host.

He prepared for the interviews by reading extensively and

interviewing authorities in each tradition.

"This wasn't work," he said.

Although the series features 28-minute interviews with each

subject, the longest interview lasted three hours. The uncut

transcriptions are available in a companion book, Searching for

God in America (Word Inc., $27.99).

In addition to the interviews, the book is an anthology of

excerpts from American spiritual writings that range from a

selection from the Baltimore Catechism, on which millions of

American Catholics were raised, to comments from jazz musician

Miles Davis, novelist Walker Percy and former heavy weight

champion George Forman. …