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IUPUI Professor Serves as Historian/Consultant for PBS' "God in America" Series

Philip Goff
Philip Goff


October 11, 2010

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Despite this country’s tradition of separating church and state, Americans have historically believed that our country was created for a divine purpose.

“The debate has been over just what that divine purpose has been – and that’s where politics has played a role,” says Philip Goff, executive director of the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, part of the School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI.

Goff is one of several religious historians interviewed for “God in America," the first TV production to explore “the tumultuous 400-year history of the intersection of religion and public life in America,” according to PBS. The six-hour series will air on PBS Oct. 11, 12 and 13, 2010.

“The series shows how America shaped religion and religion shaped America,” Goff says. “Viewers will get a good overview of religion’s role in American life and therefore a better understanding of the world in which we live.”

“God in America” is a co-production of American Experience and Frontline. Interviews with Goff and other historians are interweaved with documentary footage and actors in historical dramatizations with actors as key figures, including segments with Michael Emerson as Puritan and Massachusetts Bay Colony governor John Winthrop, Chris Sarandon as President Abraham Lincoln and Keith David as African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

The production, “examines how religious dissidents helped shape the American concept of religious liberty and the controversial evolution of that ideal in the nation’s courts and political arena; how religious freedom and waves of new immigrants and religious revivals fueled competition in the religious marketplace; how movements for social reform--from abolition to civil rights--galvanized men and women to put their faith into political action; and how religious faith influenced conflicts from the American Revolution to the Cold War,” according to the PBS press release announcing the series.

Goff is interviewed in Episodes Five and Six of “God in America.” Those last two hours of the series focus on religion and public life from the post World War II era to present day America.

In addition to his on-camera role, Goff served as consultant to the project, previewing scripts and helping to arrange on-camera interviews with other historians.

Goff is professor of religious studies and American studies in the School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI. He has published three books, including The Columbia Documentary History of Religion in America Since 1945 and Themes in Religion and American Culture. For six years the IUPUI professor has been the lead co-editor of journal Religion and American Culture.

Episodes One, Three and Five of “God in America” air from 9 to 10 p.m., Eastern Time. Episodes Two, Four and Six will air from 10 to 11 p.m., Eastern Time. Go to the Web site for additional information about the PBS series.

Note: For media interviews with Goff, please call 317-274-8410; or e-mail

Go to for information about Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture.