Ken Burns’s acclaimed documentaries include The Civil War, Baseball, Jazz and, most recently, an account of World War II titled The War. His work has won Emmys, Grammys and numerous other awards and has been nominated for Academy Awards. He is working on a series on the national parks.
What is your own religious background and identity?
I was born an Episcopalian and was at best a haphazard attendee. I have had a rich spiritual life that has its roots in Christianity, but I have not been afraid to explore. I find myself in the tradition of the founders—what Thomas Jefferson would call a deist, I guess—interested less in the organized forms of religion than in spiritual pursuit as a way toward the perfectibility of an imperfectible species called human beings.
One of your earliest films was about the Shakers. What attracted you to that subject?