Oprah Winfrey Network/Lionsgate; Hulu; Amazon Studios
Oprah Winfrey Network/Lionsgate; Hulu; Amazon Studios

The drama “Greenleaf” was the most successful new series in the history of OWN, the cable network begun by Oprah Winfrey, and one of summer television’s success stories. It got attention for Ms. Winfrey’s return to TV acting, but it was equally distinctive for its subject matter: a Christian megachurch and the travails and power struggles of the family that runs it.

As important as religion is in the lives of many viewers, television has had a tentative relationship with it. Often, faith has been relegated to syrupy treatments (“Touched by an Angel”), used as a vehicle for supernatural plots (see Fox’s “The Exorcist,” coming this fall, and Cinemax’s “Outcast”) or ignored altogether. It’s rare to see the kind of immersive depiction that a series like “Greenleaf” makes possible: religion as a way of life, a means for good and bad and struggling people to engage with existence.

Given the sheer number of series in the age of peak TV and the recent focus on diversity of all kinds, there should be room for religion and religious diversity, too. But are things changing, and how? Here, the New York Times critics Margaret Lyons and James Poniewozik survey how television’s congregation has expanded and where there’s still room for improvement.

For the complete story, visit TheNewYorkTimes.com/Arts/Television.


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