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The cable TV channel is seeking volunteers to spend six weeks in a solitary setting of a monastery. Applications are due by the end of November.
The BBC documentary followed five men living in Worth Abbey, a Catholic monastery in Sussex, England.
By NATASHA ALTAMIRANO
"American Idol." "Survivor." "The Apprentice." "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."
Reality television topics run the gamut from various contests to philanthropic home renovation.
"The Monastery" is one of two upcoming documentaries on the cable network The Learning Channel. It will follow a group of men living in a monastery and a group of women living in a convent for six weeks.
"It's for people who feel that they're at a crossroads in their life," said Sara Woodford, series producer with Tiger/Tigress Productions, the company producing the shows. "Maybe they've had something happen where they question their faith. Maybe they never believed in God. Maybe they want to give God a last chance."
The production company's British counterpart produced the original series "The Monastery" for a BBC channel in Britain.
The BBC documentary followed five men living in Worth Abbey, a Catholic monastery in Sussex, about 32 miles south of London.
"It was very successful in Britain, and religious programming is difficult to make for a mainstream audience," Woodford said from her Bethesda, Md., office.
Applicants aren't required to have any religious background; they just need to be open-minded and willing to learn.
"They could just be ordinary people asking ordinary questions we could all relate to," Woodford said.
Producers have not disclosed the location or religious affiliation of the site for the American documentary in order to avoid giving away too much information to potential participants.
Woodford only said the documentary will take place at a "traditional monastery."
"If contributors know what to expect, then they'll miss out on the proper experience," she said.
Sister Frances Carol of the Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales at St. Mary Convent in Fredericksburg said she thinks the project is a good idea because it will provide insight into convent life.
"I really believe that the general community doesn't really understand religious life," she said. "The more we can educate the public, the more they can realize who we are and what we're about and come to a better understanding of our life."
Mehdi Aminrazavi, a University of Mary Washington religion and philosophy professor specializing in eastern religions, said documentaries often are used in religion courses, but he questioned the TLC project's goal.
"If the purpose is educational and educational only, then I suppose an insight into the life of people who have dedicated so much to their belief and creed would not be a bad idea," Aminrazavi said. "But if it is going to be commercialized and some how used by the entertainment industry for an ulterior motive, then I think that would be a desacralization of sacred rituals, which have sustained the spiritual life of so many people for ages."
Producers have received about 160 applications, casting director Mary Ann Black said. People from several states have applied, but none from Virginia, said Black, who works for the company HeeryCasting in Philadelphia.
Producers have not yet decided how many participants they'll select. Applications will be accepted through Nov. 28, and filming will begin in January or February, Black said.
Participants will be compensated financially, but Woodford said she doesn't know the amount.
Financial gain isn't the purpose of the program, she said.
The money probably will be used to cover everyday living expenses so everyone has an equal opportunity to participate, Woodford said.
More information is available on the Web at: heerycasting.com.
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