Reza Aslan Wants to Call Out the Lunacy
A religion scholar who moonlights on TV brings a fresh voice to Islam.
Gripping developments in the post-Arab Spring polarize Americans who rely on mainstream media. But Drew students in visiting professor Reza Aslan’s class last fall on Religion and Politics in the New Middle East get their news through social media and the Internet, giving them one up on their elders, he says.
“Young people have far fewer prejudices and hang-ups than their parents and are much more likely to walk into a class like mine with open minds. They’ve been trained by Jon Stewart to be cynical about everything they hear in the media, which is a very important skill—and one they should teach their parents,” says Aslan, 40, author of the international bestseller No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam.
Aslan himself is as comfortable in pop culture as he is in academe, and has appeared on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report. “I’m from the generation of scholars and thinkers who grew up in a world that has increasingly blurred the line between information and entertainment. I get both criticism and celebration for that fact,” he says. He is also a novelist, news commentator and an assistant professor of creative writing at UC Riverside.
Born in Iran in 1972, he emigrated with his family to the U.S. after the 1979 Iranian Revolution and, after a short stop in Oklahoma where he learned English by watching TV, grew up in the Bay Area. He earned his Ph.D. in the sociology of religion from UC Santa Barbara. A Muslim, he does not shy from interpreting his faith or countering Islamophobia: “I’m trying to present an alternative voice, a new voice. I feel like it’s my job to call out the lunacy, the ridiculousness of the postulates out there.”
Asked if Islam were compatible with democracy for a recent op-ed feature in The New York Times, he bluntly denounced the question. “The question should be: ‘Do Muslims promote democracy?’ And the answer is some do and some don’t, as is the case with followers of every religious tradition on earth,” he wrote.
This spring, Aslan, the 2012-2013 Wallerstein Distinguished Professor at Drew’s Center on Religion, Culture and Conflict, will teach a course on the art of protest in the Middle East, examining protest literature, film, art and music. His wife, Jessica Jackley, a social entrepreneur and co-founder of Kiva.org, was Drew’s Barer Visiting Fellow in the fall of 2012.—Mary Jo Patterson
Watch Aslan on The Daily Show.
|The Daily Show with Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|