World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Reza Aslan

Article Id: WHEBN0001656053
Reproduction Date:

Title: Reza Aslan  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Hijab, Criticism of Islamism, History of the Iranians in Los Angeles, Del Mar High School, Edip Yüksel
Collection: 1972 Births, American Muslims, Converts to Islam from Protestantism, Criticism of Islamism, Critics of Islamophobia, Harvard Divinity School Alumni, Iowa Writers' Workshop Alumni, Iranian Emigrants to the United States, Iranian Former Christians, Iranian Writers, Islamic Studies Scholars, Living People, Middle Eastern Studies in the United States, Muslim Reformers, People from Los Angeles, California, People from Tehran, People from the San Francisco Bay Area, Santa Clara University Alumni, University of California, Riverside Faculty, University of California, Santa Barbara Alumni, University of Iowa Alumni, University of Iowa Faculty, Writers from California
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Reza Aslan

Reza Aslan
Aslan at Texas Book Festival, 2013
Born (1972-05-03) May 3, 1972
Tehran, Iran
Residence Los Angeles, California[1]
Citizenship Iranian-American
Alma mater Santa Clara University
Harvard Divinity School
UC Santa Barbara
University of Iowa
Occupation Academic, writer
Organization Aslan Media Inc.
Notable work No god but God
Religion Islam
Spouse(s) Jessica Jackley
Children 3
Relatives Leila Forouhar (aunt)[2]
Website .com.rezaaslanwww

Reza Aslan (Persian: رضا اصلان‎‎, IPA: ; born May 3, 1972) is an Iranian-American writer, scholar of religions, and professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside. His educational background is in religious studies and the history of religion, and includes a PhD in Sociology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has written two books on religion: No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam and Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. Aslan is a member of the American Academy of Religion.[3]


  • Background 1
  • Career 2
    • Professional memberships 2.1
    • Writing 2.2
    • Analysis of War on Terrorism 2.3
    • Protection of religious freedom 2.4
    • Fox News interview controversy 2.5
      • Academic credentials 2.5.1
    • Criticism of New Atheists 2.6
    • Criticism of media coverage of Islam 2.7
  • Religious views 3
  • Personal life 4
  • Awards 5
  • Criticisms 6
  • Publications 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Aslan's family came to the United States from Tehran in 1979, fleeing the Iranian Revolution. He grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area.[4] At the age of 15 he converted to evangelical Christianity.[5] He converted back to Islam the summer before attending Harvard.[6] In the early 1990s, Aslan taught courses at De La Salle High School in Concord, California.

Aslan holds a BA in religious studies from Santa Clara University, an MTS from Harvard Divinity School, an MFA from the University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop, and a PhD in sociology from the University of California, Santa Barbara.[7][8][9] His dissertation was titled "Global Jihadism as a Transnational Social Movement: A Theoretical Framework".[10]

In August 2000, while serving as the Truman Capote Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Aslan was a visiting faculty member in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Iowa, becoming the first person to teach Islamic studies full-time in the state.[11]

Aslan was the 2012–13 Wallerstein Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Drew University Center on Religion, Culture & Conflict.[12][13]


Reza Aslan at the Miami Book Fair International 2013

Professional memberships

He is a member of the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities, and the Pacific Council on International Policy. He has served as Legislative Assistant for the Friends Committee on National Legislation in Washington D.C., and was elected President of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, Harvard Chapter. He serves on the board of directors of the Ploughshares Fund, PEN Center USA, and serves on the national advisory board of the Levantine Cultural Center.


Aslan has written articles for The Daily Beast as a contributing editor. He has also written for various newspapers and periodicals, including The Christian Science Monitor, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Slate, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, The Guardian, the Chicago Tribune, and The Nation. He has made numerous appearances on TV and radio, including National Public Radio (NPR), PBS, The Rachel Maddow Show, Meet the Press, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, Anderson Cooper 360°, Hardball, Nightline, Real Time with Bill Maher, Fareed Zakaria GPS, and ABC Australia's Big Ideas.[14]

Analysis of War on Terrorism

Aslan speaking at Roanoke College, 18 April 2012

Aslan refers to Al Qaeda's jihad against the west as "a cosmic war", distinct from holy war, in which rival religious groups are engaged in an earthly battle for material goals. "A cosmic war is like a ritual drama in which participants act out on earth a battle they believe is actually taking place in the heavens." American rhetoric of "war on terrorism", Aslan says, is in precise "cosmic dualism" to Al Qaeda's jihad. Aslan draws a distinction between Islamism and Jihadism. Islamists have legitimate goals and can be negotiated with, unlike Jihadists, who dream of an idealized past of a pan-Islamic, borderless "religious communalism". Aslan's prescription for winning the cosmic war is not to fight, but rather to engage moderate Islamic political forces in the democratic process. "Throughout the Middle East, whenever moderate Islamist parties have been allowed to participate in the political process, popular support for more extremist groups has diminished."[15]

Protection of religious freedom

Aslan has argued for religious freedom and protection for religious minorities throughout the Middle East.[16][17] He has called for Iran to protect and stop the "horrific human rights abuses" against its Baha'i community.[16] Aslan has also said that the persecution and displacement of Middle Eastern Christian communities "is nothing less than a regional religious cleansing that will soon prove to be a historic disaster for Christians and Muslims alike."[17]

Fox News interview controversy

On 26 July 2013, Aslan was interviewed on Spirited Debate, a Fox News webcast by anchor Lauren Green about his book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.[18] Green was "unsatisfied with Aslan's credentials," and she pressed Aslan, questioning why a Muslim would write about Jesus.[19] Aslan answered, “Because it’s my job as an academic. I am a professor of religion, including the New Testament. That’s what I do for a living, actually.” The interview lasted about ten minutes and focused "on Aslan's background more than the actual contents of the book."[19] The video clip of the interview went viral within days[18] and the book, which was up to that point selling "steadily",[18] appeared at the 4th place on the New York Times print hardcover best-seller list.[18] By late July 2013, it was topping the U.S. best-seller list on Amazon.[20]

Academic credentials

Academic degrees awarded to Reza Aslan
  • B.A in religion, Santa Clara University
  • M.T.S in theology, Harvard
  • M.F.A in fiction, University of Iowa
  • Ph.D in sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara

Following Aslan's interview with Fox News, some questioned Aslan's academic claims. An article written by Manuel Roig-Franzia in The Washington Post entitled "Reza Aslan: A Jesus scholar who’s hard to pin down" accused Green of asking "astonishingly absurd questions," and Aslan of being a "moving target", as those questions succeeded in goading him to talk about his qualifications. It described him as being "eager—perhaps overeager—to present himself as a formidable academic with special bona fides in religion and history" and "boast[ing] of academic laurels he does not have."[21] The article quoted Aslan's dissertation adviser, Mark Juergensmeyer, as saying that he did not have a problem with Aslan's characterization of his credentials.

A day later, The New Republic printed an article critical of the Washington Post piece entitled "Now The Washington Post Owes Reza Aslan An Apology, Too."[22] The Philadelphia Inquirer article entitled "Reza Aslan's 'Zealot': Muslim's book about Jesus stirs things up" also defended Aslan's characterization of his academic credentials, noting that UC Santa Barbara "is famous for its interdisciplinary program—students tailor their studies around a topic, not a department. They choose a department only for the diploma."[23] The Nation's Elizabeth Castelli wrote that Aslan "reasonably opened himself to criticism" on the basis of his claim to speak "with authority as a historian"[24] and David A. Graham, a staff writer at The Atlantic wrote, "Aslan may not have a graduate degree in history, but he does have a Ph.D. and an M.T.S. that bear on the topic at hand. He has also published extensively on religion. Arguing he's somehow not a scholar, as John S. Dickerson did, isn't really credible."[25]

Criticism of New Atheists

In 2014, Aslan was interviewed by New York Magazine's Jesse Singal on his response to the recent intense criticism of Islam by the New Atheists. In the interview Aslan criticizes the "armchair atheism" of atheists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, who have no background in the study of religion and are unable to effectively comment on how it shapes human behavior. He contrasted them to the "philosophical atheism" of earlier thinkers who "were experts in religion, and so they were able to offer critiques of it that came from a place of knowledge, from a sophistication of education, of research."[26]

Criticism of media coverage of Islam

On 29 September 2014, Antonia Blumberg in The Huffington Post stated that Reza Aslan, on CNN, "criticized comedian Bill Maher for characterizing female genital mutilation as an 'Islamic problem,' in addition to making several other sweeping generalizations about the faith."[27] Prachi Gupta, in Salon, wrote that Reza Aslan believed that the United States was partnering with Saudi Arabia while simultaneously condemning ISIS.[28] Aslan was reported as saying that "To say "Muslim countries", as though Pakistan and Turkey are the same… it’s frankly, and I use this word seriously, stupid!"[29]

On 8 October 2014, Reza published a New York Times article titled, "Bill Maher Isn’t the Only One Who Misunderstands Religion" writing that, "Bill Maher is right to condemn religious practices that violate fundamental human rights. Religious communities must do more to counter extremist interpretations of their faith. But failing to recognize that religion is embedded in culture — and making a blanket judgment about the world’s second largest religion — is simply bigotry."

Religious views

Aslan was born into a Muslim family.[30] He converted to evangelical Christianity at the age of 15,[5] and converted back to Islam the summer before attending Harvard.[6]

On 22 October 2005, The Guardian called him "a Shia by persuasion".[31]

In a 2013 interview with WNYC host Brian Lehrer, Aslan said: "... I'm definitely a Muslim and Sufism is the tradition within Islam that I most closely adhere to."[32] He also proclaims himself a 'genuinely committed disciple of Jesus of Nazareth.'[30]

In a 2013 article in the Washington Post, Aslan states: "It’s not [that] I think Islam is correct and Christianity is incorrect. It’s that all religions are nothing more than a language made up of symbols and metaphors to help an individual explain faith."[33]

In 2014, in an interview with Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks, Aslan described Islam as "a man-made institution. It’s a set of symbols and metaphors that provides a language for which to express what is inexpressible, and that is faith. It’s symbols and metaphors that I prefer, but it’s not more right or more wrong than any other symbols and metaphors. It’s a language, that’s all it is."[34]

Personal life

Aslan and his ex-fiancée, journalist Amanda Fortini, ended their engagement in 2008.[35]

He married entrepreneur Jessica Jackley, a Christian, forming an interfaith family.[36] They have three sons.[1]


  • 2014 Intersections Honoree, Intersections International[37]
  • 2013 Media Bridge-Builder Award, Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding[38]
  • 2013 Peter J. Gomes Memorial Honor, Harvard Divinity School[39]
  • 2012 East-West Media Award, The Levantine Center[40]


There were negative reviews of Aslan's book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth including one in The New York Times, which stated that the book "suffers from common problems in popularization, like proposing outdated and simplistic theories for phenomena now seen as more complex."[41] A review in The Nation, claimed that Zealot argues "against the scholarly consensus";[42] A review in USA Today citied professors and pastors stating "that Aslan has simply created his own version of Jesus."[43]

Regarding No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, The Washington Post reported that Aslan's "good storytelling occasionally interferes with accuracy," that he minimizes "gender inequalities enshrined in the Koran," and he "ascribes undocumented feelings and motives not only to Muhammad but also to later figures -- a technique sometimes endorsed in creative nonfiction courses but not recommended for historians."[44] The Guardian writes that the book's "aim is to appease western ideologues."[45]


  • "The Struggle for Islam's Soul", in Will Marshall (ed.), With All Our Might: A Progressive Strategy for Defeating Jihadism and Defending Liberty, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2006.
  • "From Here to Mullahcracy", in Lila Azam Zanganeh (ed.), My Sister, Guard Your Veil; My Brother, Guard Your Eyes: Uncensored Iranian Voices, Beacon Press, 2006.
  • "Losing the War", in Gilbert H. Muller (ed.), The New World Reader, CUNY Press, 2010.
  • How to Win a Cosmic War, published in paperback as Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in a Globalized Age, 2010.
  • Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East (editor), W. W. Norton, 2011.
  • Muslims and Jews in America: Commonalities, Contentions, and Complexities (co-editor), Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
  • Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, Random House,[46] 2013.


  1. ^ a b "ABOUT — Reza Aslan". Retrieved 2013-08-04. 
  2. ^ Ali, Syed Hamad (July 15, 2011). "Islam's pulse in the US". Retrieved 2013-07-28. 
  3. ^ "ABOUT". Reza Aslan. 
  4. ^ Reza Aslan — Islam's Reformation. Interview with Krista Tippett. 20 November 2014. 
  5. ^ a b "The life of Jesus: No angel".  
  6. ^ a b "Exclusive Loonwatch Interview with Reza Aslan". 
  7. ^ Smith, Warren Cole (July 31, 2013). "Signs and Wonders: Federal religious freedom commission picks conservative leader".  
  8. ^ Gottschalk, Keith (April 8, 2005). """Interview: Reza Aslan, Author "No god but God. Blogcritics. Retrieved 2013-07-28. 
  9. ^ "Dr. Reza Aslan".  
  10. ^ "Global Jihadism as a Transnational Social Movement: A Theoretical Framework". Reza Aslan. Retrieved 2013-07-30. 
  11. ^ "Middle East and Islamic expert Reza Aslan to speak at UI April 12". University of Iowa News Services. April 5, 2010. Retrieved 2015-05-05. 
  12. ^ Hochman, Louis C. (September 25, 2013). "Author Reza Aslan, who sees Jesus as a rebel, to speak at Drew tonight". Retrieved September 26, 2013. 
  13. ^ Price, Barbara. "(Middle) East Meets Forest". Drew University. Retrieved September 26, 2013. 
  14. ^ "Reza Aslan: Terrorism and How to Win a Cosmic War - Politics - Browse - Big Ideas - ABC TV". 
  15. ^ "Book Review: 'How to Win a Cosmic War' by Reza Aslan". 
  16. ^ a b Reza Aslan and Michael Brooks (September 25, 2013). "For Iran's Rouhani, the human rights of Baha'is are the ultimate test of reform".  
  17. ^ a b Aslan, Reza (September 11, 2013). "The Christian Exodus".  
  18. ^ a b c d
  19. ^ a b "Fox News interview with religion scholar Reza Aslan goes viral", L.A. Times, July 29, 2013
  20. ^ "Amazon Best Sellers: Best Books". 
  21. ^ "Reza Aslan: A Jesus scholar who’s hard to pin down". Washington Post. 
  22. ^ Caplan-Bricker, Nora (August 9, 2013). "Now The Washington Post Owes Reza Aslan An Apology, Too". New Republic. Retrieved September 23, 2013. 
  23. ^ Derakhshani, Tirdad (July 29, 2013). "Reza Aslan's 'Zealot': Muslim's book about Jesus stirs things up". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved September 23, 2013. 
  24. ^ Castelli, Elizabeth (July 29, 2013). "Reza Aslan --- Historian?".  
  25. ^ Graham, David A. (July 29, 2013). "Is Muslim Academic Reza Aslan More Biased Than a Christian Scholar?". The Atlantic (The Atlantic Monthly Group). Retrieved 20 May 2015. Aslan may not have a graduate degree in history, but he does have a Ph.D. and an M.T.S. that bear on the topic at hand. He has also published extensively on religion. Arguing he's somehow not a scholar, as John S. Dickerson did, isn't really credible. 
  26. ^ Singal, Jesse (October 14, 2014). "Reza Aslan on What the New Atheists Get Wrong About Islam". New York Magazine. Retrieved 2014-10-20. 
  27. ^ Blumberg, Antonia (30 September 2014). "Reza Aslan Blasts Bill Maher, Media For 'Unsophisticated' Reporting On Islam".  
  28. ^ Gupta, Prachi (30 September 2014). "Reza Aslan takes down Bill Maher’s "facile arguments" on Islam in just 5 minutes".  
  29. ^ "Reza Aslan Slams 'Bigoted' Media For Generalisation That Muslims Are Misogynistic And Violent".  
  30. ^ a b "Muslim author's book about Jesus goes top of Amazon's sales charts after TV interview challenging his credentials goes viral".  
  31. ^ "Waiting for an Islamic Enlightenment".  
  32. ^ Murphy, Dan (July 28, 2013). "Can Muslims write about Christianity?".  
  33. ^ Washington Post: "Reza Aslan: A Jesus scholar who’s hard to pin down" By Manuel Roig-Franzia August 8, 2013
  34. ^ Aslan, Reza (October 13, 2014). Reza Aslan - Bigotry, Fundamentalism and Neo-Atheism in the Media. Interview with  
  35. ^ Nazaryan, Alexander (August 29, 2013). "Bad News: When Journalism and Business Collide".  
  36. ^ Katz Miller, Susan (September 28, 2013). "Reza Aslan and Jessica Jackley: A Muslim and Christian Interfaith Family".  
  37. ^ "2014 Awards Celebration". Intersections International. Retrieved 15 April 2014. 
  38. ^ "Annual Award Ceremony 2013". Tenanbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. Retrieved September 26, 2013. 
  39. ^ "HDS Alumni/Alumnae Council Announces Inaugural Gomes Honors Recipients". Harvard Divinity School. March 6, 2013. Retrieved September 26, 2013. 
  40. ^ "2012 East-West Awards Celebrate Visions of Cultural Diplomacy". Levantine Cultural Center. November 1, 2012. Retrieved September 26, 2013. 
  41. ^
  42. ^ "Reza Aslan—Historian?". 
  43. ^ "Reza Azlan's 'Zealot' Draws Criticism From Pastors And Professors".  
  44. ^ "Taking History on Faith". 
  45. ^ "Review: No God But God by Reza Aslan".  
  46. ^ "Zealot". 

External links

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.