Reza Aslan

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Reza Aslan
Reza Aslan - April 2012-cr.jpg
Reza Aslan in 2012
Born (1972-05-03) 3 May 1972 (age 42)
Tehran, Iran
Residence Los Angeles, California[1]
Nationality American
Alma mater Santa Clara University
Harvard Divinity School
University of California, Santa Barbara
University of Iowa
Occupation Academic, writer
Organization Aslan Media Inc.
Notable work(s) No god but God
Religion Islam[2]
Formerly Evangelical Christianity[3]
Spouse(s) Jessica Jackley
Children 2
Relatives Leila Forouhar (aunt)[4]

Reza Aslan (Persian: رضا اصلان‎, IPA: [ˈɾezɒː ɒːsˈlɒːn]; born May 3, 1972) is an Iranian-American writer and scholar of religions. He is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside. His books include the international bestseller No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, which has been translated into 13 languages, and Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, which offers an interpretation of the life and mission of the historical Jesus.


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. 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 Bachelor of Arts degree in religions from Santa Clara University, a Master of Theological Studies degree from Harvard Divinity School, and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop, where he was named the Truman Capote Fellow in Fiction. Aslan also received a Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology, focusing in the history of religion, 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 named Visiting Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Iowa, becoming the first full-time professor of Islam in the history of the state.[11]

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

Aslan lives in Hollywood, California.


Reza Aslan at the Miami Book Fair International 2013

Professional memberships[edit]

He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, 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[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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] The interview lasted about ten minutes and focused "on Aslan's background more than the actual contents of the book."[19] Reading comments from Aslan's critics, Green included negative criticism from William Lane Craig, a noted Christian apologist. In the end, Green claimed that "Aslan had somehow misled readers by not disclosing his religion", whereupon he pointed out that his personal religious faith "is discussed on page two of his book" and called himself "quite a prominent Muslim thinker in the United States." Green was almost universally criticized for the premise of her questions during the interview.

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[edit]

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 often a moving target" observed that Green had asked "astonishingly absurd questions," but that Aslan was a "moving target" and 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]


2014 Intersections Honoree, Intersections International[25]

2013 Media Bridge-Builder Award, Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding[26]

2013 Peter J. Gomes Memorial Honor, Harvard Divinity School[27]

2012 East-West Media Award, The Levantine Center[28]

Other publications[edit]

  • 'The Struggle for Islam's Soul', essay in With All Our Might: A Progressive Strategy for Defeating Jihadism and Defending Liberty, Will Marshall, ed. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2006.
  • 'From Here to Mullahcracy', essay in My Sister, Guard Your Veil; My Brother, Guard Your Eyes: Uncensored Iranian Voices, Lila Azam Zanganeh, ed. Beacon Press, 2006.
  • 'Losing the War', The New World Reader, Gilbert H Muller, ed., 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 [1], 2013.


  1. ^ "ABOUT — Reza Aslan". Retrieved 2013-08-04. 
  2. ^ Murphy, Dan (July 28, 2013). "Can Muslims write about Christianity?". Retrieved 29 July 2013. 
  3. ^ Reza Aslan on The Daily Show. July 17, 2013.
  4. ^ Ali, Syed Hamad (July 15, 2011). "Islam's pulse in the US". Retrieved 2013-07-28. 
  5. ^ "The life of Jesus: No angel". The Economist. July 27, 2013. Retrieved 2013-07-28. 
  6. ^ Exclusive Loonwatch Interview with Reza Aslan, November 21, 2011
  7. ^ Smith, Warren Cole (July 31, 2013). "Signs and Wonders: Federal religious freedom commission picks conservative leader". World. Retrieved August 1, 2013. 
  8. ^ Gottschalk, Keith (April 8, 2005). "Interview: Reza Aslan, Author "No god but God"". Blogcritics. Retrieved 2013-07-28. 
  9. ^ "Dr. Reza Aslan". Drew University. Retrieved July 29, 2013. 
  10. ^ "Global Jihadism as a Transnational Social Movement: A Theoretical Framework". Reza Aslan. Retrieved 2013-07-30. 
  11. ^ "Reza Aslan". Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Retrieved 2013-07-28. 
  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. ^ ABC Australia's Big Ideas, Talk with Tony Jones "Reza Aslan: Terrorism and How to Win a Cosmic War" published on 1 Jun 2010. Retrieved on 6 Apr 2012
  15. ^ The Washington Post "Book Review: 'How to Win a Cosmic War' by Reza Aslan", published on 28 Jun 2009. Retrieved on 6 Apr 2012.
  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". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 25, 2013. 
  17. ^ a b Aslan, Reza (September 11, 2013). "The Christian Exodus". Foreign Affairs. Retrieved September 25, 2013. 
  18. ^ a b c d "Odd Fox News Interview Lifts Reza Aslan's Biography on Jesus", by Julie Bosman, The New York Times, 29 July 2013
  19. ^ a b "Fox News interview with religion scholar Reza Aslan goes viral", L.A. Times, July 29, 2013
  20. ^ Best Sellers List,, retrieved 1 August 2013
  21. ^ "Reza Aslan: A Jesus scholar who's often a moving target", The Washington Post, August 8, 2013
  22. ^ Caplan-Bricker, Nora (August 9, 2013). "Now The Washington Post Owes Reza Aslan An Apology, Too". Retrieved September 23, 2013. 
  23. ^ Derakhshani, Tirdad (July 29, 2013). "Reza Aslan's 'Zealot': Muslim's book about Jesus stirs things up". Retrieved September 23, 2013. 
  24. ^ Castelli, Elizabeth (July 29, 2013). "Reza Aslan --- Historian?". The Nation. Retrieved August 9, 2013. 
  25. ^ "2014 Awards Celebration". Intersections International. Retrieved 15 April 2014. 
  26. ^ "Annual Award Ceremony 2013". Tenanbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. Retrieved September 26, 2013. 
  27. ^ "HDS Alumni/Alumnae Council Announces Inaugural Gomes Honors Recipients". Harvard Divinity School. March 6, 2013. Retrieved September 26, 2013. 
  28. ^ "2012 East-West Awards Celebrate Visions of Cultural Diplomacy". Levantine Cultural Center. November 1, 2012. Retrieved September 26, 2013. 

External links[edit]