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Reza Aslan

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Reza Aslan
Reza aslan 2013.jpg
Aslan at Texas Book Festival, 2013
Born (1972-05-03) May 3, 1972 (age 43)
Tehran, Iran
Residence Los Angeles, California[1]
Citizenship Iranian-American[citation needed]
Alma mater Santa Clara University
Harvard University
University of California, 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 Official website

Reza Aslan (Persian: رضا اصلان‎‎, IPA: [ˈɾezɒː æsˈlɒːn]; born May 3, 1972) is an Iranian-American author, commentator and religious scholar. 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] He is also a professor of creative writing at University of California, Riverside.


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.[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][19] Green was "unsatisfied with Aslan's credentials," and she pressed Aslan, questioning why a Muslim would write about Jesus.[20] 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."[20] 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.[21]

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."[22] 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."[23] 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."[24] 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"[25] 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."[26]

Criticism of New Atheists

In 2014, Aslan was interviewed by New York'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."[27]

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."[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] Prachi Gupta, in Salon, wrote that Reza Aslan believed that the United States was partnering with Saudi Arabia while simultaneously condemning ISIS.[30] The television and radio host David Pakman cast doubt on some of Aslan's claims from the CNN interview.[31]

On 8 October 2014, Aslan 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."[32]

Religious views

Aslan was born into a Shia Muslim family.[33] 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".[34]

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."[35] He also proclaims himself a 'genuinely committed disciple of Jesus of Nazareth.'[33]

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."[36]

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."[37]

Personal life

Aslan and his ex-fiancée, journalist Amanda Fortini, ended their engagement in 2008.[38]

He married entrepreneur Jessica Jackley, a Christian, forming an interfaith family.[39] They have three sons.[1]

His aunt is famed Iranian-American pop singer, Leila Forouhar.[40]


  • 2014 Intersections Honoree, Intersections International[41]
  • 2013 Media Bridge-Builder Award, Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding[42]
  • 2013 Peter J. Gomes Memorial Honor, Harvard Divinity School[43]
  • 2012 East-West Media Award, The Levantine Center[44]


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."[45] A review in The Nation, claimed that Zealot argues "against the scholarly consensus";[46] A review in USA Today citied professors and pastors stating "that Aslan has simply created his own version of Jesus."[47] A review in ABC Online questioned Aslan's expertise in the subject claiming "Aslan has not contributed a single peer reviewed article, let alone monograph" and further said "Aslan's grandiose claims and his limited credentials in history is glaring on almost every page."[48]

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."[49] The Guardian writes that the book's "aim is to appease western ideologues."[50]



  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. Retrieved 2015-11-17. 
  4. ^ Reza Aslan — Islam's Reformation. Interview with Krista Tippett. 20 November 2014. 
  5. ^ a b "The life of Jesus: No angel". The Economist. July 27, 2013. Retrieved 2013-07-28. 
  6. ^ a b "Exclusive Loonwatch Interview with Reza Aslan". Retrieved 2015-11-17. 
  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. ^ "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". Retrieved 2015-11-17. 
  15. ^ "Book Review: 'How to Win a Cosmic War' by Reza Aslan". Retrieved 2015-11-17. 
  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". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-11-17. 
  19. ^ Fox News: "'Zealot' author Reza Aslan responds to critics" Lauren Green interview of Reza Aslan on July 26, 2013
  20. ^ a b "Fox News interview with religion scholar Reza Aslan goes viral", Los Angeles Times, July 29, 2013
  21. ^ "Amazon Best Sellers: Best Books". 
  22. ^ "Reza Aslan: A Jesus scholar who’s hard to pin down". Washington Post. 
  23. ^ Caplan-Bricker, Nora (August 9, 2013). "Now The Washington Post Owes Reza Aslan An Apology, Too". New Republic. Retrieved September 23, 2013. 
  24. ^ Derakhshani, Tirdad (July 29, 2013). "Reza Aslan's 'Zealot': Muslim's book about Jesus stirs things up". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved September 23, 2013. 
  25. ^ Castelli, Elizabeth (July 29, 2013). "Reza Aslan --- Historian?". The Nation. Retrieved August 9, 2013. 
  26. ^ 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. 
  27. ^ Singal, Jesse (October 14, 2014). "Reza Aslan on What the New Atheists Get Wrong About Islam". New York Magazine. Retrieved 2014-10-20. 
  28. ^ Blumberg, Antonia (30 September 2014). "Reza Aslan Blasts Bill Maher, Media For 'Unsophisticated' Reporting On Islam". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 4 October 2014. Reza Aslan has a thing or two to say about media coverage of Islam. Speaking with CNN on Monday Aslan criticized comedian Bill Maher for characterizing female genital mutilation as an "Islamic problem," in addition to making several other sweeping generalizations about the faith. "When it comes to the topic of religion he's not very sophisticated in the way that he thinks," Aslan said. 
  29. ^ "Reza Aslan Slams 'Bigoted' Media For Generalisation That Muslims Are Misogynistic And Violent". The Huffington Post. 1 October 2014. Retrieved 4 October 2014. 
  30. ^ Gupta, Prachi (30 September 2014). "Reza Aslan takes down Bill Maher’s "facile arguments" on Islam in just 5 minutes". Salon. Retrieved 4 October 2014. He also pointed out the U.S.’s own hypocrisy in calling out ISIS for its brutality while partnering with Saudi Arabia: "Look, Saudi Arabia is one of the most, if not the most, extremist countries in the world. In the month that we’ve been talking about ISIS and their terrible actions in Iraq and Syria, Saudi Arabia, our closest ally, has beheaded 19 people." 
  31. ^ "Reza Aslan cannot be trusted". David Pakman. Retrieved 11 January 2016. 
  32. ^ Aslan, Reza. "Bill Maher Isn’t the Only One Who Misunderstands Religion". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 November 2015. 
  33. ^ a b "Muslim author's book about Jesus goes top of Amazon's sales charts after TV interview challenging his credentials goes viral". The Daily Mail. 31 July 2013. Retrieved November 30, 2014. 
  34. ^ "Waiting for an Islamic Enlightenment". The Guardian. 22 October 2005. Retrieved November 30, 2014. 
  35. ^ Murphy, Dan (July 28, 2013). "Can Muslims write about Christianity?". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved November 30, 2014. 
  36. ^ Roig, Manuel (2013-08-08). "Reza Aslan: A Jesus scholar who’s hard to pin down". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2015-11-17. 
  37. ^ Aslan, Reza (October 13, 2014). Reza Aslan - Bigotry, Fundamentalism and Neo-Atheism in the Media. Interview with Cenk Uygur. The Young Turks. Retrieved October 18, 2014. 
  38. ^ Nazaryan, Alexander (August 29, 2013). "Bad News: When Journalism and Business Collide". The Wire. Retrieved December 1, 2014. 
  39. ^ Katz Miller, Susan (September 28, 2013). "Reza Aslan and Jessica Jackley: A Muslim and Christian Interfaith Family". Huffington Post. Retrieved December 1, 2014. 
  40. ^ Hamad Ali, Syed (July 15, 2011). "Islam's pulse in the US". Gulf News. Retrieved November 17, 2015. 
  41. ^ "2014 Awards Celebration". Intersections International. Retrieved 15 April 2014. 
  42. ^ "Annual Award Ceremony 2013". Tenanbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. Retrieved September 26, 2013. 
  43. ^ "HDS Alumni/Alumnae Council Announces Inaugural Gomes Honors Recipients". Harvard Divinity School. March 6, 2013. Retrieved September 26, 2013. 
  44. ^ "2012 East-West Awards Celebrate Visions of Cultural Diplomacy". Levantine Cultural Center. November 1, 2012. Retrieved September 26, 2013. 
  45. ^ "Reza Aslan's Zealot the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-11-17. 
  46. ^ "Reza Aslan—Historian?". Retrieved 2015-11-17. 
  47. ^ "Reza Azlan's 'Zealot' Draws Criticism From Pastors And Professors". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2015-11-17. 
  48. ^ "How Reza Aslan's Jesus is giving history a bad name". ABC Online. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  49. ^ "Taking History on Faith". Retrieved 2015-11-17. 
  50. ^ "Review: No God But God by Reza Aslan". The Guardian. Retrieved 2015-11-17. 
  51. ^ "Zealot". Retrieved 2015-11-17. 

External links