|So-called religions scholar Reza Aslan and his shitty book.|
The president took to Twitter Saturday evening, saying, “We need to be smart, vigilant and tough. We need the courts to give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!”
That triggered CNN host Reza Aslan, who lashed out, writing, “This piece of shit is not just an embarrassment to American and a stain on the presidency. He’s an embarrassment to humankind.” Aslan hosts a show called “Believer with Reza Aslan” on the network in which he “immerses himself in the world’s most fascinating faith-based groups to experience life as a true believer,” according to the show’s website.
After NBC Nightly News refused to report on President Trump’s assertion that the London attacks were an act of Islamic Terror, Aslan quoted the tweet, calling President Trump a “man baby” and claiming that he must be “ignored in times of crisis,”
Aslan is best known for coming under heavy criticism after eating part of a human brain while filming a segment on a Hindu sect in India as part of his TV series Believer.
The Iranian-born Muslim-American author filmed with a cannibalistic sect for his Believers series, causing fears among Indian-Americans that it could increase hate attacks against them. Reza Aslan, the controversial Islamist scholar and TV presenter, has been pressured to eat human brains while filming with a fringe, cannibalistic Hindu sect for a new series on the world’s religions.
But that might be the least of the problems the show has caused the American author. Some Indians and American Hindu groups say the opening episode of his CNN series, Believers, which focuses on the obscure Aghori sect, was “Hinduphobic” and sensationalised aspects of the world’s third largest-religion.
The episode shown across the world on Sunday comes amid heightened concerns, taken up by senior Indian government ministers, over the vulnerability of US-based Indians and Indian-Americans following a spate of alleged hate crimes in recent weeks.
In the program, Aslan encounters a group of Aghori nomads outside the Hindu holy city of Varanasi, who smear his face in cremated human ashes and persuade him to drink alcohol from a skull. An Aghori ascetic, who at one point also threatens to decapitate Aslan for “talking so much”, also feeds the presenter who he claims is a piece of human brain.
Aslan followed up the episode’s debut with a promotional post on Facebook, writing: “Want to know what a dead guy’s brain tastes like? Charcoal. It was burnt to a crisp!” The segment ends with the holy man throwing his excrement at the TV crew as they and Aslan run away.
Aslan makes clear in the episode that the Aghori – who number only a few thousand of the world’s estimated one billion Hindus – are a fringe group, and also interviews Aghori adherents who do not practice cannibalism.
But the focus on such an extreme sect led to accusations the episode had mischaracterised Hinduism to viewers with little understanding of the religion, at a time when the Indian-American community is still reeling from attacks on two Hindus and a Sikh man in apparent hate crimes in the past fortnight. The latest victim, a Seattle man, was allegedly told to “go back to your own country” before being shot in the arm.
“With multiple reports of hate-fuelled attacks against people of Indian origin from across the US, the show characterises Hinduism as cannibalistic, which is a bizarre way of looking at the third largest religion in the world,” the US-India Political Action Committee said in a statement.
“In a charged environment, a show like this can create a perception about Indian Americans which could make them more vulnerable to further attacks.” Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu elected to the US congress, also tweeted this week that she was “disturbed” by the program. “CNN is using its power and influence to increase people’s misunderstanding and fear of Hinduism,” she wrote.
“Aslan apparently sought to find sensationalist and absurd ways to portray Hinduism. Aslan and CNN didn’t just throw a harsh light on a sect of wandering ascetics to create shocking visuals – as if touring a zoo – but repeated false stereotypes about caste, karma and reincarnation that Hindus have been combatting tirelessly.”
Vamsee Juluri, a professor of media studies at the University of San Francisco, said it was “unbelievably callous and reckless” of CNN to “push sensational and grotesque images of bearded brown men and their morbid and deathly religion” in such a tense atmosphere for Indian-Americans.
The Fox News interview in which anchor Lauren Green challenged the legitimacy of author Reza Aslan for writing Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, seemed to be popping up everywhere on social media last week. The absurdity of the spectacle was multifold: Why—why?
Would a Muslim want to write about Jesus, Green kept asking, as though a nefarious plot to undermine Christianity were somehow afoot. Meanwhile, Aslan made a show of insisting that he possesses not only the academic credentials and but also the professional duty to do so (“My job as a scholar of religions with a PhD in the subject is to write about religions”).
The story was quickly framed as a battle between the right-wing Islamophobes of Fox News and Muslim Aslan, the so-called defender of intellectual life, scholarship, and Islam.
(On October 16, 2007, Baptist Press article reported that Lauren Green spoke to Christian college students about the importance of Christianity in her reporting, said journalists would achieve ultimate success by holding the Christian faith, and encouraged students not to "abandon your faith" in their work.
"Is There Something In Islam That Makes Believers More Susceptible to Radicalization?"
Green wrote a March 10, 2011, FoxNews.com piece about Islam and violence, and wrote, "I believe essentially there are three things that may make Islam more prone to radicalization." She explained: I believe essentially there are three things that may make Islam more prone to radicalization.
One is the Koran itself. The fact that it's not a narrative makes it easier to pick and choose verses to fit your interpretation.
Two, the Prophet Mohammed's own words and deeds. In Islam's early days, Mohammed spread the faith with the sword.
Three, Islam was introduced into a world rife with tribalism; a shame and honor culture which revered and respected power. Much of what's going in Libya and what went on under Saddam Hussein, are extensions of that tribalism.)
Then an article in the right-wing Catholic publication, First Things, challenged Aslan’s claims about his academic credentials (his 2009 PhD is in sociology and was awarded on the basis of a 140-page dissertation on contemporary Muslim political activism) and his academic position (he is an associate professor of creative writing at the University of California at Riverside and does not hold either a doctorate nor a teaching position in the academic study of religion).
Reza Aslan—a Historian? Yes, the author was attacked on Fox News for daring to be a Muslim writing about Jesus. But does his book actually meet the historical standards he claims?
Those of us in the academic field of religious studies, especially biblical scholars and historians of early Christianity, found the whole business deeply cringe-worthy. The Fox News interview was not just embarrassing but downright offensive.
The anti-Muslim bias of Fox is well-documented and is bad enough, whatever the specific context. But for scholars of religion, the Green’s conflation of the academic study of religion with personal religious identification is a familiar misunderstanding. After all, as one friend of mine puts it pithily, “You don’t have to be a zebra to study zoology.”
And then there has been a lot of debate, online and off, about whether Aslan possesses the proper credentials to write the book he has written. On this point, I wish to be quite clear: it is in principle quite possible for a scholar trained in one area of specialization to produce respectable work outside the framework of that field.
Some of the most interesting work in the academic study of religion has been produced by scholars who, trained in one subspecialty, extend their studies into other domains.
Aslan’s claims concerning his academic degrees have led to some confusion: he uses the term “historian of religions” at times, “historian” at others. To people unfamiliar with the intellectual histories involved, the first term may not resonate. “History of religions” derives from the nineteenth-century German university context where the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule [history-of-religions school] sought to place the phenomenon of religion—especially in its archaic and ancient iterations—in social and cultural context.
It has since become the name for a particular disciplinary approach to the study of religion, most often associated in the United States with the University of Chicago and the University of California at Santa Barbara, where Aslan earned his PhD in sociology.
To the extent that he did coursework in the UCSB Religious Studies department, he can certainly lay claim to preparation in the history-of-religions approach. Although this approach was influential on the study of the New Testament and early Christianity in the first two decades of the twentieth century, it has had little impact in the decades since.
Aslan’s broader claim to working as a historian, however, is another matter. Frankly, he would probably have been cut a good deal more slack by specialists had he simply said that he was working as an outsider to the field, interested in translating work by scholars of early Christianity for a broader audience.
But his claims are more grandiose than that and are based on his repeated public statements that he speaks with authority as a historian. He has therefore reasonably opened himself to criticism on the basis of that claim.
And here, there is much to criticize. Aslan argues that Jesus was a Palestinian peasant whose claims about the coming “kingdom of God” were both self-conscious and literal. Setting himself up in active and public opposition to Roman imperial authority, Aslan’s Jesus ran afoul of the Romans and the Jewish elites who aligned themselves with Roman power. From this reconstruction, Aslan derives the title of his book—Zealot—and his thesis that the crime for which Jesus was executed was treason.
Zealot reflects wide reading in the secondary literature that has emerged in the scholarly study of the historical Jesus. In that sense, as one colleague of mine puts it, Aslan is a reader rather than a researcher. Aslan’s reconstruction of the life of Jesus invests a surprisingly literalist faith in some parts of the gospel narratives.
His readings of the canonical gospels give little attention to the fact that the writers of these texts were engaged in a complex intertextual practice with the Hebrew scriptures in Greek, that these writers were interested in demonstrating that Jesus fulfilled prophecies written centuries earlier—in short, that the gospel writers were writers with (sometimes modest, sometimes expansive) literary aspirations and particular theological axes to grind.
Biblical scholars have, over many decades, sought to develop methods of textual analysis to tease out these various interests and threads. But Aslan does not claim to be engaged in literary analysis but in history-writing. One might then expect his reconstruction of the world of Jesus of Nazareth to display a deep understanding of second-temple Judaism.
Yet, his historical reconstruction is partial in both senses of the term. For example, he depends significantly on the testimony of the first-century Jewish historian Josephus, taking it more or less at face value (which no scholar of the period would do). Meanwhile he amplifies Jewish resistance to Roman domination into a widespread biblically based zealotry, from which he concludes that Jesus was intent upon armed resistance and the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth.
Moreover, his reconstruction of the Judaism of the time is too flat and monolithic. At best, his argument is overstated; at worst, it depends upon scholarship that has been definitively challenged by more recent work in the field and upon a method that cherry-picks from the ancient sources.
One could go on through Zealot, pointing out places where Aslan represents a particular issue as straightforward and uncontroversial when, in fact, the matter remains the subject of considerable debate among specialists. Or one could ask about the method for his selection of scholarly works on which his discussion depends—and why many important works that would complicate his narrative are missing from the bibliography of the book.
(The absence of traditional footnotes—the sine qua non of scholarly documentation—makes it quite difficult, if not impossible, to trace the lineage of many of the claims in the book, the lengthy bibliography at the end notwithstanding.)
These would be among the numerous legitimate criticisms that historians of early Christianity and biblical scholars—specialists in the field—might lodge. But there is something else, more elemental to consider about the nature of this work.
|Aslan's book on Jesus is shit because Aslan is a Piece of Shit.|
A work at once erudite and mind-numbingly boring—I warn my students not to drive or operate heavy machinery while reading it, should they decide to spend in this manner hours of their lives they will never get back—Schweitzer’s Quest makes the decisive and incontrovertible point, through careful analysis of dozens of lives of Jesus written over a 200-year period, that efforts to reconstruct the life of Jesus are bound to fail both because the historical archive is so irreparably fragmentary and because every life of Jesus inevitably emerges as a portrait with an uncanny resemblance to its author.
Schweitzer didn’t use these terms, but his point is that lives of Jesus are theological Rorschach tests that tell us far more about those who create them than about the elusive historical Jesus.
It is to this history, I would argue, that Aslan’s Zealot belongs. Zealot is a cultural production of its particular historical moment—a remix of existing scholarship, sampled and reframed to make a culturally relevant intervention in the early twenty-first-century world where religion, violence and politics overlap in complex ways.
In this sense, the book is simply one more example in a long line of efforts by theologians, historians and other interested cultural workers.
Simply put, Zealot does not break new ground in the history of early Christianity. It isn’t clear that any book framed as a “the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth” could, in fact, do so. Indeed, if it had not been thrust into the limelight by an aggressive marketing plan, the painfully offensive Fox News interview, and Aslan’s own considerable gifts for self-promotion, Zealot would likely have simply been shelved next to myriad other examples of its genre, and everyone could get back to their lives.
(Blogger's Notes: The Zealot is a Piece-of-Shit book written by an Iranian-Muslim Piece-of-Shit called Reza Aslan. He just wanted to throw mud on Lord Jesus Christ. But unfortunately for him and his Muslims he couldn't find Jesus nowhere near committing any crimes like the crimes against humanity committed by their false-prophet, Shit-Be-Upon-Him, Mohammad who was a mass murderer, pedophile, and serial rapist.)