World

Reza Aslan misrepresents his status as scholar of ‘religions’; downplays his ties to extreme Islamists

Reza Aslan, celebrated author of the new Jesus book “Zealot,” falsely claimed to be “a scholar of religions” in the widely-circulated Fox News interview that boosted his book to bestseller status. Aslan holds a doctoral degree in sociology of religion and his prominence as a pundit on religious issues is mainly a function of his ability to provide moderate-seeming comments that favor Islamists.

Aslan also presents himself as a moderate despite his affiliation with the Iranian government. The long-time pundit is an advisory board member of the National Iranian American Council, a group that has been described by Iranian dissidents under oath as a “front group” for the Iranian government.

NIAC was funded by the Alavi Foundation and the PARSE Foundation, both of which have since been shut down, the former because of its status as a front group for the Iranian regime.

Aslan also has a long history of downplaying the dangers of jihadist groups, specifically denying the extremism of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the country where the Brotherhood got its start and which recently toppled its extremist Brotherhood-affiliated president.

The Hollywood-based scholar has gotten an enormous boost, for both his reputation and his book sales, from a Fox interview last week in which he compellingly argued that he was simply a humble scholar of religion being unfairly targeted because of his Islamic faith.

Speaking with feckless Fox host Lauren Green, Aslan claimed that he was “an expert with a Ph.D. in the history of religions,” that he was a “historian,” and that he was a “professor of religions” for “a living.” The interview has caught on widely, with pro-Aslan commenters calling it an “Islamophobic attack,” the “most forehead-slapping Fox interview of the year,” and a “debacle” that left viewers “outraged.”

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In fact Aslan was misrepresenting his academic credentials. His Ph.D. is in sociology of religion from the University of California-Santa Barbara, and his dissertation was titled “Global Jihadism as a Transnational Social Movement: A Theoretical Framework.” Although he has a Master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School, his academic concentration has been in sociology and creative writing.

Aslan has a posting at the University of California, Riverside, in the creative fiction department, having obtained his M.F.A. in fiction from the University of Iowa’s Creative Writing program in 2002.

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One of the “four degrees” he cites is a work of fiction—his M.F.A. from the University of Iowa Iowa, titled, “The Story of Zero” and published in 2002.

According to records from the University of California-Riverside, Aslan is currently a professor in the Department of Creative Writing. He does teach courses in the Middle East and Islamic Studies department. In 2010-2011, Aslan taught “Contemporary Literature from the Modern Middle East.”

He is not listed as teaching religious courses anywhere on the Middle East and Islamic Studies website.  His Ratemyprofessors.com page does mention many courses taught in creative writing, but none taught on Islam.

Nor is Aslan listed as teaching courses in religion on the school’s website.