Reza Aslan defends himself against charges of “bias” in his new book on Fox News by pointing out that he is a prominent scholar who writes about many religions. Slate says that “this may just be the single most cringe-worthy, embarrassing interview on Fox News:”
Fox News anchor Lauren Green had religious scholar Reza Aslan on her FoxNews.com show Friday to talk about Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, his book that has been stirring up some online controversy recently. And right off the bat, Green gets to what is important: “You’re a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?” Aslan seemed a little flabbergasted: “Well, to be clear, I am a scholar of religions with four degrees, including one in the New Testament, and fluency in biblical Greek, who has been studying the origins of Christianity for two decades, who also just happens to be a Muslim.”*
But Green just wouldn’t let it go: “It still begs the question though, why would you be interested in the founder of Christianity?” Aslan then starts talking to Green slowly, as if she were a child: “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.” But Green insisted, accusing him of failing to “disclose” that he’s a Muslim and at one point asking him about a stupefying claim on whether a Muslim writing a book on Jesus isn’t sort of like a Democrat writing a book on former president Ronald Reagan.
Fox anchor Lauren Green appears to think that he needs to answer to any assy criticism that any random person makes of his work. She also appears to think that if “scholars disagree,” that must mean that one scholar is stupid, wrong, or just plain dishonest. (Who wants to read a book that all scholars agree on? That’s a book that answers a question that absolutely no one in the world cares about, I would argue.) Paul Harvey at Religion in American History has some interesting comments and links to some other intelligent commentary.
I think this is something that may happen more often in the history of religion than in other historical subfields, but I may be wrong. If any readers have any stories to share about being shamed/doubted for writing about people in the past because you either do or do not in a critic’s mind share an identity with your subjects, please share them in the comments below.
I’m writing about Catholics now, but no one has ever criticized me because I’m not Catholic, BTW. Personally, I am more inclined to be skeptical of scholarship written by True Believers about their own faith than I am of stuff written by outsiders, but that’s another kind of bias. I find filiopietistic history really annoying, and so I use or cite it only when I must.
You have to just click the link to appreciate the aggressive stupidity of this interview, and BTW, the incredible patience and class that Aslan shows. (If you want to learn more about this book, go to this sensible and intelligent interview on Fresh Air.)