The FOXNews interview with Reza Aslan that went viral yesterday has spurred much discussion about his credentials. This article at first things accuses Aslan of being a liar. The final paragraphs are most telling:
It may be that Aslan sensed a tougher interview from Lauren Green than he is accustomed to. Hence he immediately went into high-dudgeon mode, and made the ten minutes all about her alleged disrespect of him and his alleged scholarly credentials. But in order to change the subject he told a string of gratuitous falsehoods about himself. Perhaps that master’s in fiction writing came in handy.
Is Aslan’s book worth reading? I have no idea. But he has earned enough distrust from me that I haven’t any interest in finding out.
If by "tougher interview" Matthew Franck means "unprofessional, Islamophobic farce", I would agree. It pains me to say this, but both the interview and this First Things article seem to be motivated by religious distrust. A more considered line of questioning comes from Stephen Prothero. Prothero writes on Facebook:
I think the "credentials" issue here is a legitimate one. Part of it turns on the term "historian of religions," which IS used (as Aslan uses it) as a generic term for "comparative religions." But then there is also the issue of what makes one an expert in New Testament/Christian origins. This is a highly specialized field, and entry into it is usually conferred by a PhD in it. I have a PhD in Religious Studies. I would never claim it authorizes me to write as an expert on the New Testament or early Christianity. Then again, Aslan did study the New Testament as an undergraduate and as a master's student at Harvard, where he learned New Testament Greek.
In answer to this (more legitimate) line of questioning, this quote from his dissertation supervisor, Mark Juergensmeyer, is interesting:
Since i was Reza’s thesis adviser at the Univ of California-Santa Barbara, I can testify that he is a religious studies scholar. (I am a sociologist of religion with a position in sociology and an affiliation with religious studies). Though Reza’s PhD is in sociology most of his graduate course work at UCSB was in the history of religion in the dept of religious studies. Though none of his 4 degrees are in history as such, he is a “historian of religion” in the way that that term is used at the Univ of Chicago to cover the field of comparative religion; and his theology degree at Harvard covered Bible and Church history, and required him to master New Testament Greek. So in short, he is who he says he is.What Prothero says about his expertise in NT Studies still stands. I have now read the book and I can say (without question) that Zealot is not written by an author conversant with the field of NT studies or Second Temple Judaism more generally. More on this point in the coming days.
As to the credentials issue, where Aslan might be in the biggest danger of falsehood is in his claim to be a teacher of religious studies, or that he does this "for a living". He is not a religious studies instructor in the traditional sense of that title. A colleague of his from Riverside has confirmed this for me.
No doubt, he overplayed his credentials, but there is a difference between setting the record right and tearing a colleague to shreds.