Reza Aslan's latest book, "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth" (Random House, 2013), shot to No. 1 on The New York Times and Amazon bestseller lists this week after a confrontational interview on FoxNews.com went viral.
Aslan, associate professor of creative writing, appeared on "Spirited Debate" on July 28 to discuss his book, which examines Jesus of Nazareth as a historical figure. Interviewer Lauren Green challenged Aslan about why a Muslim would write a book about the man on whom Christianity is based.
"I'm 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 just happens to be a Muslim," Aslan replied.
The video has been viewed by millions of people around the world, and the controversy covered by scores of print, broadcast and online media, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chronicle of Higher Education, CNN, Washington Post, Huffington Post, Slate and Christian Century.
"Not every scholarly study of early Christianity rockets to best-seller status thanks to an attack by a belligerent cable-network reporter," Peter Monaghan wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education. "But that became the fate last week of Reza Aslan's 'Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth …' . The fortunes of 'Zealot' offer a cautionary tale for scholars who publish on touchy subjects—or perhaps a primer on how to provoke conservative-media hostility, and then to capitalize on it, even if you're no religious or intellectual radical."
Andrew Winer, chair of UCR's Department of Creative Writing, called Aslan a highly respected member of the CHASS faculty and an important part of the department and its nonfiction program.
"Faculty in UCR's Department of Creative Writing possess expertise on a diverse number of subjects," he said. "They write books for broad audiences about topics ranging from geopolitics and ecological catastrophe to Burma's civil war and politics, from the first black explorer of America to contemporary American Evangelicalism, and from the science of tears to land rights battles in rural New Mexico."
Aslan, who joined the UCR faculty in 2006, "has served as an excellent model — for students and faculty alike — of how a writer and professor can contribute to national and international discussions about important and relevant matters such as religion and politics," Winer added.
Reza Aslan is the author of "No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam" (2005), "How to Win a Cosmic War" (2009), and "Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East" (2011).
He holds a B.A. in religion from Santa Clara University, where he was Phi Beta Kappa and wrote his senior thesis on "The Messianic Secret in the Gospel of Mark" ; a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard in world religions; an M.F.A. from the highly acclaimed Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa; and a Ph.D. in the sociology of religion from UC Santa Barbara.