CNN is planning a new series hosted by UC Riverside creative-writing professor, religious scholar and best-selling author Reza Aslan.
"Believer" is the tentative title of the "spiritual adventure series" that is scheduled to debut next year, the network said.
"In each episode, Aslan will immerse himself into one of the world's most fascinating faith-based groups to experience life as a true believer," CNN said in a news release.
Aslan said Wednesday that the show will not be him talking into the camera about religious traditions.
"It's experiencing these rituals and rites on a first-hand account and taking the viewer on the journey with me," he said.
Aslan long has been somewhat of an academic populist who writes and gives addresses on scholarly topics using language free of the type of academic jargon that makes material inaccessible to all but a tiny audience of other intellectuals.
Aslan's most recent book, "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth," rocketed to No. 1 on bestseller lists in 2013. A major Hollywood studio, Lionsgate, is planning to make a film adaptation of it. Aslan also has written several other books on religion, including 2005's "No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam," which also was a bestseller and received widespread critical praise.
Aslan said his CNN project is an opportunity to reach an even broader audience.
"This is very much along the lines of the work I've always been doing to explain different religions to people, and for people to discover the connections between their own faiths and that of other communities," he said. "This is just a different platform."
Aslan said among the practices he's planning to participate in for the show is the Muharram mourning ritual in Shia Islam that commemorates the death of the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. The ritual involves self-flagellation and a "passion play" that, Aslan said, is very similar to the Christian passion play that depicts Jesus' suffering and death.
Aslan also plans to go on a spirit quest with a Central American shaman and partake in the rituals of the Na Nachs sect of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, which combines traditional Orthodox beliefs with elements of rave culture.
Aslan said he first starting pitching the idea for the show to Southern California production companies in 2011 and found that Santa Monica-based Whalerock Industries had a roughly similar concept. Whalerock will produce the program.
UCR spokeswoman Bettye Wells-Miller said she's unaware of any other UCR faculty member who has hosted a national television show.
CNN's announcement this week of "Believer" follows news that Aslan will be one of four executive producers of a forthcoming ABC drama pilot, "Of Kings and Prophets," which The Hollywood Reporter described as "an epic biblical saga of faith, ambition and betrayal as told through the eyes of a battle-weary king, a powerful and resentful prophet and a resourceful young shepherd on a collision course with destiny."
Aslan, who was born in Iran, also is a regular guest on national television news programs, discussing Iran, Islam, views of Jesus from a historical perspective and other subjects.
Last month, he was a panelist on the popular NPR show, "Wait, Wait ... Don't Tell Me!"
Aslan is a creative-writing professor at UCR who has degrees in religion from UC Santa Barbara, Harvard University and Santa Clara University, along with a master of fine arts degree from the University of Iowa.