Among the Islamists and supporters of Sharia law, there is one individual in particular who has been capable of making money by misrepresenting himself and his credentials: the tireless self-promoter, Reza Aslan. After 9/11, Reza Aslan found the environment ripe in the United States to make profits by exaggerating and fabricating his qualifications.
First of all, Reza Aslan has continuously presented himself as a professor of religion. This is done in an attempt to sell his few books, which lack academic and credible references. In one of his recent interviews, Aslan claims, "I am a scholar of religions with four degrees including one in the New Testament . . . I am an expert with a Ph.D. in the history of religions . . . I am a professor of religions, including the New Testament – that's what I do for a living, actually . . . To be clear, I want to emphasize one more time, I am a historian, I am a Ph.D. in the history of religions." Aslan also recently said on Twitter, "I have a BA, MA and PhD in the history of Western Religions so yes, again, I am an ACTUAL expert in Judaism."
In actuality, Reza Aslan is not a "professor of religion," and what he claims he does "for a living" is an outrageous inaccuracy. Reza Aslan is an associate professor in the Creative Writing program at the University of California, Riverside. He teaches there based on his Master of Fine Arts degree in fiction from Iowa, his relevant academic credential.
In addition, Reza Aslan received his PhD in sociology – not "History of Religions" – from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2009.
I used to teach at the University of California at Santa Barbara and I am familiar with the prominent theologians, professors and academic scholars at the school. None of these individuals that I met considered Reza Aslan even remotely close to being a scholar in religion. After all, he received his PhD in sociology. At first, I did not know of Reza Aslan. But when his name was brought up, I asked a director of one the departments at the university – who prefers to remain anonymous – for more information. He stated simply that Reza Aslan is a hungry self-promoter who begs for media attention and appearances, and who repeatedly misrepresents his credentials. He added that it goes without saying that Reza Aslan is laughed at within scholarly circles, and that academics do not consider Reza Aslan even a minor religious scholar.
Secondly, the expertise – which Reza Aslan claims is based on his PhD – should be determined by the topic of the dissertation. Reza Aslan's dissertation, titled "Global Jihadism as a Transnational Social Movement: A Theoretical Framework" reveals that if he is an expert based on his PhD, he should be an expert on social movements in early twentieth-century Islam, not on Christianity or even modern Islam.
Third, although Reza Aslan calls himself a "historian," he has never attainted a degree or had professional training in history, and has never even taken an elementary course in historiography for that matter. His dissertation focuses on the events and movements of the twentieth century and does not apply any historical methods or archival research. In addition, his dissertation is also an abnormally short one – approximately 130 pages double-spaced – which seems to have been written for publicity purposes for his book, Beyond Fundamentalism. Reza Aslan has been exploiting the situation in the United States after 9/11 to self-promote and make profits through these exaggerations and fabrications.
Fourth, Reza Aslan is a self-proclaimed "scholar," yet his background is inconsistent with academic scholarly standards. Reza Aslan has barely published any papers or articles in peer-reviewed scholarly journals.
Fifth, Reza Aslan received his PhD in 2009. Yet, there are several interviews and events before 2009 where Reza Aslan sounds as if he is a professor with a PhD.
The work of "real" scholars of religions – not of creative writing – in the United States and across the world speaks for itself, without the need for the author to shamelessly self-promote, boast oneself as a "prominent thinker" and "scholar of religions," and to beg hungrily for media appearances with insatiable greed. Regardless of the inaccuracy of his self-descriptions, respectable scholars never flaunt their degrees so arrogantly. There are countless scholars and academics that have more prestigious PhD degrees in actual "religion," which they obtained at a younger age and have had for decades (again, Aslan received his in 2009 at the age of 37). However, these intellectuals seldom boast or even mention their degrees. This shows that the aforementioned author only obtained his degree for flaunting purposes. Finally, the author has found the environment after 9/11 extremely advantageous for himself to exploit, self-promote, and to make profit.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar, is president of the International American Council and serves on the board of the Harvard International Review at Harvard University. Rafizadeh is also a former senior fellow at the Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington, DC and is a member of the Gulf Project at Columbia University.