Reza Aslan, a creative writing professor at the University of California, Riverside, theology expert, and a religion commentator who had his own series on CNN, examines the human conception of God in his new book, God: A Human History (Random House, Nov.), which he calls "the most personal and hardest book I have ever written."
In 2005, Aslan explored the rich history of Islam and the reformation he observed within the religion in the bestselling book No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam (William Heinemann Ltd., 2005). Then, in 2013, he focused on Christianity as he explored the political revolutionary aspects of Jesus in Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Random House). In God, Aslan is going back about 500,000 years, delving into cognitive theory, anthropology, sociology, and evolutionary theories about both religious development and religious origins.
"It was quite a challenge to make all of that entertaining, accessible, understandable, and easy to read," Aslan told PW. "It nearly broke me."
Drawing on his own religious perspectives and the numerous academic theories, Aslan demonstrates how, over time, the concept of the divine has been humanized—given personalities and human characteristics—including when Jesus actually becomes human in the Bible.
"The thesis of the book is that whether you believe in God or not, you cannot help but to imagine [God as] a divine version of yourself," he said.
Further, Aslan argues for a pantheistic view of God, where creator and creation is a single thing; as opposed to the the traditional theistic understanding that there is one God who is separate from us. With this in mind, Aslan is attempting to appeal to the increasing number of people who are moving away from organized religion.
"If you believe that God exists in every human being, then you approach every human being—regardless of their race, or their creed, or their gender, or their sexual orientation— with the same love and respect that you approach God, because they are God," he said.
It's his hope that the new book will "reframe" the way people think and talk about God. "Pantheism can provide a path forward for spiritual people who are fed up with the way that religion divides us," said Aslan.
According to Random House editor Hilary Redmon, God can help believers and nonbelievers alike change their perspective of religion. "Reza has spent his career asking difficult questions about the role of religion in our lives," she said. "God: A Human History is an impassioned call to clear the decks, to rid God of the human frailties we've layered on Him over the ages—the petty jealousies, the vengefulness, the fickleness—and allow ourselves to hope for a more expansive divinity."
Marketing and publicity for the book will include a national media campaign with details to be determined, according to the publisher. Aslan will embark on a 17-city tour starting Nov. 6 in New York.