Scholar of religions to deliver SMC Christian Culture Lecture
Kiera Johnsen | Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Reza Aslan, New York Times-bestselling author, internationally acclaimed scholar of religions and professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside, will speak at the 2014 Christian Culture Lecture in O’Laughlin Auditorium on Sept. 16, according to a press release from the Saint Mary’s department of humanistic studies.
Aslan will base his lecture, “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” on his best-selling book of the same title, the press release stated.
Laura Ambrose, assistant professor of humanistic studies and coordinator of the Christian Culture Lecture, said Aslan is an ideal fit for the annual lecture because his work mirrors the College’s commitment to encourage an interfaith dialogue.
“He identifies himself as being Muslim, his wife is Christian, his mother is Christian and he both personally and professionally seems committed to understanding different faith traditions in a global world,” Ambrose said. “I think that is something as a Catholic College, as a faith based institution, [that] we have a real responsibility to encourage, and he fits right into that.”
Aslan holds a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), a master’s degree, a Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) and a Ph.D., all from different institutions, according to his website. Ambrose said this interdisciplinary background enables him to speak to students from a variety of different academic concentrations.
“One of the things we pride ourselves on in humanistic studies is that we are interdisciplinary,” she said. “He received training in a number of different areas. His B.A. was in religious studies, his Ph.D. was sociology and the history of religion, his M.F.A. from University of Iowa and he also has a master’s in theological studies from Harvard. We liked that he could speak to the writing side of a lot our students, so what it would be like to choose that life, but also this academic side in different disciplines that we have here.”
Clare Maher, a senior humanistic studies and history double major, said Aslan embodies the essence of the Christian Culture Lecture series.
“The Christian Culture Lecture is trying to provoke academic conversation and academic debate in a context that encourages the Saint Mary’s community to think deeper about things and to look at their own positions,” Maher said. “… He looks at this perspective of Jesus from a very historical standpoint, and I always think that’s an interesting aspect coming from a Catholic education myself all the way up until now.”
Ambrose said Aslan combines analytical and personal perspective on religion in a way that encourages honest intellectual conversation among students, academics and people with interests in religious studies.
“He is a really engaging, interesting person who can get people to start to think about hard questions in ways that don’t seem so intimidating or in ways that shut down conversation,” Ambrose said. “A lot of times when people start to talk about religion you can retreat into this personal space and then there is no real conversation and I think he is really good at calming people down and getting people to actually talk.”
“He doesn’t discredit the personal and I think that’s something I find really powerful about him,” she said. “… Learning how to have an intellectual discussion in a classroom can be hard because there are the two sides of who we are. There is our gut instinct which may come from experience or emotion, and there’s that analytic part. That analytic part does work with the other and I think he is good at combining that.”