Scholar Faces Media-Entertainment Complex. Scholar Wins?

Paul Harvey

Hey, with all this scholarship about religious history, we've really made great progress in advancing public understanding of the aims and purposes of our endeavors, haven't we?

Nope. Here's the Fox interview with Reza Aslan (@rezaaslan on twitter) that's going viral, about his new book Zealot. Host Lauren Green begins with hostility (paraphrasing slightly here), "you're a Muslim, so why would you write a book about the founder of Christianity?" In the next ten minutes, she repeats the question (over and over), ignores the book's contents, reads from a bunch of dumb Internet rants about the book, and generally plays to the audience in this sector of the media-news-entertainment complex.

Kevin Levin uses the interview to make some interesting parallel points about the public role of Civil War scholarship here.

But wait: the fact that it's gone viral due to people mocking the know-nothing, self-parodying stance of the interviewer means that, maybe, the scholar won this time. Or so I hope. Update: it's getting better. Those on Twitter check the entries at the hashtag #foxnewslitcrit, where the premises of the interviewer are applied elsewhere: "Mr. Shakespeare, you are an Englishman; why are you writing about Italian teenagers?" 


Jackie said…
I find it interesting how Asian continually defends his identity as a scholar (try counting the number of times he claims “I have a PhD”) as Green continues to undermine his credibility on the basis of his religious commitments. Maybe we can call his interview a “success” because he won’t stop pointing out her technique:

Green: I’m just trying to bring out what some others are claiming at this point, and I want you to answer to those claims…

Asian: Well it’s pretty clear that there are those that do not like the book, that are unhappy with its general arguments… but I do think its perhaps a little bit strange that rather than debating the arguments of the book, we are debating the right of the scholar to actually write it.

When he reasserts the difference between research and public opinion, I root for him. But I think it would be too easy to simply call it a win and a day. The interview also reminds me of the tensions that exist in our own departments, where divisions still exist between those who are “doing theology,” (those hidden “crypto-theologians”) and those who assert their authority on the basis of “academic” or “historical” or “social scientific” studies of religion. Before we call it a day, we might ask: how do we engage in public religion, if the categories of what constitutes proper scholarship are still so often fraught within our own departments?