Fox News’s now infamous interview with Reza Aslan last week has rallied much of the media to the Iranian-born and now Hollywood-based academic’s defense, and catapulted his recently published Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth to number one on Amazon. Fox's Lauren Green grilled the author of about his credentials to write a book about the historical Jesus, and questioned whether a Muslim should be writing a book about Christianity in the first place.
The press was reliably eager to take potshots at its conservative nemesis Fox. At the Get Religion blog, Joe Carter catalogued the reactions.
The Atlantic Wire says the “whole ordeal was embarrassing for Fox News” while Buzzfeed called it “The Most Embarrassing Interview Fox News Has Ever Done.” “This Fox interview with Reza Aslan is absolutely demented (& he handled it with remarkable calm)” said The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum on Twitter. Wired’’s Steve Silberman called the interview “embarrassing” and Digg editorial director David Weiner said, “Please, please watch this if you haven’t yet. It’s amazing.”
Under Green’s persistent, and arguably misguided, questioning, Aslan defended his credentials: “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. . . To be clear, I want to emphasize one more time, I am a historian, I am a Ph.D. in the history of religions.”
It seems that Aslan’s defense wasn’t entirely accurate. First Things, published by the Institute on Religion and Public Life, examined Aslan’s claims. “Aslan does have four degrees,” writes Matthew J. Franck.
None of these degrees is in history, so Aslan’s repeated claims that he has “a Ph.D. in the history of religions” and that he is “a historian” are false. Nor is “professor of religions” what he does “for a living.” He is an associate professor in the Creative Writing program at the University of California, Riverside, where his terminal MFA in fiction from Iowa is his relevant academic credential. It appears he has taught some courses on Islam in the past, and he may do so now, moonlighting from his creative writing duties at Riverside. Aslan has been a busy popular writer, and he is certainly a tireless self-promoter, but he is nowhere known in the academic world as a scholar of the history of religion. And a scholarly historian of early Christianity? Nope.
Aslan’s Ph.D., explains Franck, was in sociology. “He cannot plausibly claim, as he did to Lauren Green, that he is a ‘historian,’ or is a ‘professor of religions’ ‘for a living.’”
As Joe Carter of Get Religion argued, “Aslan is not presenting himself as an ‘amateur historian’ like David McCullough; he is claiming to be an academic historian with a doctorate degree in history.”
After the interview, Aslan went on Piers Morgan Live where he lamented, "There’s nothing more distasteful than an academic having to, like, trot out his credentials." That may be true, but Aslan has nonetheless made a habit of it on Twitter, often misrepresenting his credentials just as he did on Fox.