Is there a suspicion of academics and their work? I would say yes

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Article: Liam Fitz-Gerald – Contributor

Reza Aslan is a professor of religion and is internationally renowned. He has four degrees, including a Ph.D in sociology of religions from UC Santa Barbara. He is the author of a controversial new biography called Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. On July 26, Aslan went on the Fox News webcast “Spirited Debates” to discuss the book.

During the ten-minute interview, Aslan clearly grew frustrated over Green’s emphasis on his Islamic faith. Aslan, as a scholar, has studied the New Testament for twenty years, but Green seemed to think there was some hidden agenda.

At one point, Aslan said, “I am a historian. This isn’t a Muslim opinion; this is an academic work of history, not about the Christ or Christianity for that matter. It’s about a historical man who walked the earth two thousand years ago.”

image: NBC News

image: NBC News

Seven minutes into the interview, Green read a comment from a fellow who claimed that Aslan was biased because of his Islamic faith and likened it to a Democrat writing a book about Ronald Reagan.

Green, not shy about letting her bias or emotions show, finally said “Reza you’re not just writing about a religion from the point of view of an observer.”

She claimed he had written something radical, when Aslan had cited academic sources both agreeing and disagreeing with his thesis.

In addition, Green claimed that Aslan was dishonest for writing a book on Jesus because apparently he had not been open about his Islamic faith, while ignoring that Aslan disclosed his faith on the second page of his book and had talked about it on several programs.

This webcast was despicable and Green should be ashamed of herself. Rather than discussing the book, the whole segment centered on Aslan’s right as a scholar to study certain subjects. Yet, this discussion goes beyond very shoddy journalism. Green had read a statement from an outside individual and this was the catalyst for rise in emotion. Indeed, some segments of the population are hostile to academics. In the US, at any rate, there has been tension with higher education. Former Republican Senator Rick Santorum has referred to universities as “indoctrination centres” and has also called President Obama a “snob” for suggesting that more Americans receive college education. This coming from a lawyer with three university degrees. Yet, for a time, Santorum seemed a viable challenge to Mitt Romney for Republican candidate, indicating that perhaps he is not the only one who thinks that way.

The topics of scholars are not off limits based on personal belief or background. If that was the case, nobody could write about anything. While Aslan is a practicing Muslim, he is also a scholar of religion. He even stated in the interview with Green that his biography of Jesus doesn’t quite fit the Islamic depiction of him in the Qu’ran either. While I’m sure his faith has influenced him, he has worked hard to separate that from his scholarship. I do not think that everything is relative, but I do not think a “purely objective” account of topics in the social sciences or humanities exists. All the author can do is examine their own worldview and try their best to separate it from their research.

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