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Reza Aslan

Associate Professor of Creative Writing
Reza Aslan
Middle Eastern Culture, Politics and Policy
At a time when the health of the world may rely on bridging the divide between the U.S. and the Middle East, Professor Aslan is working through education and the arts — sharing literature, movies, music and art as a way of breaking down the walls that separate these people and to connect people at the individual level.

Areas of Expertise

Areas of Expertise:
  • Public Policy: Islam and Iran
College: Affiliations: Press Release/Article: Profile:

Select Honors and Distinctions

  • Truman Capote Fellow in Fiction
  • No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam — Named one of the 100 most important books of the last decade

Research Summary

Bridging the divide between the U.S. and the Middle East.

Q&A

Q: Why is your work important? How does it benefit society?
I try in my work to bridge the gap between the people and cultures of North America and Europe (the West) and those of the Middle East and the larger Muslim world. I do this through education — trying to teach the two groups about each other, their political, social and religious histories — but more importantly through the arts, sharing literature, movies, music and art as a way of breaking down the walls that separate these people and connecting people at the individual level.

Q: What is the ultimate goal of your research?
To show that beyond the labels of nationality or religion or society or culture that people are all the same, with the same dreams, the same hopes, the same aspirations and the same challenges.

Q: What influence do you hope your writing has had on U.S. policy-makers or general public, when it comes to understanding Iran, the Middle East, responding to jihadists, or how much of the world views Americans and U.S. foreign policy?
With regard to foreign policy, it’s important that people recognize how to read the languages that are spoken in the Middle East. Not literally languages, but the language of religion, the language of culture. There are ways in which people communicate with each other and the outside world that carry lot of cultural baggage. If you don’t understand that, you don’t understand what people are saying.

With regard to the general public, my most important role is to make sure that people recognize there isn’t anything exceptional, different or unique about Muslim people. The issues they are confronted with and the methods they use to face the challenges of the modern world are, when break them down, exactly the same as the issues and methods of people in the West.

Q: Your latest book, “Tablet and Pen,’’ is a collection of Middle Eastern literature. What do you hope this project accomplishes?
To tell the story of the Middle East, using Persian, Arabic, Urdu and Turkish literature and create an overall narrative that tells the story of the last 100 years of an incredibly diverse region. About one-quarter of this literature had never been translated into English before.

Q: What is the biggest myth about your research?
The biggest myth is that I’m proselytizing. I am a Ph.D. in religions who writes about all religions. But when I speak about Islam, I am immediately tagged as proselytizing for Islam. It reflects a larger sentiment that if you’re in this country and speaking calmly, rationally and effectively about Islam and the Middle East you must have some insidious designs. It’s amazing how mainstream this is.

Q: What does “Living the Promise” mean to you?
UCR is by far one of the most ethnically diverse campuses in the UC system. My goal of building cultural and societal bridges is very much in tune with the overall cultural, racial and ethnic landscape of UCR. I am happy to be at a place where I can promote these ideas in the kind of landscape that fosters it.

Q: In your spare time, what are you reading?
Graham Greene’s, “The End of the Affair,” the Daily Beast and my own news site, aslanmedia.com, which is run by young citizen reporters all over the world. These are college students who are interested in the world. It’s sort of a Huffington Post about the Middle East — art, culture, news, film — and it’s all volunteer-run.

Q: How do your students inspire you?
So many of the students at UCR are first-generation immigrants. I am a first-generation immigrant whose family sacrificed to get me where I am today. It’s inspiring to be around young people who really know how much an education is worth, and who recognize they have to work hard to do well and fulfill the dreams of their parents.
Reza Aslan “People are all the same, with the same dreams, the same hopes, the same aspirations and the same challenges.”

—Reza Aslan
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