Get Religion blogger Joe Carter has come out criticizing the “new media” (do people still call it that?) response to Fox News’ unfortunate interview with Reza Aslan. You know, the one where Lauren Green questions his credentials to write about early Christianity because he’s Muslim, and implies he couldn’t possibly write an objective book on the subject because he’s not Christian.
Carter rightfully says that the interview was an example of poor journalism, classifying it as a “mess.” Unfortunately, he doesn’t stop there.
Carter — and subsequent bloggers that have mimicked his argument — claims that Aslan misrepresented his credentials. According to Carter, Aslan (does no one think it’s funny that his last name is the same as C.S. Lewis’ messianic lion?) does indeed have four degrees, as he claims in the interview, but not the degrees Carter wants him to have.
Here are those four degrees, according to Carter: a Bachelors of Religious Studies from Santa Clara University; a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School; a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Iowa; and a PhD in sociology of religions from the University of California, Santa Barbara .
So what’s his beef, then? That sounds like a pretty solid pedigree to qualify someone to write about religion, doesn’t it? The problem Carter has is Aslan identifies himself during the interview as someone with “a PHD in religious history.”
“Why would Aslan claim he has a PhD in history when his degree is in sociology? Does he not understand the difference between the two fields of study?”
Well, to be fair Mr. Carter, as you pointed out he has 4 degrees, not just one. Also, the degree you are referring to is in sociology of religions which can, and often does include a study of the historical narratives of the religions being researched. So, sure, maybe saying he has a PHD in “the history of religions” may not have been the best choice of words, but that doesn’t disqualify him from being a religious historian. Three of his degrees deal directly with religious studies, so I think he can write on it if he wants.
“Aslan also claims that he has a degree in the New Testament. But is this true? Santa Clara doesn’t offer a degree in the New Testament so he can’t be talking about his Bachelors. Perhaps he is referring to the Master’s of Theological Studies degree he earned from Harvard Divinity School in 1999. That school does offer an “area of focus” in “New Testament and Early Christianity.” Is Aslan claiming this was his degree’s area of focus at Harvard? (If so, this would make his claim about having a “degree in New Testament” misleading, at best.)”
No it doesn’t. If he received his degree from Harvard Divinity School with an area of focus in “New Testament and Early Christianity,” I don’t think it’s misleading for him to say he has a degree in New Testament studies. Because he studied the New Testament, and got a degree for it. But again, there is a valid criticism there, but Carter is taking it too far by claiming he is some sort of fraud.
Now, I think there is still something bigger looming here. Carter writes in an addendum at the end of his article that he is only mad because Aslan identified himself as an academic historian, not an amateur like David McCullough. He’s right, David McCullough’s degree is in English, not history. But McCullough has also won the Pulitzer Prize twice for his histories, and I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone else on this planet that refers to David McCullough as an “amateur” historian.
Because he’s a good historian, that’s why. A historian is someone who writes about the past, and knows what they are talking about. They study things that have already happened, and write about them. Some of them have degrees in history, some of them don’t. The “dean of Mormon history” Leonard Arrington, the first and only “professional historian” to hold the office of official church historian in the Mormon church, studied agricultural economics, not history. Edmund Morris, the author of the most prominent and arguably most authoritative works on Teddy Roosevelt, studied music, art, and literature at college in South Africa. He eventually dropped out and never got a master’s degree. Then he won the Pulitzer Prize for his book The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt.
You get the point.
Aslan may have been overreaching in his assessment of his own credentials (and he was a little overbearingly smug in his responses), but I think it’s silly to claim his error was just as grievous as the unfortunate person who decided the interview should aim to delegitimize him by pointing out his religious affiliation.
The whole point of Aslan’s angst was that they were attempting to judge his book on everything but it’s own content. Obviously no one who prepped for the interview had read the thing, and the attacks had nothing to do with his research. Carter has simply joined in on the fun, claiming that because Aslan’s academic ego doesn’t match his training, no one should listen to him.
“Maybe if these journalists spent less time mocking the gaffes of their competitors and more time vetting the so-called “experts” we wouldn’t have to listen to people snicker about the credibility of online media.”
You’re a blogger. Stop it.
So why, then? Why do people feel the need distract attention from the horrible conduct of a Fox News program? Is it because he’s a Muslim? Maybe, maybe not. I think Carter probably has good intentions, and it is true that the media focuses too much on itself, but I think the fact still remains that someone at Fox News basically told a man who *is* a scholar of religion that his credentials are undermined because he’s a Muslim.