Saturday, December 19, 2015

PhD in Reagan: Reza Aslan's Tortured Analogy of Objectivity

It's hard to find a perfect analogy for anything, but in the famous FOX News interview Lauren Green and Reza Aslan both took a few stabs at analogizing this "Muslim scholar's" situation in terms of writing a modern political biography.
Green:  Taylor Kane just says, "So, your book is written with clear bias and you're trying to say that's academic. That's like having a Democrat write a book about why Reagan wasn't a good Republican. It just doesn't work." What do you say to that?
Aslan:  Well, it would be like a Democrat with a PhD in Reagan who has been studying his life and history for two decades writing a book about Reagan.

Ok, Aslan does not have a PhD in Jesus.  He does not have a PhD in the New Testament. He does not have a PhD in in History.  And even though his PhD does draw on religious studies with a History-of-Religion slant, his PhD is not in Religion or Religious Studies.  His PhD is in the sociology of a violent religious phenomenon in modern Islam. He has claimed at times that his focus for his Harvard degree in religious studies was Islam from the start, and his formal training in New Testament studies seems to have mostly ended with his bachelor's degree (and Margaret Mitchell's analysis bears this out).  Based on his PhD it seems his religious studies were focused into a dissertation on modern Islam and modern jihadism with some earlier Islamic history brought to bear on it.  His dissertation is much more about the sociology of a particular religion than on the nature of any religion.

So it would be as though Aslan had completed his PhD dissertation in how 19th century progressivism and how its sociological effects shaped the later presidency of Woodrow Wilson, and then wrote a popular book about how Ronald Reagan was really more of a Franklin Roosevelt progressive than a conservative, based on careful cherry-picking of quotes, referring the reader to an extended bibliography of the thousands of books he supposedly digested to get to this claim, instead of dealing seriously with the many problems that would inevitably haunt such a strained claim.  Maybe in the introduction to this hypothetical book he cold mention an affiliation with the Southern Poverty Law Center that arose after being completely soured on conservatism, and how he wrote the book to make other people disciples of the real Ronald Reagan.

Not that that would at all raise any concerns about bias and objectivity.

Wouldn't be the first time an icon was conveniently appropriated.