The Atlantic

Reza Aslan and the Risks of Making Religion Relatable

The scholar says his new TV show is just what minorities need. Critics say the opposite. What if both are right?
Source: Courtesy of CNN

Reza Aslan’s new show has come at the best possible time and the worst possible time. Believer, a six-part television series airing Sunday nights on CNN, premiered March 5 to mixed reviews.Some say the show makes various religions seem less foreign, a corrective that Americans desperately need under Donald Trump. Others say the show exoticizes religious minorities, a danger we can ill afford under, well, Donald Trump.

Both views are right, to some degree. Oddly, the two contradictory effects spring from Aslan’s single stated goal: to show that all religions are, at their core, expressions of the same faith and the same existential questions. That makes Believer an interesting object lesson in the risks of trying to make religion relatable.

In each episode of his program, Aslan, the bestselling author who often appears in the media to share his perspective as a Muslim, a scholar of religions, or both, embeds with a different faith community. Last week it was a Hindu sect in India; this week it’s a Doomsday cult in Hawaii. Most of the episodes follow the same format

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