Religion scholar Aslan talks ‘Holy Wars’ at Willamette


Religion scholar Aslan talks ‘Holy Wars’ at Willamette

9:44 p.m. PST February 10, 2016

“Your La-Z-Boy is more likely to kill you than an Islamic terrorist,” religion scholar and best-selling author Reza Aslan told a packed house of nearly 800 people Tuesday evening at Willamette University’s Smith Auditorium.

Aslan was there to deliver the university’s spring Atkinson Lecture, titled “Holy Wars: Religion and Violence at Home and Abroad.”

He began by discussing the fears some Americans have about religious extremism, particularly regarding Islam.

Arguing that the data doesn’t support people’s perceptions, Aslan cited an FBI statistic that said someone is more likely to die by faulty furniture than by an Islamic terrorist.

But while the numbers might not support the fears, Aslan said, it isn’t productive or helpful to simply dismiss them, or to dismiss the religiously fueled violence that does occur.

“Though irrational, it’s still a fear,” he said. “There is a source to this fear that should be addressed.”

Aslan said the 20th century was the most violent century in human existence — despite the idea of secular nationalism, the thought that “if we can just take religion out of society, we can put the centuries of religious violence behind us and move forward to path of peace and prosperity.”

Much of the violence in recent history has come from ideologies other than religion, he said.

“(Turns out) we’ll just kill each other,” he said. “We don’t need God in the equation.”

At the same time, there has been an increase in globalization, leading to more religiously fueled violence.

“As national identity no longer becomes the supreme marker, it’s only natural that people start to revert to more primal forms of identity,” he said.

Understanding that individual identities are defined not only by things such as political views, gender, sexual orientation or nationality, but also by religion, is, Aslan said, the most important thing to understand when confronting religious violence.

He said it is important to create the “counter-narrative,” so all individual believers and members of a globalizing world may better understand and approach religious violence.

“You can do it right here, right here in Salem,” he said. “We all have to do it together.”

Elie Portnoy,  a sophomore in religious studies, was particularly interested in seeing Aslan speak after taking a course on religious violence in a previous semester.

She said she’d hoped he would be able to illuminate thoughts she was still grappling with after taking the course, and looked forward to hearing his unique perspective.

Jarod Todeschi, a sophomore theatre major, said he was particularly intrigued by the idea of religion and identity going hand in hand., (503) 399-6745, or follow on Twitter @Nataliempate or

Published by Natalie Pate

Natalie Pate is a freelance journalist and author based in Salem, Oregon. She wrote about education for more than seven years at the Statesman Journal and now covers education and other topics throughout the Pacific Northwest. She is originally from Colorado and earned her B.A. in Politics and French from Willamette University.

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