Lecture to address Islam, democracy and religious extremism

Portrait of Reza Aslan, scholar and public intellectual

For the past decade, Islam has been at the center of a global battle over the role of religion in public life. Is democracy the solution to religious extremism?

Reza Aslan, scholar, public intellectual, and internationally acclaimed author, will take on this question in a free lecture at 4:30 p.m., Oct. 20 in the College of Law’s Great Hall on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus.

“For those who think religion is becoming less influential, I have some news. Religion is becoming more influential, not less. It is playing a greater role in conflict, not less. The world is becoming more religious, not more secular,” says Aslan.

The lecture, titled “Beyond Fundamentalism,” is sponsored by ASU’s Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict and is free and open to the public.

Born in Iran, Aslan grew up well aware of the controversial role of religion in politics, a topic he has explored in two internationally acclaimed books and several edited volumes, including “No god but God” (2005), “Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalization” (2009), and, most recently, “Muslims and Jews in America” (2011).
In “Beyond Fundamentalism,” Aslan traces the development of Jihadism as it split from Islamism at the end of the 20th century. He says that today, “most Jihadists would like to erase all borders, to eradicate all nationalities, and to return to an idealized past of religious communalism.”
The Jihadists, he said, are fighting a “cosmic war,” a war against the eternal forces of evil.
“A cosmic war partitions the world into black and white, good and evil, us and them. In such a war, there is no middle ground; everyone must choose a side.”
Aslan says that the ultimate goal of a cosmic war is “not to defeat an earthly force but to vanquish evil itself, which ensures that a cosmic war remains an absolute, eternal, unending, and ultimately unwinnable conflict.”

Central to the debate over Islam and democracy, according to Aslan, is a far more significant internal struggle over who gets to define the “Islamic Reformation.” All across the Middle East and North Africa and throughout the Muslim world, Aslan argues, there is a generation of young people who are committed to changing this script.

“In the end,” he writes in “Beyond Fundamentalism,” there is one way, and one way only, to win a cosmic war: refuse to fight in it.”
“Beyond Fundamentalism” is part of the Center’s “Religion and Conflict: Alternative Visions “ series, supported by a grant from John and Dee Whiteman.
For more information about the lecture and Aslan, see csrc.asu.edu or call 480.727.6736.