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Speakers explore alternatives at religion and conflict lecture series

Photo of speaker Reza Aslan engaged in dialogue with audience.
July 14, 2011

The Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict has named Reza Aslan and Elaine Pagels, two highly regarded scholars of religion and public intellectuals, to headline its “Religion and Conflict: Alternative Visions” lecture series for the 2011-12 academic year.

The lecture series, supported by a grant from local philanthropists John and Dee Whiteman, brings to ASU nationally and internationally recognized writers, scholars and policy experts concerned with the dynamics of religion and conflict and strategies for their resolution. All lectures in the series are free and open to the public.

Reza Aslan will open this year’s series with a lecture on “Beyond Fundamentalism,” which will be held at 4:30 p.m., Oct. 20, in the Great Hall of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law’s Armstrong Hall on the Tempe campus.   

Linell Cady, director of the center, says that Aslan was sought out for his ability to communicate his extensive knowledge of Islam and global politics with the broader public. 

Born in Iran, Aslan grew up very well aware of the controversial role of religion in politics, a topic he has explored in two bestselling books and several edited volumes, including “No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam” and “Muslims and Jews in America.” An advisor to the Council on Foreign Relations, Aslan has appeared in numerous media outlets from CNN to The Daily Show. 

Given the rise of the Arab Spring and emerging protest movements in the Middle East and North Africa, Aslan’s lecture is very timely. 

“He brings knowledge of the multiple cross currents within Islam including the Middle East,” says Cady. “He can address what is going on with fledgling democratic movements, their opportunities and potential pitfalls.”

Elaine Pagels, a professor of religion at Princeton University, will deliver the second lecture in the series at 4:30 p.m., Feb. 16, 2012, in the Old Main Carson Ballroom on the Tempe campus.  She will discuss competing versions of Christianity in a lecture titled “Beyond Belief.”

Captivated by the study of early Christian movements, Pagels has authored multiple bestselling books including “The Gnostic Gospels,” “The Origin of Satan,” “Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas,” and “Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity” (with Karen King).

Her studies, which analyze early Christian manuscripts discovered in Egypt, challenge dominant views of Christianity, bringing to light the competing interpretations and politics at play in the formation of the tradition. Her groundbreaking work has earned her Rockefeller, Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellowships.

Cady says that Pagels’s historical work on the formation of the New Testament and early Christian traditions is very relevant to contemporary debates.  “So many people have the idea that religion is homogeneous and static,” says Cady.  Pagels’s work shows that traditions are far more diverse and contested than often thought.   

Cady notes that the Alternative Vision Lecture Series has tried to capture the varied roles of religion in relation to conflict. “We have lectures that explore the religious sources and dimensions of violent conflict, but we also feature speakers who offer new and transformative ways of thinking about religion and politics in the 21st century.” 

Past speakers in the series include CNN terrorism expert Peter Bergen, public intellectual Martha Nussbaum, New York Times commentator Robert Wright, and Isobel Coleman, the director of the Council on Foreign Relations’s women and foreign policy program.

The Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict is a research unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. To order tickets for this event, click CSRC ticket request, call 480-727-6736 or e-mail

Story by Nesima Aberra