Dr. Reza Aslan, an internationally acclaimed writer and scholar of religions, is a columnist at the Daily Beast. Reza Aslan has degrees in Religions from Santa Clara University, Harvard University, and the University of California, Santa Barbara, as well as a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Iowa, where he was named the Truman Capote Fellow in Fiction. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities, and the Pacific Council on International Policy. He serves on the board of directors for both the Ploughshares Fund, which gives grants for peace and security issues, Abraham's Vision, an interfaith peace organization, and PEN USA.
Aslan's first book is the New York Times Bestseller, No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, which has been translated into thirteen languages, short-listed for the Guardian First Book Award in the UK, and nominated for a PEN USA award for research Non-Fiction. His most recent book is How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror, followed by an edited anthology, Words Without Borders: Writings from the Middle East, which we will be published by Norton in 2010. Aslan is Cofounder and Chief Creative Officer of BoomGen Studios, a hub for creative content from and about the Middle East, as well as Editorial Executive of Mecca.com. Born in Iran, he now lives in Los Angeles where he is Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside.
Question: What impact does your work have on the world?
Calvin Trillin: Oh not a whole lot of impact. You know I always thought that reporters who think that they’re actually affecting things are following the path to madness or pomposity or something. I mean I . . . The only time I ever met Jane Jacobs, the great urbanist, was in Toronto after she moved from here. And we were talking about the effect of one’s work and the impact on changes that might be made – governments falling and things like that. And she said . . . And this is a woman who I think had tremendous influence on city planners, and people who write about cities. And she said when she looked back over the . . . whatever it was, “The Death and Life of American Cities” or whatever it was, that big book . . . she said she imagined a church in the village that, at night, locked its gates of its playground and had barbed wire on top of the gates.
And she said after the book came out they took the barbed wire down. They still had the gates locked. And I said the only thing I could think of that I affected was I once affected the clerk – or I’m told . . . I never checked this out – the clerk of the county court race in Lecture County Kentucky with a piece that I thought was about something else. But somebody didn’t come out very well in it, and she ran for clerk of the country court, and people apparently got a hold of the piece. And so I don’t think . . . I think that I would settle for maybe giving somebody a smile on the Madison Avenue bus after a hard day when he or she reads The New Yorker. I don’t . . . I think the idea that you’re gonna have an impact is a kind of pipe dream.