Pardee School Hosts Reza Aslan for Screening of Believer

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The Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University hosted an advance screening of the new CNN original documentary series, Believer, on February 21, 2017. The screening,  which was co-hosted by the BU Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground, was followed by a question and answer session with acclaimed public intellectual Reza Aslan, who presents and hosts the series. 

The advance screening featured the Believer episode  “Aghori in India”, in which Aslan journeys to the holy city of Varanasi, India’s famed “City of the Dead,” where the Ganges River is lit by the funeral pyres of dozens of crematoriums. He enters the world of the Aghori, a sect of Hindus who reject traditional Karmic notions of purity and pollution. Aslan lets an Aghori guru put him through extreme rituals, visits a modern day leper colony, and attempts to purify himself in the notoriously polluted Ganges.

“The notion is that if they can take part in these ostentatious displays of self-pollution, they can shock the system,” Aslan said of the Aghori. “They do these things in public, that’s the important thing. They do this to say there is no such thing as purity and pollution, and as you can imagine, that tends to turn people off.  Aghorism has very much been left to the fringes.”

Following the screening, Aslan took part in a question and answer session with students that was moderated by Pardee School Professor Jessica Stern. The conversation included questions about Believer, Aslan’s best-selling books and his work as a religion scholar. 

Aslan said Believer is not only aimed at exploring different religious beliefs, but at drawing the kinds of connections between different sets of belief that can bring us closer together as humans.

“This series is aimed at really understanding the things that people believe, why they believe them and then drawing those connections between different kinds of belief,” Aslan said. “I think that if we can, as human beings, learn to do that more often, if we can learn to go beyond the external shell of religion, the walls that separate us into the different categories of nationality, ethnicity or religion and recognize those are just different ways of expressing the exact same sentiment and aspirations, that is what is going to lead to a much more peaceful, prosperous world.”

The screening and question and answer session was followed by a dinner and conversation with Aslan at 121 Bay State Road attended by deans, professors, university leadership, supporters and friends of the university.

The series, Believer with Reza Aslan, will begin airing on CNN on March 5, 2017. You can view a preview of the series below: