Screening of “Believer” episode with Reza Aslan

“It was interesting to get a perspective on things that are different from what I know and what I have been taught”

The Pardee School of Global Studies and the Howard Thurman Center hosted a special screening on Tuesday, February 21, of the “Aghori in India” episode of the CNN Original Series, Believer with Reza Alsan.

Reza Aslan is an Iranian-American author and religious studies scholar.

In Believer, Aslan, who is “spiritually curious,” explores different, and more or less obscure, religions from all around the world. The episode “Aghori in India” takes place in Varanasi, India, or the “City of the Dead.” Aslan encounters the Aghoris, members of a 500-year-old sect of Hindu Tantra. They ignore some of traditional notions of purity and the caste system still present in rural India.

The Aghoris think all men are created equal under God. But most people tend to avoid traditional Aghoris, as they participate in post-mortem rituals, by eating human flesh and rolling themselves in cremation ashes, as shown in the episode.

Mainstream Aghoris, however, detached themselves from these obscure practices. Aghori schools give equal opportunities and education to children, regardless of their caste. After meeting both traditional and mainstream Aghoris, Aslan said that Aghora beliefs teach you how to be human.

Aslan answered some questions from the audience after the screening. Most questions were about the current political and social climate. In response, Alsan said the biggest threat to tomorrow’s America is white supremacist terrorism.

Ali Hajal, a sophomore student in COM, said he enjoyed the episode, but he had hoped for a larger conversation on Trump during the question-and-answer section.

“I thought the screening was really interesting; the show looks like it will be a success,” Hajal said. “As for Aslan’s talk, I was a bit disappointed, to be honest. I thought that he would be challenging or that we would have questions that would spark an intellectual debate. Instead, we just got the ordinary ‘Fuck Trump’ and regular conversation that we hear every single day in our bubble. I personally don’t like Trump myself, but I just thought that his stance was not as intellectually stimulating as I hoped.”

Nick Labosco, a sophomore student who recently transferred into the Pardee School, said he enjoyed learning about other ways of life.

“Personally, I am not religious at all,” Labosco said. “I had a Catholic upbringing, and have since decided that a secular life is more for me. But I found it was interesting to get a perspective on things that are different from what I know and what I have been taught.

“I also thought that Aslan has a great message in regards of confronting people that might have fundamentally different beliefs than you,” he added. “I believe it is a great message to try to get on their levels and have an understanding of how they feel this way so that we all can continue to debate. A debate is impossible if you see others as so fundamentally different from you.”


Believer with Reza Aslan premieres March 5 at 10 p.m. ET on CNN.

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