Aslan is first and foremost a progressive scholar of world religions and author of helpful considerations of religious history such as How to Win A Cosmic War, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth and No God but God. But increasingly, his writing has turned toward screenplays. Plus, the world has been encountering him as an on-air personality, partner in a busy media studio and the face of a major new production initiative.
His film adaptation of Zealot — working with James Schamus and Lionsgate — is a biopic of Jesus as told through the eyes of his brother. He’s an E.P. on a new Chuck Lorre CBS comedy called The United States of Al, which aims to “de-exotify” a Muslim character for a mainstream audience. And the massive “One Thousand and One Nights” initiative will see Aslan and Mahyad Tousi, his partner at BoomGen Studios, creating filmed content exploring this famous trove of Middle Eastern folklore.
When the Weekly caught up with Aslan, he had just wrapped taping on the 30th and final episode of his delightful and often hilarious podcast Metaphysical Milkshake (Soul Pancake/Luminary), in which he and co-host, real-life friend and shockingly spiritual and philosophical actor Rainn Wilson, ask their guests and each other big questions about the nature of existence, faith, and consciousness.
His short-lived but memorable series Believer — in which he traveled the world and immersed himself, sometimes literally, in fascinating religious practices — was cut short by CNN when he tweeted displeasure with the racism and generally dismal lack of moral character in the 45th president.
Perhaps, however, it was for the best. He is after all a father of four young children, and making that show was intense. “I definitely do less risky stuff now, less putting my life in danger,” he says.
“When Believer collapsed, for all the reasons, I had a choice. Go out and do more life-and-limb stuff, or… I could host a talk show where I tuck my kids in at night and go drink booze and talk to writers. Rough Draft came at the perfect time.” The engaging, candid, and whisky-augmented writer’s room-style interview show debuts this month as streaming service Topic VOD’s first original content.
So how did Aslan go from religious scholar to media mogul? His education includes a Master of Theology from Harvard Divinity School, a PhD in sociology from UC Santa Barbara and a fellowship at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop — but that’s not the whole story. “I am a tenured professor, I host reality and talk shows, I produce and write books and screenplays, and I do political commentary because politics are stories, just like religion is stories,” Aslan says. “But it’s all the same thing — no matter what the platform is — and that is the storytelling.”
Now BoomGen Studios is the go-to for media projects by and about the people and cultures of the Middle East, Central and South Asia, and North Africa, with a global audience in mind. “That region is the cradle of myth, religion and literature,” Aslan says. “The best stories in the world have been born there, so why not mine that resource?” His favorite stories are about protagonists who follow their own truth who say, as he does, “Fuck the gatekeepers,” and fight for their ideas. “I don’t want to follow someone else’s path,” says Aslan. “I want to be the path.”