Reza Aslan Delivers Schaff Lecture

Lindsay Tanton
Best-selling author and entrepreneur Reza Aslan gave this year’s Schaff Lecture on Ethics and Morals December 12 in the Burgin Center for the Arts’ Simon Theatre. The title of his lecture was “The Youth Revolution in the Middle East.” The event, part of the school's Monday Evening Lecture Series, was required for Mercersburg students and faculty.
Best-selling author and entrepreneur Reza Aslan gave this year’s Schaff Lecture on Ethics and Morals December 12 in the Burgin Center for the Arts’ Simon Theatre. The title of his lecture was “The Youth Revolution in the Middle East.” The event, part of the school's Monday Evening Lecture Series, was required for Mercersburg students and faculty.
 
Aslan has made extraordinary efforts to show Americans the true face of Islam today: a generation of change-makers in America and abroad, who are solidifying relations with the West while making their own hopeful marks on the world. His first book, the International Bestseller, No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, has been translated into thirteen languages and named one of the 100 most important books of the last decade. He is also the author of How to Win a Cosmic War as well as editor of two volumes: Tablet and Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East, and Muslims and Jews in America: Commonalities, Contentions, and Complexities.

The morning following the lecture, Aslan conducted two student workshops. The first session served as a primer for ninth graders who will study Middle East conflict this spring. After some brief opening remarks, Aslan opened up the floor for questions from the students. Topics discussed included the Israel-Palestine conflict, Palestine’s bid for statehood, religion as a cause of conflict (“You don’t need religion to have conflict,” Aslan says, “[since] conflict is part of human nature”), and U.S. attitudes towards the Middle East.

“By giving a non-biased look at the situation, Dr. Aslan was able to introduce his ideas in a way we could understand and in a way that inspires me,” ninth grader Newell Woodworth ’15 says.

“He made it really interesting by speaking with us, not at us,” says Amber Heffernan ’15. “I may not agree with everything he says, but I learned a lot about the topics we discussed.”

The second workshop was open to a mix of classes and was entirely an open forum with a steady stream of questions coming from students. President Obama’s Middle East policies, the United States’ relationship with Pakistan, modern ways of warfare, and U.S. military presence in Bahrain were among the topics that students introduced. Conversations were lively and engaged with many students staying afterwards for book signings and further discussion.

“He’s an analyst and an opinionated man,” says John San Filippo ’12. “I do not see that as a negative. He is confident, credible, and believes in what he is talking about. He speaks in very fluid and open ways that bring us into the conversation.”
 
Aslan is co-founder and chief executive officer of BoomGenStudios, the premier entertainment brand for creative content from and about the greater Middle East, and president of AppOvation Labs, a mobile applications company. He is an associate professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside.
 
The Schaff Family Endowment was funded by, and is in honor of, Schaff brothers Phillip H. ’38, Charles B. ’41, and David S. ’43. The endowment supports annual speakers “on topics related to fundamental human values—those principles which direct a person’s decisions and actions because they clarify what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong.’”

Click here to view a slideshow of the workshops.
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Founded in 1893 in the heart of Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic, Mercersburg is a private, coed, college preparatory boarding school with 430 students (18 percent are day), grades 9-12 and postgraduate.
We offer 160 courses, including AP and Honors, $5.1 million in financial aid, 26 varsity sports, and a state-of-the-art performing and visual arts center.
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