My guest this week is Reza Aslan, a scholar of the sociology of religion and the author of many books, including, most recently, An American Martyr in Persia: The Epic Life and Tragic Death of Howard Baskerville. Like many of Reza’s books, this one is a page-turner. It tells the story of an American missionary and his role in supporting and then joining the struggle of Persian democratic revolutionaries in the early twentieth century. In this episode, Reza outlines Baskerville’s remarkable story, describes the politics of a nation moving toward democracy, and talks a bit about the origins and embattled position of present-day Iran.
We begin by discussing the formative role that Woodrow Wilson played in Baskerville’s education, and how Wilson’s ideas about democratic self-determination motivated him to travel abroad. Reza describes the conditions that led to the advent of democracy in Persia, and an immediate counter-revolution. He explains how a radical interpretation of Islam led to the emergence of Ayatollah Khomeini and the virtual disappearance of Baskerville from Iranian national memory. And to wind up the conversation, I ask Reza to comment on Iran’s position in the modern Middle East and its role, if any, in the war in Gaza.
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0:00 Persia at the turn of the twentieth century
6:43 Woodrow Wilson’s contradictions
11:14 Did Howard Baskerville escape the prejudices of his time?
16:39 How Baskerville got involved in Persia’s democratic revolution
26:43 How Tsar Nicholas II aided the counter-revolution
32:29 The erasure of Baskerville in post-1979 Iran
36:31 The theological origin of the Islamic Republic of Iran
45:01 Reza: Ordinary Iranians actually love American culture
48:51 The internal and external pressures on Iran
57:21 The amorality of foreign policy
Recorded October 25, 2023