Also on Sunday: CNN Faith Sampling

BelieverRezaJust as Anthony Bordain travels the world and samples food on his “Parts Unkown,” so will the writer and commentator Reza Aslan sample on his new show “Believer with Reza Aslan” (CNN, 10 p.m.).

At the TV Critics Association winter press tour earlier this year, he described it to me as “kind of like what Bordain does with food, I’m doing with faith,”

It takes a little longer than Bordain’s process, though.

“I’m not so fancy as to be able to walk in and walk out the way he does,” Aslan says. “It takes us anywhere between seven and 10 days, depending on the community. In Hawaii for instance I joined a fairly radical doomsday cult. It took a long time for them to allow us to come in the first place, and then it really took about there or four days before I could meet the prophet. I had to hang out with them for a while. I had to eat with them. I had to spend an evening in a cave for a while. Finally, they let me be a part of that.”

The six episodes of the first season take him from a Hindu sect called the Aghori to Haitian voodoo and a Mexican religion called Santa Muerte.

“It’s actually the fastest growing religion in the Western Hemisphere,” Aslan says of the latter sect. “It’s kind of about the worship of death.”

“I did an episode on the ultra-orthodox in Israel, and I’m an Iranian Muslim,” he says. “And that was not easy! They are not that open to outsiders regardless. But I found that when you approach these communities without judgment, when you go to them with knowledge and an open heart, it’s amazing how much they will just open up to you.

“We did an episode on Scientology that’s stuff you never seen or heard of before,” Aslan says. “You obviously heard of the scandals, you’ve heard of all of that, but this is actually what Scientology is, what Scientologists are.”

“Believer” is one of now several standalone shows on the news network, which Aslan called a good fit for him.

“We had the opportunity to sell this show to CNN, and also to more traditional outlets that do this type of thing, like Discovery, things like that, and we chose CNN, because we knew we could do a show that’s adventurous and experiential and all the things that you’d want from a show like this, but we can also be newsy. We can touch on newsy events.

“If you’re going to do a show about the ultra-orthodox in Israel, you got to talk about Israel. Discovery doesn’t want to talk about Israel, you know what I mean? I can’t think of a better place to do this than CNN. I understand that CNN thinks of this as separate from their news outfit; they have their news outfit and they have an original series. I see them leading into each other a lot more. It’s just a new way of absorbing information.”

But just as with any other CNN Original show, it can always pre-empted by what may be happening in the world..

“CNN is first and foremost a news network, so they are also going to give primacy to breaking news. They made that clear to all of us. No one is excused from it,” Aslan says. “Not even Bordain!”

 

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