Reza Aslan’s new CNN series, Believer with Reza Aslan starts with a look at a very small sect of Hindus called the Aghori whose religious practices are an eye-opener.
This small group are playing their part in a much larger change in Hinduism to make India a more modern and caste-free society. There unlikely role in this seismic shift serves as the opener to this new six-part series.
Aslan journeys to the holy city of Varanasi, India to learn more about this a little-known Hindu sect.
Hindus believe in adhering to ritual purity practices and the belief of karma, where deeds performed in a lifetime determine the next Earthly go of it, it’s what shapes their entire caste system. But some Hindus also believe god lives within you, regardless of purification rituals that so many adhere to.
These people, called Aghori, are the focus of Reza’s first segment. They are an extreme branch of Hinduism and fly in the face of all well-known Hindu precepts.
They reject the Hindu caste system and welcome being immersed in the ashes of burning corpses which they believe spiritually strengthen them.
The Aghori sect of Hinduism is like nothing you can imagine. They drink their own urine. They eat the rotted corpses of their dead. They will sleep within the cremation grounds.
In a horrific first-person reporting, Aslan bravely sits among some of them and we see that he too is covered in cremains (ashes of the dead) as he interviews a guru (priest), but this interview goes south very quickly.
In the clip, we see that Aslan is threatened by him as he quietly asks questions about the Aghori faith.
The Aghori guru threatens to cut off his head if Aslan doesn’t stop talking. Aslan appears quietly panicked and calls for his director Ben Selkow to diffuse the tense situation and end the segment as gracefully as they can:
Then in a bid to normalize the Aghori, Aslan visits a leprosy clinic where an Aghori doctor explains how there is no such thing as “impure” work or people, including diseased flesh, the dead and excrement. He explains how his work with leprosy patients was destigmatized.
Many westerners are not well versed in the Hindu caste system. First and foremost an academic, Aslan’s illuminating reporting shows that Brahmins and other Hindus who sit higher up in their caste system have adopted some of the more altruistic actions of the Aghori including serving the poor.
This jaw-dropping series that will either turn you off to all religions as man-made, superstitious hogwash or reinforce the godly who believe in a higher power, Believer with Reza Aslan is guaranteed to shock viewers either way.
Aslan is an author, religious studies scholar, producer, and television host. He is also famously known for getting into heated arguments about Islam with Bill Maher on Maher’s HBO series Real Time.
In this weekly series on CNN, Aslan’s spiritual adventurism takes us to the more rarified cults and religions around the world. These are the lesser-known beliefs and faiths, some of which are controversial for their archaic traditions, oppression of women and frankly revolting extremism.
Other cults and belief systems explored by Aslan include Scientology, a Doomsday cult in Hawaii, Vodou in Haiti, Santa Muerte in Mexico City and the Ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel.
Watch Believer with Reza Aslan over the next six weeks at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CNN.