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How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror

3.99  ·  Rating Details ·  1,201 Ratings  ·  150 Reviews
A cosmic war is a religious war. It is a battle not between armies or nations, but between the forces of good and evil, a war in which God is believed to be directly engaged on behalf of one side against the other.

The hijackers who attacked the United States on September 11, 2001, thought they were fighting a cosmic war. According to award-winning writer and scholar of re
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Published April 21st 2009 by Random House Audio (first published 2009)
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Oct 20, 2009 Bruce rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Aslan, an American citizen who is an Iranian by nationality, begins his book with a historical overview and an exploration of definitions, eg Jihadism vs Islamism, that show how loosely and inaccurately terms are bandied about in the media and most political discussions. He traces the processes of nationalism and globalization, showing their influences on political and religious movement and alignments over the past century and a half. And many of his observations can be usefully applied, eg, to ...more
Hannah Brandeis
Sep 21, 2010 Hannah Brandeis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I went to get a quick cup of coffee with the intention of reading the first chapter of this book while I was drinking. Two and a half hours later, the book was finished and my coffee wasn't. How to Win a Cosmic War is an eloquent, informative, and captivating read.
Ana Maria Rînceanu
This book explains how extremists think and how they affect the world (Extremist = a person who holds extreme political or religious views, especially one who advocates illegal, violent, or other extreme action.) Evangelicals, jihadists, you name it, Aslan takes them on and explains their role in the post 9/11 middle-east conflict.

This book may shock you if you think of extremists as irrational, evil beings and it may surprise you just how much social justice and extremism have in common.
Jun 24, 2009 Jack rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although principally billed as an analysis and commentary on the so-called 'War on Terror' (ie - against Islamic Jihadists), the book is actually a wider discussion on religion, identity and violence. Perhaps the concept that bests summarizes his thoughts is that of al-wala' wal-bara', which would roughly translate to "faith and infidelity"; a "us vs. them" paradigm. A battle between those who share the same beliefs, and those who do not. This is not purely a Islam and Christianity treatise, bu ...more
Apr 30, 2012 Ron rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
A facetious reviewer might subtitle this book "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Islamism." I won't, because I'm not sure whether even a panel of experts on the book's subject could agree on how many stars to give it. In its favor, the book is a short, easy-to-read 173 pages asserting first a difference between Islamism and Jihadism and looking at a history of religious-inspired social movements from Masada to the present (not in that order).

Aslan devotes key parts of his analysis to the m
Daniel Solera
This was one fantastic read. I had a recent conversation with a close friend, where we talked about the modern-day dangers of religion, and how some of the harshest critics frame the issue unfairly. They choose to single-out religion as the main cause of terrorist acts such as 9/11, instead of looking at the situation from a sociopolitical standpoint. Granted, religion was involved, but it many other elements were at play.

Aslan's book takes this approach in attempts to rationalize the intent of
Aug 08, 2011 Arash rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Aslan has a wonderful ability to take a complicated subject that is so commonly misunderstood and misrepresented in present day media, and break it down to its more coherent pieces, while maintaining its integrity and providing thoughtful analysis. Aslan frames the current "Cosmic War" between Islam and the West within the context of today's failed War on Terror and a modern day version of the Christian crusades.

His writing is remarkably easy to follow and written with a contemporary understand
I don't agree with most of what he says about how Radical Islam is in the World. I also think Mohammed who was poor and saw they Jew and Christians at the time prosperous in his land. So he was actually quite a smart man he saw what they had done and how structured they were and how it benefited them and made them prosperous. So he did the same thing he was God inspired and started a movement to make his people prosperous and an economic powerhouse. I also disagree with him on Christianity thoug ...more
I was really unimpressed by this book. I'm unsure of what the author was trying to say. It's not just that he didn't answer his questions as that he never really posed questions to start with. On top of that he would start to pose interesting and inflammatory questions and then step back, leaving them on their own. It was like throwing firecrackers around as if they were chicken feed, unwilling to actually place them somewhere that can be useful. He also made a lot of sweeping historical general ...more
Jun 16, 2015 Stephanie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
'A cosmic war is not a religious war. It is a conflict in which God is believed to be directly engaged on one side over the other'.

Reza Aslan introduces us to the topic of radical religion by outlining the difference between jihadism and islamism. He rightly shows us how these concepts are miss-used in today's society and what the true meanings are.

I for one am against the term islamism/Islamist only that this term often is portrayed to Muslims who adhere to even the basic teachings of Islam (e.
The "War on Terror" was, Aslan argues, an unwinnable war - a war that participants believed was being waged on a cosmic level as much as a planetary one; a war that was for eternity, not the here and now; a war that transformed the killing of innocents into an ethical act, since doing God's will was the only thing that mattered - concern for other people, even children, was irrelevant compared to serving God. Christian, Jew, or Muslim - certain members of each faith subscribed (subscribe!) to th ...more
Shaimaa Ali
Seeing the first phrase in this book, you will consider it one of those Muslim writers who aimed to defend Islam after the 9/11 catastrophe! However Aslan used this as an introduction to lots of many things. He went through a historical journey in which he mentioned several Jewish & Christian radical groups, how they started, what they did ..etc till he reached today's Islamic Jihadist groups, how they started & what causes them to exist. In the last part of the book:" The end of the war ...more
Elliot Ratzman
“Natives restless; what are the drums saying Reza?” Reza Aslan seems like a pleasant enough chap. He writes about a lot of things in this book, a revised version of the poorly titled “How to Win a Cosmic War.” Of the things I actually know about—Israeli history, Biblical Studies, Liberation Theology—he makes amateur mistakes. This and the lack of Arabic sources in his bibliography and notes made me suspicious about the Islamic materials. He makes a distinction between “Islamism”—nationalist Isla ...more
Sanjana Rajagopal
Interesting book, pleasantly surprised to see that it referred to a book that I had partially read for my Seminar class- Huntington's Clash of Civilizations. Throughout the whole book I couldn't help but think the two were somewhat similar in their arguments.

However it felt like it went nowhere and I especially didn't like the cliche ending-- Obama being sworn in is by no means some kind of solution to anti-Muslim sentiment or the end of racism as we know it in America. The whole book questions
Abi Olvera
Jun 24, 2015 Abi Olvera rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Informative, neutral, pro active. A must read.

For anyone who sees the daily news and wonders how the world has arrived to a state like this, to anyone who wonders how religious extremism can brainwash previously normal seeming citizens. This book goes over religious extremism from its earliest instances in ancient history, to the reasonings behind today's extremists, to a clear guidance on how to prevent future extremism. This is a well-researched, well-written, and well thought-out work.
Nov 26, 2011 Ralph rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
No time for a real review, as usual. Short Version: Informative and well-written. Not an academic treatise, but instead written for those who follow the news closely, but would like a little more insight. Invaluable for presenting important distinctions typically glossed over in standard news and feature coverage (especially the difference between Islamism and Jihadism).
Ken Emery
I found this book interesting thought-provoking and certainly relevant, but I didn't enjoy it as much as No God but God.
Tom Gaetjens
Aslan makes good points. His lack of ability to understand the subtleties of a secular viewpoint is frustrating but understandable: I'm sure I don't understand the subtleties of his Islamic opinions, but that's why I would want to read a book like this in the first place, after all. He seems correct, of course; just like Wargames, the only winning move is not to play, and it's hard to walk away from a book like this without feeling at least a bit of despair. Why it must be so hard for both sides ...more
Ashik Uzzaman
Oct 09, 2016 Ashik Uzzaman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another good thinking and early explanation from Prof. Reza Aslan...
Frank Terry
This is a really good book. I first heard of Reza Aslan on a History Channel special about The Bible. He, along with other leading Religious Studies scholars like Elaine Pagels, Robert Cargil, Bart Erhman and Jordan Smith, (Gotta represent the University of Iowa here)

Go through and discuss different topics about Old and New Testament studies.

Overall, this serves as a good introduction to different contemporary and historical issues in Islamic and Arabic culture both in the Middle East and abroa
Sep 23, 2010 Arachnae rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalization was originally published as 'How to Win a Cosmic War'. (I suspect they changed the title because no one knew what a 'cosmic' war is.) I purchased it for my nook and it's quite worth reading.

'Cosmic war' is one that is fought more on a spiritual (as in non-physical) plane, good-versus-evil. This is the frame that bin Laden put on his attack on us. Once we accepted that framing and couched our own response in simila
Jun 28, 2015 Billy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Overall, this book was almost exactly what I was after. It's well-written, well-reasoned, and well-supported with citations and plenty of background. My two gripes are:
1) there are some places where the author pieces together one-liners from various experts. I immediately felt like the author was trying to convince me of a particular point-of-view rather than presenting the topic from differing perspectives. Also, the context from which these quotes were drawn isn't clear to the reader. Simply i
Jan 22, 2011 Sean rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
"Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Fundamentalism in the Age of Extremism" by Reza Aslan is an erudite, well-constructed examination of the rhetoric and ideology of modern religious fundamentalism. At once academic but instantly accessible, "Beyond Fundamentalism" (originally titled "How to Win a Cosmic War") gives the reader an original, interesting way of understanding the complexities of religion in modernity. The book argues that religious fundamentalism is motivated by shifting i ...more
Bill Pritchard
Apr 15, 2015 Bill Pritchard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beyond Fundamentalism - Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalization - by Reza Aslan was first published under the title "How to Win a Cosmic War". The original book was written in the aftermath of 9/11 before Bin Laden had been killed but far enough away from the event to have distance. I have yet to read a book that does a better job of addressing the underlying question that most on the street ask when considering the Jihadism seen primarily in the middle east - "Why do they ha ...more
Jun 09, 2015 Sofia rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The only thing that stops me from giving this book four stars is that it feels a little outdated. Al Qai'dah have duly been replaced by ISIS as the greatest Islamic spectre looking over "the West" and the Middle Eastern political landscape being tumultuous and dynamic as it is, has moved on significantly from the period Aslan is referring to. Despite this shortcoming, there is still plenty of history to glean from this relatively short book. As usual Aslan's greatest skill, second to the actual ...more
Nitya Sivasubramanian
Sep 11, 2013 Nitya Sivasubramanian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 4star
All through history, violence has been carried out in the name of religion. Although we would like to think that those dark days are behind us, Reza Aslan reminds us that when we continue to use language that used to be reserved for religion to describe political issues, we continue to participate in intrinsically unwinnable religious wars. In his usual straightforward prose, Aslan focuses on this as the reason that "The War on Terror" of the last decade has been such a morass. Peeling away the ...more
Jul 15, 2009 Mark rated it it was amazing
Following the attacks of 9/11, anger eventually led to confusion about who it was and why it was that they hated America enough to commit such savagery. This book, written by an American Muslim from Iran, does an excellent, and I feel, balanced job of putting all of the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, that is the Middle East, into place. The difference between Islamists and Jihadists is explained, while the similarities among all of the players, including nation-states and the three involved major ...more
Jan 26, 2015 Cornelia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not entirely sure how to approach my review of this book. I read it for a variety of reasons (in no particular order): 1. My commitment to reading diverse books (by diverse authors, from diverse backgrounds, about diverse topics) in 2015. 2. My interest in world religions, religious (or religiously inspired) movements and how they shape lives/politics/perceptions/etc. 3. My admiration for Reza Aslan for his responses to this particular string of Faux News idiocy. 4. The books's relevance to ...more
Aug 06, 2011 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Clocking in at a brisk 175 pages (not counting citations and an index) the thesis of Reza Aslan's "How To Win a Cosmic War" can be boiled down to this: Until the United States stops framing the War on Terror in the same "good versus evil" terms as the violent jihadists we are fighting, we can never prevail. Thankfully, Aslan does flesh it out a bit more than that. Engaging in tone and quite readable, Aslan offers a condensed version of the history of mankind's "Cosmic Wars," those fought with th ...more
Nov 21, 2012 Andrew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reza Aslan does a phenomenal job of describing fundamentalism in religions throughout the world and throughout history. It's a pretty strong analysis of this idea that "God is on our side" that has shaped so much conflict, war and violence.

Maybe it's because I grew up as an evangelical, or maybe just because I now run in the "recovering evangelical/post-evangelical" circles, but I thought his evaluation of evangelicals could have been a bit more nuanced (granted he does reference Jim Wallis). I
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Dr. Reza Aslan, an internationally acclaimed writer and scholar of religions, is author most recently of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.

He is the founder of, an online journal for news and entertainment about the Middle East and the world, and co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of BoomGen Studios, the premier entertainment brand for creative content from and abou

More about Reza Aslan...

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“no religion is inherently violent or peaceful; people are violent or peaceful.” 2 likes
“the famed French theorist Ernest Renan, who years ago defined the nation as “a group of people united in a mistaken view about the past and a hatred of their neighbors.” 0 likes
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