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Reza Aslan on an American Martyr in Iran: The Howard Baskerville Story

In-Person and Online Program

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Wednesday, October 12, 2022 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. ET
Code: 1J0202
In-person Ticket Holders: Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)
Online Ticket Holders: Zoom
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Reza Aslan

Registration Advisory: This program has multiple ticket options depending on your choice to attend in person at the S. Dillon Ripley Center or as an online program using Zoom. Before you register, please refer to our in-person vs. online program procedural documentation to learn about our current terms and conditions.

Join award-winning historian and bestselling author Reza Aslan as he highlights the complex and historic ties between America and Iran and the potential of a single individual to change the course of history.

In 1907, Howard Baskerville, a 22-year-old Christian missionary from South Dakota, traveled to Persia (modern day Iran) for a 2-year stint teaching English and preaching the gospel. Little did he know that it would be political activism and not Christianity that would define his life and lead to his death as a martyr in a foreign land. Baskerville’s role in the Persian struggle to become an independent and democratic society made him a hero in his adopted country. At home in America, however, his story is not well-known, and his legacy is not celebrated.

Aslan traces Baskerville’s epic journey from his home in the Midwest to the vibrant Persian city of Tabriz, where he took up residence as a teacher at the American Memorial School. He found a country not immune to the political turmoil happening in other parts of the world at the dawn of the 20th century: Persia too had a burgeoning pro-democracy movement with citizens eager to see a constitutional form of government in place of the ruling shah. As a Christian missionary, an American, and a Princeton-educated scholar with a Wilsonian world view, Baskerville was inspired to join the cause of his Persian colleagues and students.

It took two years, but Baskerville eventually gave up his teaching position, his missionary post, and his American citizenship before reconstituting his students into a militia and fighting alongside them against the shah. He died in 1909 while trying to save the city of Tabriz from starvation, but his martyrdom spurred on Iran’s revolutionaries who succeeded in removing the shah from his throne and transforming Persia into a constitutional monarchy. 

Aslan discusses why Baskerville’s life and death represent a road not taken in Iran—one of practicing the ideals that we preach and offering respect and support for the democratic and constitutional aspirations of the people. Some considered him the “American Lafayette” of Iran; others, as a naïve, reckless, and easily manipulated white savior who inserted himself into Persian affairs. Still others in the U.S. government and the Presbyterian Church deemed Baskerville a traitor and threatened him with imprisonment.

Copies of Aslan’s book, An American Martyr in Persia: The Epic Life and Tragic Death of Howard Baskerville (W. W. Norton & Company), are available for sale

Book Sale Information

General Information

  • For in-person ticket buyers, registration will end by 3 p.m. ET on Wednesday, October 12.
  • For online ticket buyers, registration will end by 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, October 12.