Kecia Ali
Kecia Ali

Ten thousand people descend on San Diego this weekend for the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature joint Annual Meeting. We will present papers, interview and be interviewed, shop for books, and network busily. Many will feel overwhelmed, lost, and/or hungry – convention center food somehow always manages to be lousy and expensive.

I have attended nearly every AAR Annual Meeting since 1999. I have presented papers, spoken on panels, responded to sessions, led tables at pre-conference workshops, and presided at business meetings. I have served on program unit steering committees and chaired a Section. I have gone to editorial board breakfasts and AAR committee meetings.  I have had coffee with editors with whom I’ve gone on to publish books. I have served as a mentor at the Women’s Mentoring Lunch. Though I never used the Employment Center as a job candidate, I have put in cubicle time as part of two search committees.

In other words, I know something about the Annual Meeting.

One thing I know is that I have been fortunate. The program units in which I have participated most actively over the past fifteen years are impressively collegial, with leaders and members who welcome new scholars and foster conversation and connection. Through my program unit and committee service, I have gotten to know AAR staff and to understand some of what goes on behind the scenes, which goes a long way toward making the meeting feel manageable.

Not everyone has similar experiences.


Kecia Ali is an Associate Professor of Religion at Boston University. She writes on early Islamic law, women, ethics, and biography. Lives of Muhammad, which delves into the many ways the Prophet’s life story has been told from the earliest days of Islam to the present, by both Muslims and non-Muslims, is her latest book. (Harvard University Press, 2014)   Other books include Sexual Ethics and Islam (2006), Marriage and Slavery in Early Islam (2010), and Imam Shafi’i: Scholar and Saint (2011).  She also co-edited the forthcoming revised edition of “A Guide for Women in Religion,” which provides practical guidance for careers in religious studies and theology. She is currently at work on a book about women and Islam for the classroom. Ali is also active in the American Academy of Religion and serves as president of the Society for the Study of Muslim Ethics. From time to time, she blogs at,, and

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