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Samar Ali

Research Professor of Political Science and Law
Co-Chair, Vanderbilt Project on Unity & American Democracy

Samar S. Ali’s research initiatives focus on positive compromise through promoting conflict-resolution best practices among people, communities and nations experiencing polarization due to the connection between violence and labeling. Ali joined Vanderbilt’s political sciences and law faculties as a research professor with 14 years of experience in international relations and legal practice. She began her legal career as a law clerk to Judge Gilbert S. Merritt Jr. ’60 of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals and then clerked for Justice Edwin Cameron during his tenure on the Constitutional Court of South Africa. In 2007, she joined Hogan Lovell US in Washington D.C., helping to establish the firm’s Middle Eastern practice in the United Arab Emirates. She left the firm in 2010 when she was named a White House Fellow in President Barack Obama’s administration. During her fellowship, she worked closely with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on counterterrorism measures, gaining experience with bilateral negotiations on behalf of the U.S. government and later joined former President Jimmy Carter as part of an international delegation observing Egypt’s 2012 presidential election.
After returning to Tennessee to practice law, she joined the administration of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam as the state’s assistant commissioner of international affairs, supporting Tennessee’s global relations. The five-year international strategy plan she helped develop laid the framework for Tennessee’s international economic development footprint.
In addition to her legal practice at Bass Berry & Sims, Ali co-founded and has served as a director of the Lodestone Advisory Group, a boutique consulting firm that specializes in growth strategies through innovation, venture capital, global markets and transformation. She is also president and CEO of Millions of Conversations, a nonprofit organization that aims to unite Americans around common values for a shared future by fostering dialogue among those who hold different opinions, views or beliefs.
Specializing at the intersection of national security, economic development and human rights, Ali is a Young Global Leader with the World Economic Forum, a term member with the Council on Foreign Relations, a Winrock International board member, and a recipient of the White House Fellows IMPACT Award. She currently serves as an adviser to the Aspen Institute’s initiative, “Who Is Us: A Project on American Identity,” and was recently appointed as a New Pluralist Fellow.
Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Tennessean and other publications and venues.


Samar Ali, "What does it mean to belong in America today" TEDx (2018)

Hannah Allam, “Right-Wing Embrace Of Conspiracy Is 'Mass Radicalization,' Experts Warn,” NPR (December 15, 2020)

Rachel Gillett, “These Americans are Changing the World—and they’re all under 40,Business Insider (October 27, 2017)

Jonathan Metzl, “Democrats are losing White voters to Republicans. They need to shift gears.Washington Post (September 3, 2020)

Jonathan Metzl, “The Politics of White Anxiety,” Boston Review (October 23, 2020)

Samar Ali, “As a Muslim American from the South, I know unity is everything,” The Hill (November 2, 2016)

Rachel Kleinfeld, “Should America Be Worried About Political Violence? And What Can We Do to Prevent It?Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (September 16, 2019)

Souad Mekhennet, “Under Attack as Muslims in the U.S.New York Times (August 7, 2012)

Samar Ali, “When the Government Can’t Protect Your Firm from a Cyberattack,” Wall Street Journal (January 4, 2017)

Here’s how racial injustice plays out in the US legal system and how to tackle it,” World Economic Forum (September 29, 2020) (video)