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Samar Ali

Research Professor of Political Science and Law

Expert in the intersection of conflict mediation, national security, economic development and human rights.


Samar 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.

Media Appearances

  • Atlanta ‘Cop City’ Cases Test Use of Domestic-Terrorism Charges Against Protesters

    “It all comes back to Georgia,” said Samar Ali, a Vanderbilt University research professor of law and political science. “How we frame this moment will set the precedents.”

    February 24th, 2023

  • White House hopes for light at the end of its tunnel

    “I think it’s a reset moment for us. I think that this is a time for our country to pull together,” said Samar Ali, a Vanderbilt University research professor of law and political science and former White House fellow to President Obama. “I feel like in that State of the Union address on Tuesday night, Biden found his voice and he demonstrated a steady head in times of crises and chaos.”

    March 5th, 2022

  • Ground Zero for God

    On the 20th anniversary of 9/11 we hear how it affected the faith of three people.

    September 12th, 2021

  • 'It’s just rubbish': Experts doubt Taliban's promises on women and girls

    Samar Ali, a Muslim American international lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee, said the women she has spoken to in Afghanistan remain terrified and unconvinced by the Taliban. “There is a lot of fear, there is a lot of concern for safety, and there’s also shock in how fast things changed,” said Ali, a Vanderbilt University law professor who has been working with human rights groups to safely evacuate people from Afghanistan.

    August 19th, 2021

  • Former U.S. Sen. Bob Corker: Afghan government bound to fall without U.S. support

    Samar Ali, law professor at Vanderbilt University with experience mediating the Syrian conflict, said the assistance the U.S. provided the Afghan military simply wasn't working. Former officials stationed in Afghanistan have sounded the alarm for years that America's military plan in the nation required further scrutiny, she said.

    August 17th, 2021

  • 'Healthy debate' at the heart of Vanderbilt project to heal a divided country

    One of the first steps is listening, project co-chair Samar Ali told The Tennessean. "When you begin to listen to the other person, you humanize them," Ali said. "When you humanize them, you start to empathize with their story. You start to see their perspective. You start to check your bias. When you begin to then empathize with them, you start exploring common ground."

    February 3rd, 2021

  • 'I solemnly swear': 5 things Biden needs to do as he takes office amid historic turmoil

    Biden takes office amid "a perfect storm – the pandemic, polarization, our economy and social-justice issues," said Samar Ali, co-chair of Vanderbilt University's Project on Unity and American Democracy. "We have a vaccine for one of those things. We don't have a vaccine for the others."

    January 19th, 2021

  • Tennessee Voices, Episode 55: Samar Ali, founder and CEO of Millions of Conversations

    Among the many early steps we have taken is to listen and use our platforms to present viewpoints responding to the ad. The first guest column we published on the subject was by Samar Ali, an attorney and president and founder of Millions of Conversations, a Nashville-based nonprofit dedicated to human and civic engagement.

    June 24th, 2020

  • These Americans are changing the world — and they're all under 40

    Samar Ali: "Born to Syrian and Palestinian immigrants in Tennessee, Ali served as a counterterrorism adviser as a White House Fellow under President Barack Obama and is currently an attorney at Bass Berry & Sims and director at Lodestone Advisory Group."

    October 27th, 2017

  • When the Government Can’t Protect Your Firm From a Cyberattack

    Samar Ali, an attorney at Bass Berry & Sims who also is a professor of law at Vanderbilt University and previously worked in the Obama administration on counterterrorism and cybersecurity issues, speaks about why companies shouldn’t rely on the government to protect them against cyberattacks, and what they should be doing to take responsibility for their own defense.

    January 4th, 2017


J.D., Vanderbilt University

B.S., Vanderbilt University


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