Alia Al-Saji

Academic title(s): 

Associate Professor

Contact Information
Address: 

855 Sherbrooke St. W.
Montreal, Quebec
H3A 2T7 Canada

Phone: 
514-398-5169
Email address: 
alia.al-saji [at] mcgill.ca
Office: 
Leacock 932
Research areas: 
Feminist Philosophy
Phenomenology
19th and 20th Century Continental Philosophy
Critical Philosophy of Race
Bergson
Merleau-Ponty
Biography: 

Alia Al-Saji has a PhD in Philosophy from Emory University (2002), following an MA in Philosophy from K. U. Leuven (1995) and a Bachelor of Arts & Science (McMaster University, 1993).  She has taught at McGill since 2002.  Her work brings together and critically engages 20th-century phenomenology and French philosophy, on the one hand, and critical race, decolonial, and feminist philosophies, on the other.  Running through her research is an abiding concern for questions of time and embodiment, the intersection of which she seeks to philosophically elaborate.

Al-Saji’s research has been supported by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and Le fonds de recherche du Québec en société et culture.  In 2009, she was awarded a residence fellowship at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France, and in 2012 she was a resident fellow at the Institute of Advanced Study in Durham University, UK.

Al-Saji was the Co-Director of the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy (SPEP), the second largest philosophical association in North America, from 2014 to 2017.  She is currently a co-editor of the Symposia on Gender, Race and Philosophy and the Feminist Philosophy section editor of Philosophy Compass.

Current research: 

Al-Saji’s research traces two interrelated trajectories.  The first trajectory explores questions of corporeity, memory, and intersubjectivity in terms both of affectivity and perception.  She aims to think intersubjective relations in temporal terms, drawing on the philosophies of Henri Bergson, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Frantz Fanon.

In the second trajectory, Al-Saji develops a phenomenology of what has been called cultural racism.  She offers a critical race feminist analysis of representations of Muslim women in contemporary Western contexts by questioning the ways in which race and gender are at play in attitudes toward the Muslim headscarf or “veil”.

Al-Saji is currently completing a monograph on Hesitation: Critical Phenomenology, Colonial Duration, and the Affective Weight of the Past.  In this book, she draws on the works of Bergson, Merleau-Ponty, and Fanon and brings them into dialogue with critical race, decolonial, and feminist philosophies.  This manuscript not only presents a sustained argument for thinking intersubjectivity temporally, but also brings together her two research trajectories by asking after the ethics and politics of memory and perception. The book presents an analysis of oppressive—specifically racializing and colonial—ways of seeing and the ways they are lived by racialized subjects, in order to generate possibilities for “seeing differently”. 

In her methodology, Al-Saji argues for the need for phenomenology to become critical, and she offers a decolonizing critique of operative temporal concepts in the thinkers upon whom she draws.  In particular, she examines Bergson's distinction of open/closed and Merleau-Ponty's concepts of dialogue between lived body and world and of institution.  In so doing, she retools their philosophies and elaborates her own concept of colonial duration, in order to think the affective weight of the past in racialized experience.

 

Awards, honours, and fellowships: 

Current Research Grant

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Insights Grant (PI) for the project entitled The Time of Difference: Bergson, Merleau-Ponty, and a theory of time for ethics. 2016-2019. Ranked first overall in the Philosophy Committee (1/54) and in the first sextile.

Fellowships

Fellowship at the Institute of Advanced Study and St. Cuthbert’s Society, Durham University, UK, Fall term 2012. (Theme of Time)

Resident Fellow, Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas (IPLAI), McGill University, 2009-2012. (Theme of Memory and Echo)

Residence Fellowship, The Camargo Foundation, Cassis, France, Winter term 2009.

Major Research Grants – SSHRC

  • Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Insights Grant (PI) for the project entitled The Time of Difference: Bergson, Merleau-Ponty, and a theory of time for ethics. 2016-2019. Ranked first overall in the Philosophy Committee (1/54) and in the first sextile.

  • Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Conference Grant for the conference of the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy (SPEP), entitled “Philosophical Thresholds: Crossings of life and world / Seuils philosophiques: croisements entre vie et monde,” held in Montreal November 4–6, 2010.

  • SSHRC Standard Research Grant (PI) for the project entitled “Vision, race, and ethics: a phenomenological investigation of racializing perception.” McGill University, 2009-2012.

  • SSHRC Standard Research Grant for the project entitled “Gender and Philosophical Conceptions of Sexual Difference and of Embodiment.” Co-authored with Marguerite Deslauriers (PI, McGill University) and Cressida Heyes (U of Alberta). McGill University, 2004-2007.

Major Research Grants - FQRSC 

  • Regular University Member, Fonds de recherche du Québec – Société et culture (FRQSC), Regroupements stratégiques grant for the: Réseau québécois en études féministes (RéQEF), 2014-2020 (PI: Francine Descarries, UQAM).

  • FQRSC Établissement de nouveaux chercheurs Grant (PI) for the project entitled “Vers une théorie critique de la nature de la sensation: repenser les concepts du temps et du corps dans la philosophie du xxe siècle.” McGill University, 2003-2006.

 

Selected publications: 

    Recent Publications


    “Hesitation as Philosophical Method—Travel bans, colonial durations, and the affective weight of the past.” Co-Director's Address, SPEP Special Issue, Journal of Speculative Philosophy, Vol. 32, no. 3 (2018): 331-359.

    “Material Life: Bergsonian tendencies in Simone de Beauvoir’s philosophy.” In Differences: Rereading Beauvoir and Irigaray, ed. Emily Anne Parker and Anne Van Leeuwen. (Oxford University Press, 2018), pp. 21-53. Review of this volume on NDPR.

    “Hésiter et interrompre la vision racialisante: Bergson, Merleau-Ponty, Fanon.” Traduit par Sonia Dayan-Herzbrun. Special issue on Pluriversalisme décolonial, ed. Zahra Ali and Sonia Dayan-Herzbrun. TUMULTES (Éditions Kimé), no. 48 (2017): 51-70.

    “Feminist Phenomenology.” In The Routledge Companion to Feminist Philosophy, ed. Ann Garry, Serene J. Khader, Alison Stone (New York and London: Routledge, 2017), pp. 143-154.

    Critical Phenomenology


    Racism and Colonialism


    Feminist Philosophy


    Time


     

    Affect


     

    Bergson Studies


    Fanon Studies


    Husserl Studies


    On Merleau-Ponty's rereading of Husserl in light of Bergson:

    Merleau-Ponty Studies


    Chronological List (Selected Publications)


     

     

     

    Professional activities: 

    Public Philosophy

    "Why we should stop fixating on what Muslim women wear." New Statesman, February 4, 2019.

    Listen to my podcast interview: Entrevue avec Alia Al-Saji, professeure de philosophie à l'Université McGill. Par Carine Monat. 20%. Québec Science. Sortie le 11 mars, 2019.

    Interviews

    "Une approche féministe de la philosophie." Interview in French, July 11, 2017.

    “Feminist Phenomenology, Race, and Perception: An interview with Alia Al-Saji.” Interview with Emma Ryman. Published on the Rotman Institute of Philosophy Engaging Science Blog, June 10, 2013.

    “Time in conversation with Prof. Alia Al-Saji." Interview at the Institute of Advanced Study, Durham University, October 2012.

    Interview for Radio-CRÉUM’s Les voix de l’éthique, aired as part of the episode “Le féminisme n’intéresserait-il que les féministes?” on December 6, 2008 in commemoration of the 1989 massacre at the École Polytechnique.

    Interview for the documentary on Frantz Fanon entitled “The Wretched of the Earth” by David Austin, for CBC Radio One’s Ideas program (aired in Part One of the documentary on 25 October 2006).

    Positions in Professional Societies

    • Executive Co-Director, Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy (SPEP), elected 2014-2017.

    • Founding Member and Co-Organizer, the Bergson Circle, 2016–present.

    • Member-at-large on the Executive Committee of the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy (SPEP), elected 2009-2012.

    • Nominating Committee, Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association (APA), elected 2015-2017.

    • Program Committee, Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association (APA), 2009-2011.

    • Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity, Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy (SPEP), 2007-2009.

    Editor

    Co-Editor, Symposia on Gender, Race and Philosophy (web-journal based inMIT), with Amy Allen, José Medina, Kathryn Sophia Belle, 2010–present.

    Editor of the Feminist Philosophy section of the journal Philosophy Compass, 2012–present.

    Videos of Talks