AAR Member Spotlight

Valentina Cantori

Valentina Cantori is an award-winning Ph.D. candidate in the department of sociology at the University of Southern California. Her dissertation “Imaging Inclusion: How Muslim Advocates Craft Public Images in U.S. Civic Life” explores how Muslim advocates engage in the politics of inclusion (and exclusion) in the American public sphere. Valentina’s passion for issues of inclusion of ethno-religious minorities stems from her experience growing up in Italy, where changing demographics have heightened issues of multicultural inclusion, and living in Middle Eastern countries, where she worked and studied in the past. Valentina’s research has been published in Sociology of Religion: A Quarterly Review and the Journal of Muslim Minorities Affairs. She is also the writer and producer of a documentary titled So They May Know One Another: Muslims and Evangelicals Bridging American Divisions. The documentary is part of Valentina’s broader effort to translate sociological knowledge for wider audiences. 

Valentina has been an AAR student member since 2019 and is part of AAR's Western Region

Why did you get involved with AAR and how is your work aligned?

I got involved with AAR at the very beginning of my PhD when I co-chaired the Religion and Social Science section of AAR's Western Region. As I was helping organizing the regional conference, I started also to present some of my work in progress at the AAR Annual Meeting. My first AM was in San Diego in 2019, when I was a second-year PhD student. I remember I got incredible feedback on my now-published paper during my panel, and I was so excited by the discussion we had on that occasion that I've gone to every AM since! 

What is your area of expertise or field of study?

I specialize in political sociology and the sociology of religion. I am specifically interested in understanding how historically marginalized ethno-religious groups engage in the politics of inclusion and exclusion as they try to achieve full cultural membership in American society. My dissertation, titled Imagining Inclusion: How American Muslim Advocates Craft Public Images in U.S. Civic Life investigates how Muslim advocates craft images for Muslims that facilitate acceptance into U.S. civic life without obscuring the racial, national, and religious differences inside American Islam. My project hopes to shed light on how there is simultaneously hope for the inclusion of historically marginalized groups and, unfortunately, challenges along the way in the pursuit of full cultural membership for ethno-religious minorities.

How has AAR been beneficial to you and your career?

AAR has been beneficial to me and my career in many ways. On a personal level, it gave me the opportunity to meet amazing scholars in fields adjacent to sociology. This has led to some prolific interdisciplinary conversations that keep shaping my work to this day. As for my career, the feedback, support, grant opportunities, and networks that AAR has provided are invaluable, especially for someone like me who is not necessarily a religious studies scholar. I am a total fan of the work of AAR! Recently, I was lucky enough to personally meet some of the masterminds behind the organization of the AAR Annual Meeting and can I just share that we are all so lucky to be in such good, competent, and passionate hands!

What book is on your nightstand that you're reading or intend to read in the future?

A book?! Currently I have a pile of books on my nightstand - I hope other PhD candidates can relate! However, the one that stands on top of them all is Axel Honneth’s The Struggle for Recognition: The Moral Grammar of Social Conflicts. Albeit being a philosophical book, I find that I also gain incredible insights by consuming readings outside of my narrow field of study. I highly recommend some nighttime venturing into uncharted fellow disciplines for inspiration! 

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

Outside of work, I truly enjoy spending time in nature with my dog, Tosca, who is an essential tool in my PhD survival kit and my furry research assistant. I also love pilates and I try to cook as much Italian food as I can to recharge my overburdened brain. As my grandma used to say, every difficult idea can be better grasped after a healthy portion of home-made tagliatelle! 

About Member Spotlight

This feature is devoted to profiling AAR members making waves in their departments, institutions, and communities—as well as AAR at large!

Read More Interviews