AAR Member Spotlight

Anna Hennessey

Anna Hennessey is a Visiting Scholar at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, and Director of the Society for the Study of Pregnancy and Birth (SSPRB). She is a past president of the American Academy of Religion, Western Region (2020-2021) and is currently co-chair of AAR/WR's Religion and the Arts Unit. The author of Imagery, Ritual, and Birth: Ontology Between the Sacred and the Secular (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018), she is also an associate editor for the academic philosophy journal, Sophia: International Journal of Philosophy and Traditions, as well as founder of visualizingbirth.org and co-founder of the San Francisco Birth Circle. More about Hennessey's work is available through her website.

Hennessey first joined the AAR as a student member in 2004 and has participated in various roles in AAR's Western Region. She was recently awarded an AAR Regional Development Grant. 

What is your area of expertise or field of study?

I did my doctoral work in the History of Chinese Religions at UC Santa Barbara and write about Chinese religions, especially art and visualization in the context of Daoism. However, I'm more of an interdisciplinary scholar and have published widely for academic and popular audiences on topics related to birth, rebirth, art, philosophy, visualization, and religion.

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

My first experience attending an AAR conference was at the annual meeting in San Francisco in 2011. I live in San Francisco, so I was able to hop on Muni and leave my then six-month-old baby girl and two-year-old son with my husband. I was looking around for sessions on birth and religion but could only find panels on death and religion, and that divide both fascinated me and had a long lasting impact on the direction of my intellectual work.

What is your favorite AAR member benefit, and how has it helped your career? This might include access to our grants, award programs, and/or various research tools; opportunities to promote your scholarship through our official channels; networking and mentoring; career training through Beyond the Professoriate; and discounts on travel, transportation, and office supplies.

The AAR recently awarded me a Regional Development Grant, which will allow me to create an immersive art installation at the 2024 Western Regional Conference in Las Vegas. My installation is a Rebirth Tunnel that participants walk through, and includes being re-conceived in a pod at the beginning and receiving a Rebirth Certificate at the end. The project is an iteration of a larger rebirth and regeneration art project that I'm working on in San Francisco, and AAR's award will help further validate the project for other audiences.

What is one piece of advice you’d give to a first-time Annual Meeting attendee?

I'd encourage a first-time attendee to go to at least one session on something completely unrelated to their main field of interest. When we branch out within the field of religious studies or more broadly within the humanities, we start finding interesting and unique connections that sometimes lead to serendipity in our intellectual work.

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

I recently read Jennifer Banks' Natality: Towards a Philosophy of Birth, and am looking forward to reading Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us by Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

San Francisco is an amazing place with a lot going on. My family lives in the Lower Haight, a fun neighborhood, and we spend a lot of time exploring and interacting with the city. I'm also a member of the United Irish Cultural Center and play the fiddle with an Irish music group in SF.

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!

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