Best First Book in the History of Religions Award


Established by the American Council of Learned Societies in 1891, this award is now administered by the American Academy of Religion. The winner receives $1,000 and recognition in a variety of AAR publications. View a list of past winners.


Eligible books must meet the following criteria:

  • The nomination must be the first book published by the nominee
  • It must be in the field of "History of Religions" (in the broad sense that it raises historical and/or comparative methodological questions in the field of religion)
  • It must have a publication date within the calendar year preceding the award year (e.g., books submitted by for consideration of the 2020 award must have publication dates between January 1 and December 31, 2019)
  • The nominated book must be written by a single author

Competition for the AAR Best First Book in the History of Religions is open to all books that meet the criteria listed above. An author’s membership in the AAR is not a necessary condition for successful participation. One award is given per category per calendar year, provided the critical number of books for consideration is received in that particular category.

Submission Instructions

A complete submission includes (1) a letter of nomination and (2) a copy of the nominated book mailed to the AAR office. Partial submissions will not be considered by the juries. All correspondence regarding the competition and copies of all books nominated should be directed in the first instance to the AAR office at the address listed below.

Nomination Letters

Nominations may be submitted by any person, publisher, or institution with the exception of the competition chair and jurors. AAR especially encourages letters of nominations from colleagues and self-nominations. 

A brief rationale should be enclosed with each nomination; this is considered the nomination letter. What makes the book an outstanding first monograph? What about the book signifies the promise of the author’s further contributions to the field? How does the submission affect the way you approach research, consider a tradition, or construct your teaching? Letters of nomination may be sent by mail or e-mailed to

Publisher-generated nominations must identify someone in their publishing house who will serve as contact. AAR will ask that additional copies be sent to jury members if the book is shortlisted for consideration.

Print Copies of Nominated Books

If requested, publishers will often send a review copy to the AAR office for the purposes of award consideration. A copy of each nominated book should be sent directly to the AAR office at the following address:

American Academy of Religion
Attn: Best First Book Award
825 Houston Mill RD NE
Atlanta, GA 30329

Selection Process

  • The chair of the History of Religions Book Award Jury conducts an initial screening of all complete nominations to determine a shortlist of titles to be considered by all jury members. AAR requests review copies of shortlisted titles be mailed to those jurors in the spring of each year. Juries for each of the four categories then evaluate the books that have been screened by the chair. Members of the juries confer in June and July to make their final judgments.
  • Results are declared in late summer and will be announced in the Program Book of the AAR Annual Meeting, in a subsequent issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, and on the AAR website. Winners will be notified formally by the AAR executive director or jury chair.
  • After the awards have been announced, each winning publisher will be asked to send not later than September 15 three cloth copies of the book to the AAR office for use in promoting the award. In addition, each winning author will be asked to supply a photograph of the author (preferably .png or .jpeg image) for use in announcing the awards at the Awards Ceremony at the Annual Meeting, in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, and on the AAR website.

Annual Deadline

February 10

Award Amount



The next award cycle will open in December 2020.