He was trained as an anthropologist as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. His scholarly expertise is in the study of religious pilgrimages, especially in Hinduism. He authored the book Pilgrimage in the Hindu Tradition: A Case Study of West Bengal.
Morinis was born into a secular Jewish home in Toronto, Canada. His later studies in Judaism, under the tutelage of Rabbi Yechiel Perr, led him to discover the Musar movement, a process which he described in his book Climbing Jacob's Ladder. He founded the Mussar Institute, based in Vancouver, British Columbia. His other books on Musar include Everyday Holiness and Every Day, Holy Day.
He has been credited as being, along with Rabbi Ira F. Stone, the leading figure in the contemporary revival of the Musar movement among non-Orthodox Jews. In Climbing Jacob's Ladder, Morinis describes the Musar movement as having largely died off after the Holocaust. Some critics, however, contend that Morinis exaggerates the extent to which the movement died off.
Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat of the web site Spirituality & Practice have described Morinis's teachings as offering "a treasure trove of spiritual practices," "explications of the practical spiritual tradition of Mussar," and "insights into how to change your behavior and bring out your soul." Geoffrey Claussen of Elon University has described Morinis as emphasizing "the honesty, humility, patience, and discipline that doing Musar requires" but as giving less attention to the importance of "traditional liturgy and community."
- Geoffrey Claussen, "The American Jewish Revival of Musar," The Hedgehog Review. Retrieved 10 January 2011.
- Ellenson, Ruth Andrew (23 March 2002). "An Assimilated Jew's Connection With an Old Tradition". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 10 January 2011.
- Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, "Living Spiritual Teachers Project: Alan Morinis". Retrieved 10 January 2011.