Isaac May

2020-2021 Research Fellow

University of Virginia: Ph.D. in American Religions
University of Virginia: MA in American Religions
Harvard University: MTS in Religions of the Americas
Earlham College: BA in History, Phi Beta Kappa


American religion; secularization; atheism and skepticism; liberal religion; Quakerism; mainline Protestantism; American Judaism; pacifism and Just War theory; law and religion.


  • God-Optional Religion: Changing Notions of Theism among Quakers, Unitarians and Reconstructionist Jews, 1920-1965
    • Advisor: Matthew S. Hedstrom
  • My dissertation is a history that documents how several groups on the American religious left became “God-optional” over the course of the twentieth century, allowing members the latitude to decide for themselves what they believed about God. I argue that this was a communal adaptation taken to respond to pressures of secularization, which religious liberals increasingly feared were rendering the idea of a personal God implausible. My work pays particular attention to how Quakers, Unitarians and Reconstructionist Jews were able to unite behind a commitment to communal identity and social betterment, staying unified even after abandoning a shared theology. My work demonstrates how the ideas generated by these groups diffused, causing membership in a religious community and belief in God to become increasingly separate issues in modern America.