Barnes May

Isaac Barnes May

Doctoral Candidate


  • University of Virginia: Doctoral Candidate in American Religions (degree expected 2019)
  • University of Virginia: MA in American Religions
  • Harvard University: MTS in Religions of the Americas
  • Earlham College: BA in History, Phi Beta Kappa

Research Interests

Isaac Barnes May is a PhD student in the American Religions area of the Religious Studies department.  A Clay Graduate Fellow of the Institute of the Humanities & Global Cultures, his work focuses on the history of liberal religion and the religious left in the United States. He is particularly interested in religious pacifism, religion and law and how religious groups respond to the pressures of secularization. His dissertation focuses on changing notions of God and the emergence of nontheistic perspectives within 20th century Unitarianism, Quakerism and Reconstructionist Judaism.


  • Instructor, University of Virginia
    • Thomas Jefferson, the First Amendment and Religion, Summer 2017
  • Teaching Assistant, University of Virginia
    • “Spiritual But Not Religious”: Spirituality in America, Spring 2017
    • Salem Witch Trials, Spring 2016
    • Introduction to American Studies, Fall 2015
    • Religion in America Since 1865, Spring 2015
    • Introduction to Western Religions, Fall 2014 and Spring 2016
  • Teaching Assistant, Earlham College
    • United States History from 1865, Spring 2011
    • United States History to 1865, Fall 2010




  • Academic Articles
    • “The Blessed Channel of the Work: Gender, Power and the Union of the Women’s Foreign Missions Societies in the Religious Society of Friends,” Quaker History (2018, Forthcoming)
    • “The Great Fight for Religion, Democracy and the Home: The Committee to Oppose the Conscription of Women as a Study in the Secularization Process,” Peace and Change 42, No. 1 (January 2017), 64-92
    • “Encounters from Beyond: Quakerism, Belief in Extraterrestrials and the Boundaries of Liberal Religion,” Quaker Theology, No. 27(Summer-Fall 2015), 54-81.
    • “Forged in the Fire: Norman Morrison and the Link between Liberal Quakerism and Radical Action,” Cult/ure: The Graduate Journal of Religion at Harvard Divinity School 9 (Spring 2014)
    • “Opening the Shutters: Gurneyite Quakerism and the Struggle for Women’s Equality in the Meeting for Business,” Quaker Studies 18, Issue. 2 (March 2014), 170-190.
    • “Only Human(ist): Charles Francis Potter and his choice to abandon Unitarianism and Universalism” Journal of Unitarian Universalist History 37 (2013-2014), 153- 175.
    • “Friends and Foes:  Richard Nixon and the Division of American Quakerism,” Quaker History vol. 102, no. 1(2013): 17-36
  • Book Chapter
    • “Conflict and Transformation, 1809-1920,” co-authored with Thomas D. Hamm in Cambridge Companion to Quakerism ed. Steve Angell, Ben Dandelion (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018), In Press
  • Book Reviews
    • Review of Friends in Deed: 50 Years of Quaker Service Australia by Heather Saville. Quaker History vol. 106, no. 1, Spring, 2017, 29-30.
    • Review of Plowshares: Protest, Performance and Religious Identity in the Nuclear Age by Kristen Tobey. Reading Religion, 2017.
    • Review of Nixon’s First Cover-Up: The Religious Life of a Quaker President, by H. Larry Ingle, Quaker Studies, Number 21, Issue 1, June 2016, 128-130.
    • Review of Remaking Friends: How Progressive Friends Changed Quakerism & Helped Save America, 1822- 1940, by Chuck Fager, Quaker Theology, Number 25, Summer-Fall 2014, 75-77.
  • Encyclopedia Articles

    • “Harry Emerson Fosdick,” Opposition to War: An Encyclopedia of United States Peace and Antiwar Movements (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2017), In Press

    • “Unitarian Universalism,” Sage Encyclopedia of War: Social Science Perspectives (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishing, 2016), 4:1741-1743.

    • “Pentecostalism,” Sage Encyclopedia of War: Social Science Perspectives (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishing, 2016), 3:1344-1346.

    • “Religious Society of Friends,” Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, Rutgers-Camden, 2016.
  • Other Publications
    • “Impenetrably Secret: A Report on the Religion of James and Dolley Madison,” Produced on commission for the Montpelier Foundation, Spring 2016.
    • “The Prophetic and Pragmatic in Politics,” Friends Journal, January 2016, 20-22
    • “Rediscovering Quakerism's Liberal Religious Roots," Friends Journal, May 2015, 11-13
    •  "Towards a Practical Peace Movement,” Quaker Life, July-August 2014, 30-32

Selected Conference Presentations

  • “A Toxic Red Pill: Contemporary Organized Atheism, Misogyny and the Concept of Rationality” (to be presented at the American Academy of Religion, Boston, MA, 2017)
  • A Peculiar People and a Protestant President: Herbert Hoover and the Question of Quaker Citizenship” (presented at the Quaker History Roundtable, Earlham School of Religion, Richmond, IN, 2017)
  • “Inventing the Historic Peace Churches: How Government Pressure Over Conscription Religiously United the Quakers, Mennonites and the Brethren,” (presented at the American Society of Church History, American Historical Association, Denver, CO, 2017)
  • “Permitting a Godless Faith: Quakers, U.S. v. Seeger and the Changing Notion of the Deity in American Law,” (presented at the American Academy of Religion, San Antonio, TX, 2016)
  • “The Blessed Channel of Work: Gender, Power and the Union of the Women’s Foreign Mission Societies in the Religious Society of Friends,” (presented at the Quaker Historians and Archivists, Birmingham, UK, 2016).
  • “A Tradition of Peace: The Influence of Protestant Pacifist Culture on Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” (presented at University of Virginia Huskey Research Exhibition, Charlottesville, VA, 2016)
  • Respondent on “Richard Nixon, Quakers, and Religion in Politics: A Panel Discussion on H. Larry Ingle’s Book, Nixon’s First Cover-Up: The Religious Life of a Quaker President,” (conference of the America Academy of Religion, Atlanta, GA, 2015) proceedings later published as Roundtable Review: Hardly Quakerism?: Religious Identity and H. Larry Ingle’s Nixon First Cover-Up,” Quaker Studies 21, Issue 2 (December 2016), 257-263.
  • “Theologian of the Quaker Republicans: The Cold War and the Repudiation of Pacifism,” (presented at the United States Intellectual History Conference, Washington D.C., 2015)
  • “Legalizing the Liberal God: Theological Implications of the Legal Battle Over Conscientious Objection during the Vietnam Era” (presented at the New England Historical Association, New Haven, CT, 2015)
  • “The Limits of Creedless Faith: Policing Heretical Practices in Liberal Religion,” (presented at the Florida State University Department of Religion Graduate Student Symposium, Tallahassee, FL, 2015)
  • “The Quaker Republicans:  Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon and the Weighty Quakers in the Republican Party,” (presented at the Quaker Historians and Archivists, West Chester, PA, 2014).


Fellowships, Honors and Grants

  • Clay Graduate Fellow, Institute of the Humanities & Global Cultures, University of Virginia, 2017
  • Research Grant, Elizabeth Ann Bogert Memorial Fund for the Study and Practice of Christian Mysticism, 2017.
  • Jefferson Scholars Foundation Research Prize, Jefferson Scholars Foundation, 2017
  • Arts, Humanities and Social Science Summer Research Fellowship, University of Virginia, 2016
  • Honorable Mention, Zora Neale Hurston Award for best Graduate Essay on Women, Gender or Sexuality, University of Virginia, 2015
  • Gest Fellowship, Haverford College, 2014