Isaiah Ellis

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Isaiah Ellis

Area of Focus: Religion and Culture


M.A., Religious Studies, UNC-Chapel Hill
B.A., Religion, Trinity University

Research Interests

  • Networks and Infrastructure
  • Religion in the Americas
  • American South/Civil War and Reconstruction
  • Theory and Method
  • Material and Visual Culture
  • Space and Place

Professional Biography

Dissertation: “The Southern Gospel of Good Roads: Religion, Race, and Infrastructure in the United States, 1880-1930.”

Shaped by religious history in the Americas, critical urban studies, the study of visual and material culture, and political theory, in my scholarship I seek to understand ideas and built environments in relation to each other, and how religious concepts are used to make space that changes the patterns and possibilities of human mobility and belonging. In past work I examined these issues through the religious genealogies of modernist architecture and urbanism in Chicago, and I am currently interested in the underlying logics and labor regimes that were and still are at work in articulating territory.

My dissertation research works toward this broader agenda by studying infrastructure as a tool for governance and secular (and not so secular) world-building. It examines the relationship between religion and road building in the former Confederacy at the turn of the twentieth century. Modernized roads and the practice of building them offered sites for contested narrations of postbellum economic prosperity, the white South’s political “redemption” from Reconstruction governance, and the administration of racialized discourses of moral and spiritual improvement based in the emerging Jim Crow landscape. The project’s central concept, the “Southern gospel of good roads,” thus describes an entanglement of religious, economic, and political life in the building of the modern American South and in the national landscapes of white supremacy we still contend with today.