Alexia Williams is an interdisciplinary scholar of religion and racial identity in the hemispheric Americas. She received her Ph.D. in American Studies and African American Studies from Yale University. Her book manuscript, “Black Revolutionary Saints: Roman Catholicism and the U.S. Racial Imagination” examines Black discursive and aesthetic practices of sainthood to understand how a Catholic imaginary of race materializes for public display and consumption in American culture. Inspired by the genre “lives of saints” writing, Williams analyzes how stories about African American candidates for sainthood are told, and the local histories of race, gender, and migration that emerge from them. These exceptional figures include Venerable Henriette Delille (1812-1862), who founded a religious community for women of color in antebellum New Orleans; Venerable Pierre Toussaint (1766-1853), a formerly enslaved Haitian migrant who became a celebrated hair stylist and philanthropist in New York; and Servant of God Julia Greeley (c.1833-1918), a disabled and formerly enslaved woman who distributed aid to impoverished communities in Denver. Williams contextualizes these stories within the tradition of Black Catholic activism continued into the 20th century by self-professed Catholic artists Claude McKay, Ellen Tarry, Toni Morrison, Vanessa Williams, and others. Williams argues that as categories of celebrity secular sainthood and Roman Catholic sainthood overlap, Roman Catholicism is able to maintain its influence as a race-making institution, even in spaces traditionally seen as secular.
Williams teaches courses in African American Religious History, Africana Studies, and Religion and Popular Culture. She looks forward to joining the faculty of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign as an Assistant Professor of Religion and African American Studies, beginning in fall 2021.