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Charles Irons receives NEH award for summer research

The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded associate professor Charles Irons a $6,000 summer stipend to research how white and black Southerners interacted in church after the Civil War – and why some congregations stayed integrated for years while others split almost instantly along racial lines.

Charles Irons

The research, he said, “complicates” the conventional storyline that once enslaved African-Americans were freed, they immediately established their own churches. In addition to utilizing microfilm on campus, Irons will use the stipend to travel to Maryland, Virginia and other locations in North Carolina over the summer to examine historical records from the Reconstruction era.

Nationwide, less than 10 percent of all applicants for the summer stipend received funding from the NEH. Each college and university is permitted to nominate one faculty member.

“I was delighted to receive news of the award,” Irons said this week. “Most of all, I was glad to hear that there are other scholars who think that I am asking meaningful questions and trying to answer them in a thoughtful way. In the early stages of a research project, it’s good to get affirmation that you’re on the right track.”

Irons’ current research interests stem from his 2008 book, The Origins of Proslavery Christianity: White and Black Evangelicals in Colonial and Antebellum Virginia, that examined the contradiction of white slave owners attending the same church as their slaves.

It was during his work on that book that he discovered Reconstruction-era records showing blacks remaining with whites during worship on a scale that appeared much larger than current literature suggests.

“The study of black church people should reveal a great deal about Reconstruction and, more generally, which conditions were most favorable for community self-determination,” he said. “These are questions that continue to resonate today.”

Irons earned his doctorate from the University of Virginia and joined the Elon faculty in 2003. He teaches courses on slavery, the Civil War, American religious history, and the 19th century South.

In 2007, he was named one of ten Young Scholars in American Religion by the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, a research and public outreach institute devoted to the promotion of the understanding of the relation between religion and other features of American culture.

Eric Townsend,
4/1/2010 11:32 PM