Dara Delgado, a doctoral student, was awarded a $20,000 fellowship from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) to complete her dissertation, which focuses on an African-American woman who founded a black Pentecostal denomination in 1924 with the goal of empowering women.
Delgado, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Religious Studies, is writing about the life and work of Ida Bell Robinson — the founder, first bishop and president of the Mount Sinai Holy Church of America Inc. The organization held consistent female leadership from its founding until February 2001.
In addition to fostering and growing churches affiliated with her ministry, Robinson mentored women to become leaders, managed a radio program, published a newsletter and acquired properties. Her social awareness was reflected in her sermons, which addressed lynching, economic and racial injustice, and World War II — landing her on the FBI watch list.
Delgado said partnering with AAUW on the project is particularly appropriate. The nonpartisan, nonprofit organization is a leading supporter of graduate women’s education, having awarded more than $100 million in fellowships, grants and awards to 12,000 women and projects from more than 140 countries since 1888.
“It’s just such a wonderful thing to be able to write about a woman in history whose program was about empowering women in all of these social areas and spheres of influence,” Delgado said. “This has been AAUW’s mission since its founding. I am incredibly honored.”
Her dissertation developed from a course on American Christian fundamentalism taught by William Trollinger, a professor in the Departments of History and Religious Studies. They discussed Delgado’s own religious tradition, Pentecostalism, which led them to Robinson’s work empowering black women to lead congregations of both men and women — that work served to undercut religious prohibitions against female leadership.
Unfortunately, few of Robinson’s own writings were preserved, so there was little scholarly research material for Delgado to explore apart from brief, biographical statements. Instead, she opted to do a social history, which puts available denominational resources into a larger historical and cultural context.
“Dara is called to do this work,” Trollinger said. “When she is finished, I can confidently say that she will not only have produced an excellent dissertation, but what will become an outstanding book on race, religion and gender in America during the first half of the 20th century. In the field of women’s history, in particular, there is no question that Dara’s work will prove to be groundbreaking.”
Trollinger said the AAUW award is public affirmation of the quality of the University’s doctoral program in theology.
Delgado holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Niagara University, a master’s degree in theology from Northeastern Seminary and a master of theological studies degree in Pentecostal studies from Tyndale University College and Seminary.
The University of Dayton Department of Religious Studies appealed to her because of its emphasis on history and transdisciplinary studies, requiring students to think in intersectional ways across traditional academic disciplines.
“At UD, they are forcing us to think theologically, historically, socially, politically and to really expand the way we think about the God question,” she said.
After completing her doctoral degree, Delgado hopes to work in higher education, where she can continue to serve the church, engage in scholarly research and be a positive influence on students as they begin to think critically and engage in hard questions about meaning, purpose and God.
“The University of Dayton has been fantastic to me as a student,” Delgado said. “It has been a wonderful experience and to be able to accept this award as a UD student brings me so much joy, because I know that it is a reflection of the training and development that I have received on this campus.”