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Dean Alison Boden will retire after leading the Office of Religious Life for 17 years

Liz Fuller-Wright, Office of Communications | Mon Jul 1, 2024

The Rev. Alison Boden, Princeton University’s dean of religious life and the chapel, is retiring at the end of July. Boden has led the University’s Office of Religious Life since 2007.

“From the very beginning of my tenure at Princeton, I have been impressed by the Office of Religious Life. My appreciation for Alison has only grown as she has helped guide our community through times of celebration, times of challenge and times of mourning,” said Vice President for Campus Life Rochelle Calhoun, who oversees the Office of Religious Life. “With Alison's deeply thoughtful and spiritual leadership, the ORL has become a model for religious and spiritual life on a university campus.”

The Rev. Theresa Thames, currently the associate dean of religious life and the chapel, has been named to succeed Boden as dean.

Theresa S Thames smiling

The Rev. Theresa Thames, currently the associate dean of religious life and the chapel, will begin her new role as dean Aug. 1. 

“I’m very excited to begin working with Theresa in her new role as the dean, Calhoun said. "Colleagues from around campus recognize her as an extraordinarily brilliant and talented person who possesses a strong moral and ethical compass with a deeply spiritual and compassionate spirit.”

The Office of Religious Life supports the religious traditions that flourish on Princeton’s campus and encourages interfaith dialogue and cooperation. The University supports 17 campus chaplaincies and numerous faith-based student organizations and facilities. As dean of the chapel, Boden has also overseen use of the University Chapel building, officiated at ecumenical Christian services on Sundays and holidays, hosted Baccalaureate, and participated in Princetonians’ weddings and funerals, among other chapel services and ceremonies.

“It’s been a privilege to accompany the Princeton community for 17 years, in terms of faith and spirituality, and so much more,” said Boden. “It’s a great honor to get to be a part of the conversations where people wrestle with the great questions: Who we are, who we’re becoming, what that means.”

Boden is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. In her time at Princeton, she has added Hindu and Muslim chaplaincies to serve the campus community and worked on a wide range of initiatives and programs that are central to Princeton’s campus life and informal mission, “in the nation’s service and the service of humanity.”

 “I’m gratified when people graduate from Princeton and say, ‘The surprise of my time here has been hanging out a lot in the Office of Religious Life,’” she said. “They found that the things that we care about, they care about,” including programs focusing on reconciliation, refugees and forced migration, the prison system and racial justice.

“Faith in action makes us do these things, but you don’t have to share that faith to come and hang out with us,” she said. “We have no agenda for you. Just come on over.”

In addition to her many ministries, she has taught in the Department of Religion and the School of Public and International Affairs on topics such as religion and human rights, the rights of women, and nonviolent political change. Boden has also partnered with groups on campus and beyond. Since 2019, she has brought students to England’s Lake District for an intensive training from the Rose Castle Foundation to become “agents of reconciliation,” equipped to have and lead conversations across political or religious divides. After her retirement from Princeton, she plans to continue her work with the Rose Castle Foundation.

Boden received her A.B. in drama from Vassar College, her master of divinity (M.Div.) from Union Theological Seminary, and her Ph.D. in peace studies from the University of Bradford in northern England. 

She has spent her entire religious career in campus ministry, serving as the university chaplain for Bucknell, the Protestant chaplain at Union College, and the dean of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel at the University of Chicago before coming to Princeton.

Boden has also held various roles with non-governmental organizations, including Religions for Peace, the Institute for Global Engagement, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and the Carter Center. She has written many articles and chapters on religion as well as the book “Women’s Rights and Religious Practice: Claims in Conflict.”

Thames, an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, will begin her new role Aug. 1.

She joined Princeton as associate dean in 2016 after nine years serving churches in the Washington, D.C., area. At Princeton, her ministry has included leading interdenominational worship services at the University Chapel and Murray-Dodge Hall, and providing pastoral care and spiritual counseling to Princeton students, staff and faculty.

“I'm forever thankful to Alison, and I’m beyond excited to lead the Office of Religious Life,” Thames said. “This role is the marriage of my passions: ministry and academia.”

Thames graduated from Howard University with a B.A. in human communication studies, received her M.Div. with a concentration in gender studies from Duke Divinity School and completed her doctor of ministry (D.Min.) at Wesley Theological Seminary.

Among other honors, Thames was listed as one of 10 theologians to watch by Sojourners magazine in 2018, was a 2019 Women in Power fellow, and received the 2023 Unsung Hero Award from the Princeton University Graduate School Inclusive Academy. She has delivered academic conference keynotes and invited church sermons across the country.