March 2, 2023
John R. Bowlin, the Robert L. Stuart Professor of Philosophy and Christian Ethics, has been appointed to serve as Princeton Theological Seminary’s next dean and vice president of Academic Affairs. Bowlin will succeed Jacqueline Lapsley, who has served as dean and vice president of academic affairs since 2018 and was recently named president-elect of Union Presbyterian Seminary.
A Reformed theological ethicist, Bowlin joined Princeton Seminary’s faculty in 2007. His areas of specialization are Christian ethics, moral philosophy, social ethics and criticism, and the history of moral theology. His courses include Christian Ethics and Modern Times, War and Christian Conscience, and Aquinas on Love. Through his teaching, Bowlin acquaints his students with the moral and political commitments of the Christian churches, and to the historical disputes over their substance, merit, and effects.
As academic dean, Bowlin hopes to continue the work that Dean Lapsley started of building a lively and engaged community of teaching and learning both on campus and online. “Our students are not only interested in understanding the faith they confess — its biblical grounds, theological content, and moral upshot — but they also want to lead integrated lives, where prayer, service, activism, and study are mutually informing. They want to be able to respond to the crises of our day — climate catastrophe, racial and gender injustice, economic inequality, and democratic decay — in a way that bears witness to their faith and where their faith informs their response. This task of integration is enormously important, and I want to help our faculty and students take up this work.”
President Jonathan Lee Walton is enthusiastic about the leadership Bowlin will bring to this role. “Dr. Bowlin enjoys widespread respect across the Faculty as one who is reasoned, observes challenges from multiple perspectives, and a great listener. He carries a deep institutional memory without being beholden to a nostalgic, reified past. Thus, as Princeton Seminary attempts to connect with Christians outside of traditional contexts, Dr. Bowlin brings with him an exciting commitment to explore new modalities of education and make connections in the Princeton community and the world at large.”
Bowlin earned his MDiv from Union Theological Seminary, and his MA and PhD from Princeton University. He is a member of the American Academy of Religion, the Society of Christian Ethics, and the Society for Values in Higher Education, and has served on the editorial board of the Journal of Religious Ethics since 2003. Prior to Princeton Seminary, he was an associate professor at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma. He is the author of two books: Tolerance Among the Virtues (Princeton University Press, 2016) and Contingency and Fortune in Aquinas’s Ethics (Cambridge University Press, 1999). He is working on a new book, a theory of justice in a theological mode.
Bowlin is committed to helping the Seminary live into its convictions. “Princeton Seminary occupies such a unique niche in theological higher education. Church and academy are both centrally important to us,” says Bowlin. “We’re a Protestant, Reformed, ecumenical school, and I want us to be self-confident about this identity and unapologetic about our commitment to anti-racism, to the equal standing and dignity of women and queer folk, and to ministries that manifest the justice and mercy of God in these divided times. And I want us to be explicit about grounding these ideals in our theological commitments, in the history and doctrines of the Protestant churches.”
Princeton Seminary faculty members join in celebrating Bowlin’s appointment and robust theological commitment to Protestant Reformed ecumenical convictions.
“In a time of so much change in theological education, I’m grateful that Dr. John Bowlin has embraced the call to serve as dean in this important season of the Seminary’s life,” says Eric D. Barreto, Frederick and Margaret L. Weyerhaeuser Associate Professor of New Testament. “Building on the good work of leaders before him, he will lead us with wisdom and vision in building a community of skilled and faithful scholars and teachers to serve Christ’s church. The many ways Dr. Bowlin has already nurtured institutional knowledge, wide trust among colleagues, and academic excellence in his own research will be gifts to the whole community as he takes up this new office.”
Keri Day, associate professor of constructive theology and African American Religion, says "What strikes me as important about John Bowlin's leadership is not only his commitment to academic excellence but also his commitment to a truly inclusive community. He understands the historic moment Princeton Theological Seminary has entered: one of growing diversity among faculty and students, which means Princeton Seminary leaders must retool in knowing how to lead. John will meet this historic challenge with moral courage and insight to lead effectively and compassionately."
Bowlin will begin his tenure as dean and vice president of Academic Affairs on July 1, 2023.
“Princeton Seminary helped me whittle down to the core of my faith and helped me discover what mattered most to me.”