Rev. Kirstin Boswell comes to Elon with a multitude of experience in various higher education institutions, such as Brown and MIT.
Tasked with advancing and deepening the religious and spiritual essence of Elon University, as well as providing strategic leadership for the comprehensive vision of multifaith education, Rev. Kirstin Boswell says she’s looking forward to getting started at an institution that prioritizes community.
“People are very warm and welcoming, and that warmth and welcoming spirit is a culture unto itself,” she said.
Boswell joined Elon University as the fourth university chaplain in Elon’s history and dean of multifaith engagement in June 2021, succeeding Rev. Jan Fuller who served as the university’s chaplain for 10 years.
As the university chaplain, Boswell leads a team at the Truitt Center for Religious & Spiritual Life that is charged with conducting services for students, faculty and staff of various faith traditions and providing counseling, support and mentorship.
Her office also emphasizes the importance of religious literacy and understanding religious traditions “in the world around us since we’re operating within a global environment.” Another area of focus is one holding the community together during difficult times, Boswell said. An example of this is the 20th anniversary commemorative Sept. 11 events sponsored by the Truitt Center.
“It’s a broad spectrum of roles and responsibilities that our office provides and my role specifically is to shepherd that team and help us to better engage,” she said.
Boswell’s career in ministry began at the University of Chicago Divinity School where she received her master of divinity degree in 2006, which is the degree necessary for ordination.
“I pursued the ordination pathway and one of my first roles — and I really enjoyed this — was the director of operations for the International Association of Black Religions and Spiritualities,” Boswell said.
She served in the role from 2006 to 2012 for the international, nonprofit organization which focused on advancing community and religious initiatives worldwide.
“I just loved that, and I realized that I felt more and more that I was being pulled in a direction that was not toward pastoring a church, which is originally what I thought my role would lead to,” she said.
In 2012, she accepted a part-time position as an assistant chaplain in the Protestant faith for Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. Her time at Bentley was relatively short, as she was asked by Chaplain Janet Cooper Nelson to join Brown University as the full-time associate chaplain.
“And the rest is history,” she said. Boswell spent five years as associate chaplain at Brown before going to Massachusetts Institute of Technology to be the chaplain to the Institute and Director of the Office of Religious, Spiritual and Ethical Life.
With two years at MIT under her belt, she returned to Brown in 2019 and served as associate dean of the university until joining Elon in June 2021.
“I found out about Elon by being in higher education circles, I have family in North Carolina. When I heard that the position had opened, I thought that it would be something that I might like to investigate,” Boswell said.
During this entire time, she worked concurrently in the church, first as a student pastor at the First Baptist Church of Chicago and as an associate pastor with Union Baptist Church in Cambridge, Mass.
“That’s how I’ve kept a foot, to a certain extent, in both the church and academics until more recently,” Boswell said.
Boswell is in the process of completing her doctorate in anthropology and sociology at The University of Chicago Divinity School and anticipates completing that degree later this year.
Boswell said that being in a university setting offers a special energy and opportunities for engagement. Helping a multitude of people from various walks of life during such a formative period in life is incredibly rewarding, she said. “I love the constant swirl of ideas and ideas and pursuit of knowledge,” she said.
Coming up on nearly a decade of her career in higher education chaplaincy, Boswell said she’s learned many things, including to not overreact to as many things as she once had and the importance of relationships, communication and transparency.
But the main lessons in her career she’s picked up – patience. “Changes or shifts don’t need to happen overnight,” she said.
Drawing upon these pearls of wisdom, Boswell is more than prepared to guide Elon’s “strong” community on its spiritual and enlightenment journey. She looks to serve as a bridge between the university and students who may feel ostracized for whatever reason, to let them know that Elon will embrace them with open arms. This is an aid she has given in her previous roles and looks to implement it at Elon as well.
“I think that part of my role and part of what I feel led to do in situations or in communities in which I’ve served is to make sure that I can help welcome people who might not feel welcomed by the rest of the community, perhaps because their religious identity or their cultural or racial identity is minoritized,” she said.
The committee’s goal is to set Elon apart as a university with an “uncharacteristically persistent commitment” to ensuring all levels of the university are strengthening their multifaith and spiritual understanding.
The plan seeks to ensure that students “are prepared for leadership in a religiously diverse and conflicted world,” that Elon’s overall community have opportunities for learning about the role that religion plays nationally and internationally and that the faculty “continue to produce cutting edge, interdisciplinary scholarship on religion.”
“We have an amazing staff of chaplains and program assistants and interns and fellows that are here at the Truitt Center not to force any particular religious view on anybody, but to be here for the community to come in its fullness. For people to be able to come in the fullness of how they express themselves, the fullness of their identities,” Boswell said. “I’m just excited for this new chapter that we’re beginning as a center.”