Bill and Susan Morris
Susan and I joined the Board of Visitors about a decade ago. I had migrated from Memphis in the early 90s and Susan moved here from Dayton, Ohio in the late 80s. We thought it would be just like other boards we serve on: monthly meetings, meet and greet, solicitation of donations. Thankfully, we were wrong. As financial advisors we had worked with Dr. Charles Reynolds, Dr. Rosalind Hackett and others in the department for years. We understood their teaching duties, research and outreach activities, and hours spent working with individual students. If we thought that was the extent of the faculty’s activities, again we were wrong. We have learned so much about the academic study of religion while serving on this board.
I was raised as a drive-by Episcopalian – my father would drop me and my brothers off for Sunday services and Sunday school and pick us up later. A short respite from raising four boys. Later, I attended the church my current girlfriend attended. It was quite confusing – each church with a different interpretation of religious service requirements. I married my first wife in the Episcopal Church – she lived in sin for years since she was a Catholic. After the birth of my third child, a girl, she and I were baptized together in the first Catholic church of the Northwest Territory in Vincennes, Indiana. Since I was now a Catholic by choice, not by birth, my wife and I remarried in the Catholic Church. This required a certain degree of religious instruction by Monsignor Morris (no relation), before the ceremony could be scheduled. He was a very progressive priest and we determined I was mentally and morally prepared for marriage within the Catholic Church. He understood my confusion and distrust of organized religion. I revealed to him that I felt closer to God when walking alone in the woods. I preferred to speak directly to God without speaking through a priest or minister or in unison with a congregation. He saw nothing wrong with that approach. I have always considered religion to be a private, internal affair. Again, I was wrong.
Through all of my interactions with the Department of Religious Studies, I now understand better how religion can build or destroy nations, have profound effect on societies and individuals, and offer a basis of discourse between disparate peoples — Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood Proverbs 4:7. My focus has been directed outward, and I am better for it.
The myriad of work outside the classroom we have been exposed to has been a tremendous surprise. International research as well as lectures delivered by UT faculty worldwide continues to impress. The lectures brought to the UT campus featuring recognized authorities on a range of fascinating subjects have been one of the greatest bonuses from serving on the board.