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Student Spotlight

William Graham

William Graham with Jack LoveWhenever a discussion of the two has arisen, science and religion have been pitched as irreconcilable and opposing forces without fail.  I have come to learn, through life and education, that there is a solution much easier than identifying with either side or trying to find a compromise in between, and that is simply to simultaneously accept the extremes of both.

My arrival at this was set initially by the example of my parents, my father a physician and my mother a pharmacist.  The science of medicine was a frequently discussed topic throughout my upbringing.  During my early teens when I first began to toe the boundaries between Sunday School lessons and biology class, my parents made clear that, in their professions, they provided care and actively applied medicine as a restorative science.  However, they would always add that the total process of healing and its mechanisms were the workings of a Higher Power.

I followed in my parents' example, seeking to learn and serve through medicine.  However, I have taken a slightly different path, embracing my affinity for animals by studying veterinary medicine.  Having made this decision relatively early on, I enrolled in all of the highest level biology classes my high school offered.  It was during this time that I truly came to appreciate another aspect of religion apart from the reverent service I learned from my parents, that of storytelling and religious myth.  The mentality of "never ruin a good story with the facts" faded through high school as the importance of subtlety and metaphor in said stories became clear.  This spurred personal research into the history, language, and culture that surrounded the events and chronicling of these stories, dissecting the Biblical narratives the same as I would any specimen.

When registering for the University of Tennessee, I was delighted to find out that at the same time I was on the pre-veterinary coursework path, I could continue delving into the Biblical text at an even deeper level through religious studies courses.  I began with the intent of earning a minor in Religious Studies, though the "minor" status did nothing to detract from the overall odd pairing of Animal Science and Religious Studies.  While my fellow pre-vets would spend the bus ride from the Ag Campus reviewing microbiology or ecology for their Biology minors, I was busy studying introductory Hebrew.

I can say without hesitation that living in both worlds has added an unspeakably greater depth to my education, enough so that I could not leave the University without turning my minor into a fully-fledged major as well.  In fact, it has been the influence of either sphere on each other that has added innumerable layers of depth.  Applying a measured, scientific approach to the examination of religion has extracted details from Biblical narratives that would have otherwise gone unrecognized, fully fleshing out the historical world and culture in which the narratives took place. 

Though Animal Science was my primary major, Religious Studies has forced me into full circumspection.  Without considering both, I never would have appreciated the poetry in the mythological explanations of events, nor would I be able to see that same poetry reflected in the scientific reckoning of the natural world.  The perspective of the humanities has enabled me to articulate many of the motivations I have for science, allowing me to speak of veterinary medicine on the same level as my parents speak of human medicine.  And for my colleagues in Animal Science who remain skeptical of the connections I draw between my two worlds, I am quick to point out that veterinarians were wise-men and temple priests long before we ever called ourselves scientists, and that we must acknowledge our duties as the former before we might practice as the latter.

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