Encore November 2018

Page 16


History of a Seeker

Professor’s new book looks at Fetzer’s spiritual quest by


Brian Wilson in the lobby of the Fetzer Institute which was founded by business mogul John E. Fetzer.


Brian Powers


ecause Brian Wilson had excellent junior high and high school science teachers who sparked his interest in science and pushed him down a career path in medical microbiology, his first foray into publishing was a far cry from the historical biographies he’s become known for. “My first publication was (an article titled) ‘Proton Motive Force and the Physiological Basis of Delta pH Maintenance in Thiobacillus acidophilus,’” Wilson says, smiling at this writer’s raised eyebrows at hearing the lengthy title. Wilson, now a professor of American religious history at Western Michigan University, has since authored several books with somewhat shorter titles, including the recently released John E. Fetzer and the Quest for the New Age, a historical biography of Southwest Michigan businessman and philanthropist John E. Fetzer. How Wilson went from biomedics to religious history began with his stint in the Peace Corps after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in medical microbiology from Stanford University in 1982. The Peace Corps sent Wilson to Florida to learn how to grow freshwater fish. “Because I had this biology degree, they decided I’d be great at teaching people how to grow freshwater fish in ponds,” he says. After that, the Corps shuttled him to the mountains in Honduras — a climate too cold for the fish. The location had other problems too, such as deforestation and water issues, Wilson says, so he gained his first taste of classroom instruction teaching high school. The catch? Instructing in Spanish.

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