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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

URI professor and student share a peaceful relationship

KINGSTON, R.I. -- January 16, 2002 -- When Brian Toomey of Glocester, R.I., came to the University of Rhode Island as a freshman he thought vaguely of majoring in math.

That was before he met Arthur Stein of Wakefield, professor of political science. "He’s the most influential person in my life," said Toomey who has taken at least five of Stein’s courses. Now a senior, Toomey majors in political science and philosophy and minors in economics and peace studies.

"The world works on a social level," said Toomey. "I’m interested in social change and social justice."

"He’s has a renaissance love of learning," said Stein of his student whom he calls one of the brightest he has had in his 36 years of teaching at URI. "His interests are broad and holistic."
Both men share an interest in peace building. Stein, who joined URI in 1965, soon began introducing conflict resolution and community building courses into the curriculum. He has been a speaker and workshop leader at the International Political Psychology Association and the Parliament of the World’s Religions’ conferences around the world. At URI, he helped found the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies and co-facilitated the Fall 2000 Honors Colloquium, which focused of nonviolence and peace building.

Toomey’s interest was sparked as a teen-ager, when he was one of 60 students and 20 staff members at Camp Anytown, sponsored by the National Conference for Community and Justice. Participants came from diverse cultures and backgrounds with the goal of building community.

Last year, the professor and student decided to research and co-author a paper, not as a classroom assignment for Toomey, but out of a mutual interest in groups that integrate contemplative practices with social involvement.

This fall the pair delivered that paper, Towards Manifestations of Integral Consciousness: Linking Contemplative Practice and Social Commitment, at a conference held at Ohio University, thanks to support from the College of Arts and Sciences’ Hope and Heritage Fund, the URI Alumni Association Faculty Development Fund, and the URI Honors Program. It has since been selected for publication this spring in the Integrative Explorations Journal of Culture and Consciousness, a scholarly publication. "It was a lot of fun working together and co-presenting research," said Stein. "As the only student speaker, Brian more than held his own throughout the conference."

Toomey and Stein focused their research on two different groups – one Western in origin, the other Eastern – known for their continual support of social change, creative work in nonviolent practices and peace education.

Both groups – the Society of Friends (Quakers) and the ‘Engaged’ Buddhist movement headed by the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh -- also have a historic tradition of contemplative practices such as prayer and meditation that assist personal inner development.
Stein and Toomey found a fascinating parallel between the two peace-building groups that come from widely different cultural and historical backgrounds.

The Quakers, who have continually emphasized human goodness because of their belief that the spirit of God exists in everyone, played a leading role in the abolition of slavery and historically have taken a strong peacemaking stance against the taking of human life, according to Stein. Today, Quaker-supported organizations such as the American Friends Service Committee are strong, global advocates for racial and gender equality among other social causes.

To better understand Engaged Buddhism, Toomey spent three weeks during the summer after his sophomore year at the Plum Village monastery, located in the south of France and studied under the Venerable Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. His trip was funded by a Michael P. Metcalf Memorial Award given by the Rhode Island Foundation.

Born in Central Vietnam, Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay), a Buddhist monk, founded the "Order of Interbeing" during the Vietnam War. Central to its teaching is the idea that reality can best be viewed as a cohesive whole rather than isolated parts. During the war, Thay worked tirelessly for peace and served as a delegate at the Paris Peace Talks. Later he was instrumental in bringing international attention to the plight of the "boat people", leading to their eventual resettlement. Today, he is a vocal leader in improving understanding and communications among nations and cultures.

Reflecting on the professor-student collaboration, Stein said: "It has been beneficial for both of us. The pursuit of what it is to be fully human links us together. He and I are lifetime learners. I view Brian as a colleague and hope our work together continues well beyond his college years."

For Information: Jan Wenzel, 874-2116

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