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Peace conference focuses on us versus them mentality

Sept. 28, 2006

KALAMAZOO--More than 70 of the world's leading experts in addressing negative stereotyping and prejudice will be in Kalamazoo this month to launch the first in an annual series of major international conferences on "Engaging the Other: The Power of Compassion."

The inaugural conference is being held in response to rising violence and new wars around the globe. Organized by the Michigan-based Common Bond Institute, it is open to the public and will take place Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 26-29, at the Radisson Hotel in downtown Kalamazoo. Gov. Jennifer Granholm has been invited to give opening remarks.

Steve Olweean, conference coordinator and CBI director, says the conference's main aims are to promote a wider public dialogue on concepts of "Us and Them"; address the roots of negative stereotyping, prejudice and division that lead to conflict and violence; and explore practical ways of bridging misunderstanding and distrust to advance appreciation of diversity, reconciliation and peace--from the local to the global community.

Those goals are particularly important today, Olweean says, given the dramatic upheavals taking place recently in the Middle East and elsewhere.

"We're working to bring more of the public eye and wisdom to bear on how it is that we become polarized and galvanized in creating demonized images of each other, whether across the world or across the street," he says, "and how we can move past these artificial barriers to cultivate our capacity for a shared consciousness of peace. In today's world, these are simply practical survival skills."

In addition to the CBI, "Engaging the Other" is being sponsored by the HARMONY Institute in Russia, the International Humanistic Psychology Association headquartered in the United States, and the Fetzer Institute and Western Michigan University's Haenicke Institute for Global Education in Kalamazoo. The conference also is being supported by a growing international list of more than 75 universities and organizations.

If registering by Oct. 8, the four-day event costs $295 for the general public and $190 for full-time students. Discounts are available for members of co-sponsoring and supporting organizations. Continuing education credits are available.

Many of the conference's presenters and participants are coming from developing societies, regions of conflict and cultures that historically have been seen by each as "the Other." They represent such societies as Palestine, Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iran, India, Pakistan, China, Tibet, Nepal, Taiwan, Russia and Chechnya, as well as several African, Latin American and western European countries.

U.S. participants include members of Arab-American, Jewish-American, African-American, Hispanic-American, Native-American and Asian-American communities. Olweean says Michigan's proximity to major population centers for these groups makes the state an ideal host site for "Engaging the Other," and the CBI plans to convene the second annual conference in Michigan in fall 2007.

The 2006 conference will examine concepts of "the Other" from a universal, cross-cultural perspective. It will begin at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 26, with, according to conference organizers, remarks by Gov. Granholm and U.S. Rep. John Conyers. Presentations by two of the event's five keynote speakers will follow.

The first keynote talk will be by Dr. Maureen O'Hara, a leader in the field of humanistic psychology, who is chair of the psychology program at National University and president emerita of the Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center. The second talk will be by Archbishop Elias Chacour, a Palestinian Christian Arab and three-time nominee for the Nobel Peace Price who is archbishop of Galilee with responsibility for the Melkite Church in Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and all of Israel.

The other keynote speakers scheduled are Dr. Sam Keen, a noted author, professor and philosopher known for his explorations of questions regarding love, life, religion and being a man in contemporary society; Dr. Huston Smith, internationally renowned as the leading philosopher,

scholar and author on world religion; and Marianne Williamson, an author and lecturer who founded the Peace Alliance, a grassroots campaign supporting legislation currently before Congress to establish a U.S. Department of Peace.

The conference will feature topical panel discussions, lectures, workshops, roundtables, and daily facilitated group dialogues on topics such as "The Muslim as Other: Stories from the Borderlands"; "Walking the Talk: Religion, Conflict and Peace"; "Looking for the Enemy Within: Society and Paranoia"; and "Programs for Children and Youth Addressing Issues of Conflict, Prejudice and Stereotyping."

"A unique quality of this event is that it's not a passive, one-way experience." Olweean, says. "Participants experience the program and intentional community together as a living learning laboratory."

The conference will also feature a media room for showing documentary film clips, evening performances and social-cultural events, media exhibits and displays, and in-process artistic interpretations of the conference as it evolves each day. Universities and organizations across the globe will have real-time opportunities to interact during the conference through E-conferencing.

After the conference, organizers expect to develop a documentary film and an "Engaging the Other" training curriculum geared to the general public as well as to lay the groundwork for creating a regional hub for collaborative peace studies and peace building initiatives. E-dialogues and E-projects also will be established on the CBI Web site to promote continued dialogue and collaborations between participants.

The CBI is a U.S.-based non-governmental organization that grew out of the Association for Humanistic Psychology's Soviet-American (International) Professional Exchange. First established in 1990, the CBI organizes and sponsors international conferences, professional training programs, relief efforts and professional exchanges internationally, and actively provides consulting, coordination and networking support to assist newly emerging human service and civil society organizations in developing countries.

Program and registration details are available by visiting the CBI Web site at www.cbiworld.org. For more information, contact Steve Olweean at solweean@aol.com or (269) 665-9393.

Information about WMU's involvement in the event is available from Margaret von Steinen in the Haenicke Institute for Global Education at margaret.vonsteinen@wmich.edu or (269) 387-3993.

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, (269) 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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