Richard T. Antoun, a respected Binghamton University anthropology professor who grew up in Shrewsbury, spent his entire career seeking peace. His work focused on bridging the divide between religions and cultures, particularly in the Middle East.
But the 77-year-old professor's life ended violently Friday when he was stabbed multiple times in his campus office, allegedly by a graduate student whom he was advising on his doctoral thesis.
The student, Abdulsalam S. al-Zahrani, 46, was from Saudi Arabia. Mr. Antoun was serving on the dissertation committee for Mr. Zahrani's graduate thesis and apparently had known him for quite some time, according to news reports. The university's Web site says Mr. Zahrani's doctoral thesis is called "Sacred Voice, Profane Sight: The Senses, Cosmology, and Epistemology in Early Arabic Culture."
Mr. Zahrani was immediately arrested and charged with second-degree murder and is being held without bail. The motive for the attack is unclear.
Linda Miller of Holden, Mr. Antoun's youngest sister, said she has many positive memories of her brother, a man who strove for peace in all things.
"He was interested in bringing forth understanding between different cultures and religions," she said. "He tried to explain and help people understand current events, particularly in the Middle East."
Mr. Antoun was "a sociocultural anthropologist who has conducted research among peasants in Jordan, urbanites in Lebanon, peasant-farmers in Iran, and migrants in Texas and Greece," according to the Web site for Binghamton University, which is part of the State University of New York system. He taught at the University of Chicago, Manchester University in England and Cairo University, according to his résumé, which is also posted on the site.
Mr. Antoun had written six books focusing on the Middle East, and spent much of his long career educating people about the region and its people. His 2001 book, "Understanding Fundamentalism: Christian, Muslim and Jewish Movements," was particularly timely, coming out just before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He retired from teaching at Binghamton University in 1999, but remained active on campus and within the anthropology department.
Mrs. Miller said she last saw her brother in November, when he and his son Nicholas stayed at the Holden home she shares with her husband, David. Mr. Antoun and his son had dinner, and the next day attended a New England Patriots game. It was a ritual they performed every year.
She last spoke to her brother on Thanksgiving.
"There is going to be a big hole," she said of his death. "I am bent on keeping his memory alive."
Mr. Antoun returned to his hometown regularly to visit family and speak about events in the Middle East.
Speaking in 2001 at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Worcester, where David Miller is minister emeritus, Mr. Antoun said that religious fundamentalism thrives when a government fails to provide for its people.
"One reason fundamentalists are winning out is they are providing services the government is not," he said. The only way Afghans obtained an education, he said, was to go to a Taliban school, where they would not only receive an Islamic education but were fed as well.
Mrs. Miller said her brother was scheduled to give a lecture at Assumption College in the spring, part of a course being offered by Worcester Institute for Senior Education. The course is called "Islam: Religion, History and Culture, an Overview." Mr. Antoun was scheduled to speak about the role of women in Islam, and then would be chairman of a panel discussion following the course.
Born in Worcester, Mr. Antoun grew up in Shrewsbury, graduating from Shrewsbury High School in 1949. He attended Williams College, and earned a doctorate from Harvard University in 1963.
Mrs. Miller said her older brother had an unquenchable passion for baseball, following the Boston Braves until they left for Milwaukee, and then the Boston Red Sox. She remembers quizzing him for hours on the statistics printed on the backs of his numerous baseball cards — information that never left her and has helped her to solve countless crossword puzzles.
"He was an incredibly loving older brother, he nurtured me in that sense," she said. When she was in high school, he would pull her essays apart to improve them. When she spent a semester abroad at 19, she went to Manchester University in England in part because her older brother was teaching there.
"It's been a lifelong, supportive, happy relationship," she said.
He leaves behind his wife of 17 years, Rosalyn, as well as two of her sons, his 40-year-old son, Nicholas, and their shared grandchildren.
A memorial service for Mr. Antoun will be held on Friday at the Unitarian Universalist Church sanctuary in Binghamton, N.Y.