Blair Foundation Will Expand Its Partnership With the University

Capping a successful first semester of teaching at Yale, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced in December that his London-based non-profit foundation would open a permanent office on campus and expand its ongoing partnership with the Yale Initiative on Faith and Globalization. (See related story.)

Capping a successful first semester of teaching at Yale, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced in December that his London-based non-profit foundation would open a permanent office on campus and expand its ongoing partnership with the Yale Initiative on Faith and Globalization. (See related story.)

The Yale Initiative on Faith and Globalization is a collaboration involving the Yale Divinity School, the Yale School of Management and the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, an organization devoted to promoting understanding among the major faiths. Launched last spring, the initiative offered an academic seminar at Yale this fall titled “Faith and Globalization,” which was jointly taught by Miroslav Volf, the director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, and Blair, who was named the Howland Distinguished Fellow at Yale. This course will be repeated next fall and again in 2010.

Backed by the University and the Blair Foundation, the Faith and Globalization Initiative will expand in the next two years and undertake several ambitious projects. One involves establishing a global consortium of universities that are committed to teaching courses on faith and globalization, modeled on the seminar at Yale. The initiative plans to work with major polling organizations to get a better understanding of the attitudes of people worldwide toward religion and globalization; produce a major book on the topic; co-sponsor (with the Divinity School’s Center for Faith and Culture) research projects involving Muslim and Christian dialogue; and establish a summer internship for Yale students at the Tony Blair Faith Foundation headquarters in London. Long-range plans call for forums to be held at Yale in 2010 and 2012 for Muslim, Christian and Jewish scholars, and for the development of workshops and seminars for business leaders and policy makers worldwide.

“It has been such a privilege to have Tony Blair here with us this semester, teaching a course … and involving himself with the broader Yale community,” said President Richard C. Levin, when introducing the British statesman at his Dec. 11 talk in Battell Chapel.

Levin praised Blair’s “leadership, not only in the economic sphere, but as a statesman, and … his extraordinary role in reconciling the long-standing dispute between the Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, bringing about a transformational change in that society. It was that experience, along with others he had as prime minister, that impelled him to think more deeply about the role of religious faith in the potential reconciliation of ethnic and social potential reconciliation of ethnic and social and political conflict.”

In addition, Levin spoke of the “passion that has brought him here and that has enlivened and energized much of his work around the world during the time since he left office: his understanding of how religious faiths might be used as a force for good in the world, rather than as a force for division and conflict.”

Blair, in his opening remarks, said: “The central passion of my life is the belief that religious faith has a progressive and important role to play in the future, but only if people of different faiths are willing to live and work in peaceful co-existence. …

“The key to understanding the modern world is that the pressures of it are pushing people together,” he said. “That’s what globalization does: it operates to obliterate national boundaries, through all sorts of ways - travel, communications, the Internet, mass migration - to push people together. If religious faith becomes a means of pulling people apart, then religious faith becomes a source of conflict and division …. Unless we find a way of reconciling faith and globalization, the world will be a more dangerous place, and a less successful, as well as a less just place.”

Because the nations of the world are so interconnected and interdependent, “values like trust and confidence and openness and justice” are necessary to the functioning of society, he said.

Blair spoke with quiet passion about the importance of religion in his own life and in the world: “Faith matters and it motivates. Whether people like it or not, millions - billions - of people are motivated in their lives by religious faith.”

He cautioned that although religious faith “can operate positively,” it has the potential to “operate negatively, through fundamentalism and extremism.” He stressed the importance of respecting people who do not subscribe to one’s own religion - or any religion at all, acknowledging that believers don’t have a monopoly on morality.

“It’s not the sole source of values. There are many people of no faith or who are anti-faith, but who have great values and do great work,” said Blair. “But the faith community can provide a solid foundation of values and common endeavor based on those values. But [that will happen] only if faith is not about our traditions or our identity, but about our values - values like compassion and justice - and our obligation, irrespective of race, creed, religion, or color, to acknowledge the equal worth of every individual before God.”

Blair served as prime minister of the United Kingdom 1997-2007. After stepping down from that position, he was named official envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East, representing the United States, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union, helping the Palestinians to prepare for statehood as part of the international community’s effort to secure peace.

The Howland Distinguished Fellowship was created in 1915 to recognize a “citizen of any country in recognition of some achievement of marked distinction in the field of literature or fine arts or the science of government.” Among those who have been Howland Distinguished Fellows in the last century are the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, journalist Sir Alistair Cooke and Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

— By Gila Reinstein

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