Tony Blair, as Howland Distinguished Fellow at Yale University (an appointment we covered here), "officially" kicked off his teaching career yesterday with an address and question & answer session to some 2,000 students at Yale's Woolsey Hall. His engaging style and sense of humor were apparent in the forum, which sets the stage for the Faith and Globalization Initiative. Blair also is teaching a course on faith and globalization as part of the initiative, which is "a three-year collaboration among Yale's Divinity School, the School of Management and Blair's own Tony Blair Faith Foundation,' according to the Hartford Courant.
That foundation, established in May, aims to promote respect and understanding among religious faiths in hopes that this can help solve some of the world's most crucial problems.
Twenty-five students — including six undergraduates — were selected for the course. Topics include the discussion of ties between faith convictions and economic practices in China, why secularization has failed to take root across the world and a discussion of such peace accords as the Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement.
Blair said the principles that led to peace in Northern Ireland could be used in the Middle East.
"If you want to solve these conflicts, you have to be prepared to focus and dedicate and commit 100 percent. You have to pay attention to the details, you have to go right into the depths of it, and you have to understand that if the two sides had been able to solve it themselves, they would have done it. The fact that they haven't means that they were unable to on their own."
In asking Blair about what inspired him to take on the faith and globalization initiative, Levin told Blair he was surprised by his courage to take on what he called the "tough topic" of using religion as a force for good in the world.
Blair responded by saying that when the advisers he had when he was prime minister thought he was doing something "really, really stupid," they would say to him, "That's an immensely courageous thought, prime minister."
Blair's response filled the hall with laughter.
He also said that through his work in government and in his personal life, he saw how religion motivated people "very strongly" and led them to do good in the world. But he also saw how religion was often the source of conflict, division and violence.
So although globalization may be the force that pushes people together, religion becomes the force that can tear people apart.
Story and a TV news segment with video excerpts from the forum are here.