Without the fanfare of a packed Woolsey Hall, Tony Blair returned to campus on Thursday to resume his role as professor in his “Faith and Globalization” course.
Tucked away in a law school classroom, Blair spoke to the 25 students enrolled in the class. During the class, “Persons of Faith Who are Publicly Engaged,” the former British Prime Minister argued that public figures benefit from understanding faith, given its importance in global affairs, but they must balance the dictates of their personal conscience with the opinions of their constituents.
Blair was not speaking in the abstract, however.
“I am a person of faith and I am publicly engaged, so this a piece of self-psycho-analysis,” Blair quipped about the topic for the day.
On Thursday, Blair provided a more comprehensive defense of his claim that faith can bring specific benefits to the global community and world economy than he had laid out in his previous visit.
By expanding citizens’ self-interest to focus on the interests of others and the general condition of the world, Blair said, faith can encourage citizens to work on global problems — like climate change or poverty in Africa — across borders.
Blair also listed the focus on essential human dignity and values of justice held by people of faith as positive contributors to globalization. Promoting the notion of faith could serve as a solution to the current global economic crisis, he said.
“For global economic order,” he said, “it’s important to do the right thing even when no one’s watching.”
Blair noted, on multiple occasions, that it is possible to hold such values without faith at all, but maintained that faith is a commonality between various cultures around the world.
After Blair had lectured to the students for about 20 minutes, he opened up the floor to questions from the classroom full of slacks and button-downs.
“Come at me now,” he invited them.
The first inquiry fired at Blair questioned whether a balance between faith and political considerations could truly be achieved in the life of a political figure, or whether one suffered at the expense of the other.
“Politics is about compromise,” he responded. “There is often a situation where you have to balance constituency and conscience.”
He admitted there were times during his time as prime minister that he disagreed with his constituency and also times where he had disagreed with the tenets of his religion, namely on issues of abortion and development in Africa. Decisions about engaging British troops in military conflict also tested the balance between his personal conscience and his constituency’s interests, he said.
After the class, several students said they were impressed with Blair’s honesty in articulating his struggles balancing faith and politics.
“This was a section where we actually learned his vision and what he would like to do in the future,” Levent Tuzun ’11 said. “Injecting values is his main vision.”
Leigh-Anne Walker DIV ’09, who has worked in the business industry, said she understands the difficulties presented by trying to balance professional life and faith.
“I think [Blair] has a well thought-out position,” she said. “He’s a person of faith and he’s really thought through his faith convictions in the context of having been a politician.”
This visit is only the second time Blair has met exclusively with the students during the course, which he teaches in coordination with Divinity School professor Miroslav Volf. Blair will return to New Haven in two weeks to teach a class on “Faith and Reconciliation.”