Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair wrapped up his first semester at Yale on Thursday with a major address that laid out significant expansion plans for his foundation.
Speaking before an audience of several hundred students and professors in Battell Chapel, Blair’s appearance followed the final seminar of his first term as Howland Distinguished Fellow at Yale.
“I’ve just been knocked out by the quality of the students, and actually the great time we’ve had doing this,” Blair told reporters Thursday. “I sometimes wonder how much they’ve learned from me, but I’ve learned a lot from them.”
The University’s Faith & Globalization initiative — a partnership between the School of Management and the Divinity School established in coordination with Blair’s appointment — will grow over the next two years to become a major University-wide effort, Blair and Yale officials pledged.
In that time, the University plans to work with the London-based Tony Blair Faith Foundation, which directs other areas of Blair’s work, to publish a major book on the subject of faith and globalization and establish student internships at the foundation’s London offices. Meanwhile, Blair said his foundation would base staff on campus and make Yale the headquarters of its United States operations.
The initiative, which is to be spearheaded by the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, will also expand course offerings on the subject of faith and sponsor discussions encouraging Christian-Muslim interfaith communication, including two forums to be held at Yale in 2010 and 2012.
Blair’s focus during the hour-long speech was whether and how a value system could be introduced to globalization. Faith, Blair said, is not the only way to do this but does provide the “solid basis of values” that globalization needs to succeed.
“The problems we face today cannot be solved without alliances,” he said. “And alliances won’t work without common values.”
One of the students interviewed after the talk said that Blair did not explain the concepts of faith and globalization to the extent that they might have liked. Another two students said they enjoyed the talk and the opportunity to make up for missing Blair’s September address in Woolsey Hall, which quickly sold out of tickets.
“It made me think more about global politics,” said Randy Wong ’12, who described himself as “more of a science person.”
Others were simply pleased to have the opportunity to hear the former world leader speak.
Daniel Callaghan SOM ’09 attended the Woolsey event in September, but said that it was good to see Blair speak again before he graduated.
Before the address, Blair taught his final seminar in Linsly-Chittenden Hall. The class — entitled “Faith and Globalization: Where do we go from here?” — reviewed topics the course had already covered during the semester and provided a final look at the union of faith and globalization.
At one point during the seminar, which was shown to reporters on closed-circuit television, Blair fielded what he described as a “rather blunt” question from a student in his seminar who suggested that Blair’s support for the war in Iraq constituted a violation of Islam.
“At some point we’ve got to get real about it,” Blair said sharply. “They weren’t oppressed by us – they were oppressed by [the Taliban and Saddam Hussein].”
He added: “What you can’t say is that removing them was a violation of Islam or of Muslims.”
Blair, who spoke to the News and other local media outlets in a roundtable discussion at the President’s House before his seminar, had said in a telephone interview on the eve of his first class in September that he was nervous about returning to the classroom after so many years.
So how did it work out? “I really enjoyed it,” Blair said Thursday. “I was a bit apprehensive because this was a completely different thing for me. But once the students got less shy with me and I got less shy with them — then it was fine. We had a really good time together.”
Blair attended every third meeting of the seminar, which he co-taught with Divinity School professor Miroslav Volf. Speaking to reporters, Blair admitted that he did not have much time to explore Yale or New Haven during his visits to campus this semester.
But the former prime minister suggested that could change when he returns to campus next fall for the second year of his three-year commitment to teach at Yale.
“I haven’t been able to go and try out the pizza,” Blair said. “I’m really sorry about that, but this is going to be rectified soon, because everyone’s been telling me about it.”