For the last three years, I have had the incredible opportunity to co-teach the “Faith and Globalization” class at Yale with Professor Miroslav Volf. This course was rooted in a novel, yet glaringly obvious approach — to examine the many roles of the world religions in the globalized world. From economics to human rights, health and poverty alleviation to political discourse, the world’s major religions are having an enormous impact on nearly every aspect of our lives. Moreover, as globalization draws geographically disparate parts of the world into closer contact with one another, it is imperative for all of us to understand not only the influence of local religions upon their lives but also those religions practiced by people on the other side of the planet.
So with Professor Volf and members of the Yale administration, we created a course that takes a dauntingly broad scope, including in its purview not only the world’s major religions but also some 12 areas of globalization processes. This is not simply, or even primarily, a theology course, but rather a comprehensively inter-disciplinary class that brings university departments that might have had little engagement with one another in the past, into dialogue with one another inside and outside of the classroom. Co-listed in the Divinity School and School of Management, the class has also included students from the Law School, School of Medicine, School of Public Health, Yale College and beyond.
Now beginning its fourth year at Yale, this Faith and Globalization class has become an international university project, the Faith & Globalization Initiative, comprising seven other universities around the world teaching similarly interdisciplinary classes and M.A. programs, as well as collaborating on research and public-facing events designed to engage a wide audience in the discussion. These schools, Durham University (United Kingdom), McGill University (Canada), National University of Singapore, University of Western Australia, Peking University (China), Tecnológico de Monterrey (Mexico), and University of Sierra Leone-Fourah Bay College, have taken something that began at Yale and made it their own, bringing the diversity of perspectives and experiences of their sociopolitical contexts into the conversation.
Though, as it has been reported in these very pages, it is true that my involvement at Yale will slightly decline in the next few years, this is purely a reflection of the importance and power of our work so far. The Faith & Globalization Initiative would not have been possible without Yale. And with eight universities now participating in the FGI, it is time for me to increase my involvement at these universities. But Yale is not only a university partner, but also a co-founder, and I am deeply grateful and proud of our partnership, as well as committed to maintaining it at a very high level.
Furthermore, the 2011 iteration of the Faith and Globalization class at Yale is, in my opinion, the best so far. With new topics such as “Religious Exclusivism,” “Political Pluralism” and “Faiths Today,” in addition to previously included topics of “Environmental Sustainability,” “Human Rights,” “Economic Justice” and “Conflict Resolution,” the class will embark upon a deeper and more robust analysis of religion in the 21st century than ever before.
In the very first Faith and Globalization class I attended at Yale in 2008, I informed the students that I was there primarily to learn from them rather than teach. World leaders in every industry and realm understand the importance of religion — the problem is getting the information they need to educate themselves. I have been incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to educate myself here at Yale and myself and my Faith Foundation are committed to providing others with the same access to groundbreaking information and research on religion and globalization. Yale has, and will continue to be, an essential partner in this endeavor.
Tony Blair is the former British prime minister and a former Howland Distinguished Fellow at the University.