Yale’s newest professor had a rather action-packed first day of school.
By the time Tony Blair appeared before a packed Woolsey Hall for a conversation with University President Richard Levin and others, he had already been interviewed on several television networks and taught his first class.
His Faith and Globalization seminar kicked of his three-year teaching appointment. The course admitted 25 students — six undergraduates, six students from both the School of Management and the Divinity School, and seven from the rest of the University — out of hundreds of applicants.
It turned out to be much like any other Yale seminar, except for the celebrity of its instructor, students said.
Blair repeated many of the themes he discussed in class at his talk in Woolsey, presenting his theory of the relationship between faith and globalization.
“Globalization is a force that pushes people together,” he said. “If religion becomes a force that pulls people apart, then it becomes a threat to the way the 21st century works.”
On the other hand, he said, religion can be a powerful way to humanize and civilize globalization by lending a value system.
The day after facing questions from Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, Blair sat with Levin, history professor Paul Kennedy and Lita Tandon ’10, director of a global consortium of student magazines.
Blair’s presence electrified the campus on a Friday afternoon in a way not seen since California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke here last spring. Free tickets for the booked-up event were distributed last week, but the line Friday afternoon still wrapped around the block.
The conversation marked a summit between politics and academia, as Kennedy and Levin asked Blair about Northern Ireland, Iraq, global warming and the U.S. presidential campaign.
When asked about Iraq, Blair said “this is where the audience gets divided into a small number, me and the rest.” Laughter ensued.
He went on to defend his support for the invasion of Iraq and said he views the continuing conflict there as part of a larger struggle against extremism in the Middle East. He said the U.S. and its allies are fighting the same forces in Iraq that they are fighting in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and failure in Iraq would hurt those other efforts as well.
“People understand this is not easy on either side,” he said. “Do I ever have doubt or hesitation? Of course. But you have to do what you believe is right, and that’s what I did,” he said to applause.
Levin, redirecting the conversation to a less explosive topic, asked about global warming. Blair responded, with simplicity and clarity that Kennedy praised, that any deal has to involve the U.S. and China.
The panel did not shy away from asking some tough questions.
“We could have been tougher, but why?” Kennedy said in an interview afterward. “We asked him to talk about tough problems.”
The toughest question was the last: Levin asked Blair to choose between the Rolling Stones and the Beatles.
“I used to say the Stones, because if I didn’t then the girlfriends just…” Blair trailed off. “But the truth is, I’m afraid and sad to say, is really it’s the Beatles.”