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Miroslav Volf to co-teach faith and globalization course with Tony Blair

By Gustav Spohn
Director of Communications and Publications

Miroslav Volf, the Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, will co-teach a course on faith and globalization with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair during Yale’s 2008-09 academic year, in collaboration with YDS and the Yale School of Management.  Yale Divinity School Dean Harold Attridge made the announcement on April 30.

Miroslav VolfAttridge said Blair chose Volf to co-teach the course after meeting with a group of YDS and SOM faculty, including Volf, in London to discuss specifics of the course. Volf is a prolific author, and one of his most widely read books, Exclusion and Embrace, was cited in a major speech Blair delivered April 3 at Westminster Cathedral on faith and globalization.

Said Blair, “Faith is problematic when it becomes a way of denigrating those who do not share it, as somehow lesser human beings.  Faith as a means of exclusion.  God in this connection becomes not universal but partisan, faith not a means of reaching out in friendship but a means of creating or defining enemies.  Miroslav Volf in his book Exclusion and Embrace describes the difference brilliantly.”

Exclusion and Embrace received the highly coveted Grawemeyer Award for religion writing in 2002.  Another of Volf’s books, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace, was selected as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s official Lenten study book for 2006.

In addition to teaching required courses in systematic theology, Volf teaches courses on the theology of Luther, on grace and forgiveness, and many others. A native of Croatia, he has forged a theology of forgiveness and non-violence in the face of the horrendous violence experienced in Croatia and Serbia in the 1990s. While he maintains active interest in many aspects of faith’s relation to culture, his primarily work has focused on theological understandings of work, the church, the Trinity, violence, reconciliation and memory.

On the Center for Faith & Culture web site, Volf describes what he says are two “basic malfunctions” that frequently plague faith:  a disconnect with daily life, and faith that “turns into a deadly poison.”

“The more serious problem is when faith’s medicine turns into a deadly poison,” Volf argues.  “In this case, a person’s faith is no longer idle or lukewarm but is used for ill and leeches society. This malfunctioning of faith gives inspiration and seeming legitimacy to people’s unconscionable deeds—from acts of violence and terror to complacency and inaction before situations of abuse and injustice.”

The mission of the Center for Faith and Culture, says Volf, is “to explore ways to counter these two distressingly widespread malfunctions of faith by helping people practice their faith responsibly in all spheres of life.”

One of the ongoing initiatives of the center is its Reconciliation Program, which aims to promote reconciliation between Christians and Muslims.  The Program, with leadership from Volf, was a primary force behind creation of the widely circulated document  Loving God and Neighbor Together: A Christian Response to a Common Word Between Us and You drafted by Volf and three other Yale Divinity scholars in response to a text published by Muslim leaders.   The YDS-generated statement was published on Nov. 18 as a full-page ad in the New York Times with the signatures of scores of other Christian scholars and religious leaders.

In a statement issued when the University announced Blair’s decision to teach at Yale in 2008-09, Attridge said, “We are tremendously pleased and excited about Tony Blair’s decision to engage in sustained interaction with the Divinity School while he is at the University.  In our communications with him, he has indicated a deep interest in issues related to the intersection of religion with society.  We look forward to bringing his insights on ethics, values and leadership to bear on life at the Divinity School as we carry out our core mission of preparing leaders for service in church and world.”

The University announced Blair’s decision to accept an invitation to teach at Yale on March 7.

--Updated: July 8, 2008

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