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Tony Blair to YDS Board of Advisors: "an honor and privilege" to teach at Yale

By Gustav Spohn
Director of Communications and Publications

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was the guest of honor at an Oct. 23 luncheon of the Yale Divinity School Board of Advisors, hosted by Yale President Richard C. Levin at his official residence on Hillhouse Avenue in New Haven.

Blair, who is co-teaching the course Faith and Globalization this semester at Yale with YDS Professor Miroslav Volf, was warmly received by the board and by a number of prominent individuals in attendance who were guests of board members or who have other Divinity School ties.

Tony Blair at luncheonSeated on either side of Blair during the luncheon were Christopher Sawyer ’75 M.Div., chair of the board and an Atlanta-based environmental and corporate governance attorney, and Thomas E. Golden, Jr. ’51 B.E., ’52 M.Eng., a real estate developer in Darien, CT who provided funding for the Thomas E. Golden Jr. Catholic Center at St. Thomas More Chapel.

Following an introduction by Levin, Blair set a relaxed tone for his brief remarks by opening with a comment on the 25 students selected for the course in the wake of a highly competitive application process.  “On the basis of my teaching I’ve done so far,” quipped Blair, “I am learning a lot more from those that I am teaching than they are learning from me.”

Participating in the highly popular course are six YDS students, six from the School of Management (which is co-sponsoring the course with YDS), six Yale College undergraduates, five Arts & Sciences graduate students, and two Law School students.

Blair described globalization as a process that is “pushing people together” globally.  “In that situation,” he said, “religious faith can play one of two roles:  Either it can help humanize that process, give it values, give it some sense of purpose, and mission, is about good and just ends for globalization, or alternatively it can become a reactionary force that pulls people apart.”

It is the thought that he might be able to contribute to a positive role for religion on the global scale, Blair explained, that makes him excited about the Yale course and the broader work of his newly established Tony Blair Faith Foundation.

“This (the Faith and Globalization course) is just at the beginning now,” Blair said. “I think we can create something really exciting, something that we can then take with the Yale brand but also put it around different parts of the world as well.

“I think and hope that we have begun something here that in time to come will play a really important part in shaping our century in the right way.”

Already, substantial elements of the course—video clips of the class, background reading material, links to other relevant web sites—are available around the world via the Faith and Globalization web site.

Blair, a recent convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism, called it “an honor and a privilege” to be teaching the course and expressed deep appreciation for the work of Yale in creating it:  “The Divinity School here, and the School of Management, obviously, the Divinity School in a sense particularly, has been absolutely wonderful in how they’ve supported us and put this course together.  I really cannot praise them enough.  They’ve just been fabulous, energizing, exciting.”

“Also, I’m very lucky with Miroslav Volf,” he added, “who is doing this course with me, who is also engaging me in an intense dialectic process that I haven’t undergone for a long period of time.”

Blair concluded, “Now that we’ve begun this process I’m even more convinced that it offers something substantial and enriching for our future and the future of our global community.”

In an interview after the luncheon, board Chair Christopher Sawyer, a partner in the Atlanta law firm Alston & Bird, commented, "This is an opportunity of historical significance for our School, and we need to recognize that it is one of the most important missions that we have been asked to serve... We should seize it and work hard to make it the success that all of us need it to be."

While Blair’s presence at Yale has been broadly welcomed, there has been some muted criticism based on his decision to support Great Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war.

Sawyer said he did not discuss the Iraq war over lunch with the former prime minister but believes Blair’s experience brings a valuable perspective to the Faith and Globalization course:  "While I do not know, it would certainly not surprise me to learn that one reason that Prime Minister Blair is so fervently committed to this initiative that he has created is that he has learned too closely both the urgent need for our world faith communities to live peacefully together as well as the striking limits of military intervention to mediate, much less resolve, their differences."

Among the other approximately 50 guests at the luncheon were George Bauer, head of the investment-banking firm G.P.B. Group, Ltd.; writer Nora Gallagher, author of the highly acclaimed Things Seen and Unseen: A Year Lived in Faith; Timothy C. Collins ’82 M.B.A., co-chair of the Yale Divinity Capital Campaign and founder of Ripplewood Holdings L.L.C.; F. Lane Heard III, Esq. ’73 B.A., ’78 J.D., partner with the law firm of Williams and Connolly in Washington, D.C.; Frances Hall Kieschnick ’75 B.A., founding director of The Beatitudes Society in Santa Barbara, CA.; Linda LeSourd Lader ’08 M.Div., president of the Renaissance Institute and pastoral assistant at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C.; Fred Sievert, a current student at Yale Divinity School and retired chief executive officer of the New York Life Insurance Company.

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