Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, has accepted a one-year position at Yale University in which he will participate in a course examining issues related to religious faith and globalisation - writes Chris Herlinger from New York.
Blair will serve as the Howland Distinguished Fellow during the 2008-09 academic year, the university announced on 7 March. Blair will work with the faculties of the Yale Divinity School and the Yale School of Management.
Yale President Richard C. Levin said: "As the world continues to become increasingly inter-dependent, it is essential that we explore how religious values can be channelled toward reconciliation rather than polarisation. Mr Blair has demonstrated outstanding leadership in these areas."
Concurrent with his Yale position, Blair - who was an Anglican but in 2007 converted to Roman Catholicism - is expected to launch later in 2008, the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. This "will promote understanding between the major faiths and increase understanding of the role of faith in the modern world", the university, based at New Haven, Connecticut, said in its announcement.
Ian Gibson, a member of parliament for Britain's governing Labour Party, which Blair led until the middle of 2007, scoffed at the idea of such a foundation when it was first announced.
"It is a pity that Mr Blair did not think more deeply about issues of religious strife before he went and bombed Baghdad," Gibson told the London-based Guardian newspaper in 2007. "Now he wants to be vicar to the world? It is ridiculous."
However, the Guardian reported that Blair's planned foundation has support from a number of inter-religious dialogue advocates in Britain, including Sir Sigmund Sternberg, the co-founder of the Three Faiths Forum, and the Rev. Guy Wilkinson, the (Anglican) Church of England's adviser on interfaith relations.
Blair, who served as British prime minister from 1997 to 2007, has been mentioned as a possible president of the European Union and earlier in 2008 it was announced Blair would become a part-time advisor to the US-based bank JPMorgan Chase.
Blair joins other Britons who have served as Howland Distinguished Fellows at Yale, including the journalist Alistair Cooke and the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. The late Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi also served as a fellow.
Yale has strong ties to US political leaders: both President George W. Bush and his father, former president George H. W. Bush, were Yale undergraduates, as was Bush's 2004 Democratic Party opponent, Senator John Kerry. In addition, both former president Bill Clinton and current presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton attended Yale's law school.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]