Former British prime minister Tony Blair has completed his first semester as a visiting lecturer at Yale University, an experience he says has strengthened his belief that religious faith and economic and social globalisation are partners - writes Chris Herlinger.
In his final appearance on 11 December with students at a seminar he co-taught, and addressing the Yale community, Blair said his time as a part-time academic has convinced him that "globalisation requires values to succeed".
Arguing that the process of "pushing people together" has made multicultural and multi-religious societies, Blair argued that "spiritual capital" and "human capital" now need to link.
That, combined with an increased need for multi-faith dialogue, he told reporters after he spoke, "will in time be seen as a defining question, and perhaps the leading question of the 21st century".
Blair also touted the need for the United States, Britain and its allies to emphasise the efficacy of social values in the fight against terrorism.
"It's the force of argument, and not of arms, that will cause us to succeed," the former British prime minister said in an address at Yale's Battell Chapel.
Blair was an Anglican but in 2007, after stepping down as prime minister, he converted to Roman Catholicism. In a BBC television document after he left office, Blair acknowledged that his belief in God played a "hugely important" role during his 10 years as prime minister.
As a Howland Distinguished Fellow at Yale, Blair has co-taught a seminar on the theme of faith and globalisation with Professor Miroslav Volf, a Croatian-born theologian and the director of Yale's Center for Faith and Culture.
The final session of the seminar, seen by video hook-up, indicated that while Blair did not mind students asking probing questions about the war in Iraq, he held his ground, saying he accepts responsibility for the decision that British forces go to war.
And while acknowledging many things have wrong in Iraq since the 2003 invasion by U.S., British and allied forces, Blair told students he believes the Middle East is still better off without Saddam Hussein at the helm in the country, particularly in a region where, Blair said, some positive effects of globalisation are being felt.
"Do I think today, that looking at the region, it would be better off with Saddam? No I don't," Blair said.
The seminar has been a joint offering of Yale Divinity School and the Yale School of Management. Blair has said he expects to return to Yale for an additional two years of teaching.
Blair has formed his own London-based foundation (www.tonyblairfaithfoundation.org), to promote interfaith dialogue. He and Yale officials are working on a joint initiative to address issues of religious faith and globalisation. Blair said the current faith and globalisation course might be "spun off" and taught elsewhere in the world.
Though Blair said the emphasis he has made on global respect for religions and that President George W. Bush has made about respecting human dignity are linked, when asked by reporters to comment further on Bush's views of religion and politics, he said, "That's not for me to say."
[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.]