Tony Blair Faith Foundation partnered with University
In a speech delivered in the Wolfendale Lecture Theatre on July 9th, Tony Blair announced that Durham University would be joining Yale and The National University of Singapore as a partner in his Faith and Globalisation initiative.
The programme will bring together academics from the science, social science and humanities faculties to research issues concerning faith and globalisation. The aim of the research is to inform global policy on how to deal with the cultural, economic and political challenges posed by globalisation in a world of increasing religiosity.
Durham is the third of a planned twelve leading research institutions to be partnered with Tony Blair’s Global Faith Foundation, which will eventually include universities from the Middle East and mainland Asia, forming a global network.
In his speech, given to launch the programme, Mr Blair said that he was “absolutely thrilled” that the University was to become the newest partner of the foundation. The former Prime Minister described Durham as “one of most exciting and innovative universities in this country”, with “particular strengths in areas such as theology and Islamic studies”. He declared that the Islamic studies centre and the presence of academics from a wide range of backgrounds made Durham “a great place to do this”.
Announcing the partnership with Durham University in his lecture, the former Prime Minister also explained his personal connections to the city and what makes the university the ideal institution to be part of his project.
Blair’s relationship with Durham stretches back to his childhood days, when his father was a lecturer at the University and when he attended the Chorister School.
Blair stated that Durham was his hometown and “very much the place that formed me”. He described the cathedral as his “favourite spot in the world, outside of my own home”.
Lacing his speech with trademark humour and self-deprecation, Blair began by referring to childhood memories of the town as the place where he had his first drink (“more or less eighteen”) and his first kiss (”my first attempt, anyway”). Blair also admitted to having made a mistake in telling Chris Lloyd of the Northern Echo that he had taken ballroom dancing lessons in Durham. “I don’t think that’ll do my street cred much good, such as it is.” Lloyd’s piece provides yet more detail: “It was proper old-fashioned dancing; waltzes, foxtrots and all that sort of stuff. I quite enjoyed it.”
Reflecting on how dramatically the world has changed since he was young, Blair also noted that he could remember meeting a black person for the first time in Durham, at the age of 12. The individual in question had been teaching with his father, Leo Blair, in Sierra Leone – the country which would later been subject to a British humanitarian military intervention under the leadership of Tony Blair as Prime Minister.
Many of these biographical revelations, however minor, appear to be news to Blair’s biographers. John Rentoul, author of Tony Blair: Prime Minister, wrote on his blog: “worth a line when I eventually produce the definitive biography.”
The main subject of Blair’s lecture, however, was the nature of the Faith Foundation and an argument for the importance of its central concern: faith and globalisation.
Blair stated that the conflicts of the twentieth century inspired by a clash of political ideologies were at an end. However, rapid globalisation in the twenty-first century means that there will be a clash of cultural ideologies as different societies are pulled together by the global market. He stated that he believed that there is a potential for conflict inspired by competing ideals of society rather than forms of government.
Blair went on to suggest that the traditional left/right political debate would be eclipsed by a debate on whether to be open or closed minded about the increasing integration of different ways of life. He suggested that a greater knowledge and acceptance of other cultures was essential to avoid conflict. However, he also suggested that the potential for good that could be achieved by all the major religions acting in harmony was enormous. His foundation was therefore created in order “to bring people of different faiths together in understanding and in action”.
Professor Chris Higgins, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, said: “Durham has a long tradition of leadership in developing new ideas at disciplinary interfaces which are critical to shaping all our futures, including politics, law, social geography and international affairs and, of course, we have one of the world’s pre-eminent departments of Theology and Religion.
“We are therefore proud to be the lead UK university in this global initiative. This Faith and Globalisation programme allows us to create a world-class forum to explore the inter-relationships between the faiths and those from non-faith backgrounds, and provide linked, research-led postgraduate education.
“Our findings and expertise will then be used to inform the work of politicians, business leaders, opinion formers and others to help tackle some of the pressing issues faced by the world today.”
It was also announced that Dr. Joanildo Burity, a political scientist formerly working in Recife, Brazil, would direct the programme. An inter-disciplinary masters course will begin in September 2010 to run alongside the main research. The academic research and masters course, which Yale already has underway, is only one of three elements of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. The remaining two branches of the organisation are called Face to Faith and Faith Acts. The former focuses on educating young people in interfaith dialogue, bringing schoolchildren together through online communities. The latter is a scheme to put the structures of organised religion to use in helping to acheive the world’s Millenium Goals, in particular focusing on stemming the spread of malaria.