God and Tony Blair

Despite his new mission, Blair still seems wary of looking like a nutter. His U.S. counterpart, George W. Bush, talks often about his personal faith; in an interview on ABC in December, Bush said, "God, I believe, came into my life, in this case in the form of Billy Graham. That was the beginning of a decision to quit drinking."

Blair doesn't give interviews about his personal relationship with the divine. In public his approach is probing, analytical, and very much from the intellect. He decided to devote himself to faith and globalization, he explains, because "globalization obliterates borders and frontiers and pushes people together. Faith can become a reaction to it and pull people apart. I saw this during my time as prime minister, and I saw this before 9/11 and after 9/11.

"Even if you are of no religious faith and don't even like religion, you should be interested in this. But specifically, if you are a person of faith, the question is, what role does faith have in the future? My view is globalization needs strong values to guide it and make it equitable and just."

Blair unveiled his new Faith Foundation less than a year after leaving office. Its goal, he says, "is to educate and to have interfaith encounters through action." Among its projects are joint efforts with the nonprofit Malaria No More -- one to provide insecticide-treated mosquito nets to people in sub-Saharan Africa, and another to select 30 men and women of various faiths, aged 18 to 25, from the United States, Canada, and Britain to work in African countries combating malaria and then return home to raise money for and awareness about the disease. The Faith Foundation has also asked Harry Stout, chair of Yale's religious studies department, to develop a secondary school curriculum for the foundation's use in fostering interfaith discussion among teenagers.

For the most part, Blair still travels in the high orbit of celebrities and statesmen. The press conference at the Time Warner Center in New York City launching the foundation was the kind of star-studded event you would expect from a former world leader announcing his latest interest: Christiane Amanpour hosted the proceedings, and Bill Clinton ’73JD gave opening remarks. The Reverend Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church in California and author of the best-selling book The Purpose-Driven Life, serves on the group's advisory council. The foundation has already raised "several million dollars" for its projects, largely thanks to Blair's contacts and stature. (He declined to provide an exact total.)

But during his talks in the Faith and Globalization class at Yale, Blair discards the air of seasoned authority. In the Law School classroom where the seminar meets, Blair appears to be exploring the truth, rather than delivering it. Volf, his co-teacher, says Blair "wrestles with these ideas in an unguarded way, not as a leader who makes pronouncements like a Delphic oracle." Blair is not tentative. But he gives the impression that he is moving toward something without being completely sure, yet, what it is.

The 25 students in the class, undergraduates and graduates, chosen from about 270 who applied, are a microcosm of globalization. There is Garentina Kraja, a 30-year-old sophomore and former journalist whose father helped found the independence movement in Kosovo. Blair's decision to intervene in that Balkan conflict, Kraja said, "saved my life, saved my family's life." There is Chris Thomas ’09MBA, an Iraq War veteran and recent convert to Catholicism, who wants to understand globalization and the forces shaping it with "the hope of guiding it to better ends." There is Levent Tuzun, from Turkey, who says faith and globalization are arguably the two dominant forces in his country right now. There is Yasir Qadhi, who spent much of his childhood in Texas, spent ten years studying in Saudi Arabia, and feels he can help dispel misunderstandings between Muslims and Christians.

The night before his first class in late September, Blair told Jon Stewart on the Daily Show that he was nervous about teaching. (Stewart tried for 15 minutes to get Blair to renounce the war, or at least tweak George Bush a little. Blair wouldn't do it.) The next day, Blair confided his worries to his students. But he added, "I am sure I shall learn a lot from you. Sometimes, as I've learned in my life, out of the very small things grow the very big things."