Blair plans to teach religion at Yale

( Guardian ) - Not content with trying to bring peace to the Middle East - as well as advising an insurance company on the risks of climate change, a bank on crisis management and Rwanda on good governance - Tony Blair is to add another job to his portfolio: teaching God and politics at one of America's most prestigious universities.

Yale, the Ivy League alma mater of his good friend George Bush, confirmed yesterday that the former prime minister is to join the schools of management and divinity at the campus in New Haven, Connecticut, in the autumn. He will teach a course on faith and globalisation, looking at religion in the modern world.

This will also be the theme of his Faith Foundation, which he is to launch in London before his Yale commitment starts. It is intended to promote understanding between Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

The deans of Yale's management and divinity schools are discussing with Blair how much time he will spend on campus. A spokesman for Blair insisted yesterday that his position would not require him to spend extended periods in Connecticut. But even before yesterday's announcement, his aides were expressing concern about his workload next year.

Blair is in the US this week and met Bush on Tuesday; he is due to return to the UK early next week. He will combine his academic role with his duties as a special envoy for the Quartet, an international body committed to peace in the Middle East, which represents the UN, the US, the EU and Russia. That job of shuttling between London, New York and Jerusalem demands his attention for 10 days a month.

He will also have to fit into his schedule his advisory role with Zurich Financial Services Group Insurance, for which he is said to be paid P50,000 a month, his unpaid job as adviser to the Rwandan government, and worldwide speaking engagements arranged by Washington Speakers Bureau Inc.

Then, of course there is his part-time advisory role to bankers JP Morgan, said to be worth somewhere between P500,000 and P2.5m a year, for which he works no set number of days but is at the beck and call of company executives.

When still in Downing Street, Blair devoted time to pondering his future, given his relative youth. He liked the model established by Bill Clinton in setting up the Clinton Foundation, which raises millions for international development; Blair's Faith Foundation is partly based on that idea.

The academic world was always a strong draw. In 2006, Blair and his then chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, sounded out the London School of Economics about setting up a school of government, but backed off after news leaked out and he encountered resistance from staff and students because of his role in the Iraq war.

Blair remains a controversial figure, and, reflecting this sensitivity, Yale had not been planning to announce the post until later this year. It rushed out a press release after being contacted by the Guardian to confirm he was to be given tenure.

In the release, Richard Levin, president of Yale, said: "The appointment of Mr Blair provides a tremendous opportunity for our students and our community. 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."

But the appointment will raise many eyebrows. Blair's decision to teach religion as well as politics highlights how important Christianity is in his life. He became interested at university and then, as a Labour frontbencher, contributed to a book on socialism and Christianity. In the run-up to the 1997 general election and during his premiership, he played down his beliefs after being advised that it could be a turn-off for non-religious voters. His interest in religions never abated, and in the aftermath of 9/11 he read the Qur'an. He converted to Catholicism this year.

His son, Euan, has been at Yale since 2006, taking a master's degree in international relations. The two may not overlap, as he is due to graduate this summer.

Blair's search may not end with Yale. Speculation about him seeking the presidency of Europe has yet to abate.

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