Tony Blair Foundation teams up with McGill University

  • December 21, 2009
{mosimage}McGill University has become the first Canadian academic institute, and the fourth university worldwide, to partner with the Tony Blair Faith Foundation’s Faith and Globalization Initiative and expand its research on religious issues.

The foundation was launched by former British Prime Minister Blair in May 2008 to promote respect and understanding about the world’s major religions and show how faith is a powerful force for good in the modern world. 

As part of the initiative, the Montreal-based McGill will offer a new academic course on faith and globalization to 120 students next fall with the hope of applying research to policy makers, business leaders and civil society.

 “The issue of religious faith will be of the same significance to the 21st century as political ideology was to the 20th and we need to understand its impact,” Blair said in a press release. “Our next generation of leaders needs access to the insights of renowned thinkers such as those at McGill.” 

McGill joins Yale University, the National University of Singapore and Durham University in the United Kingdom in the initiative.

Blair said Canada is an important player in the discussion of faith and globalization because it has a lot of experience and expertise to offer.

“Canada is known around the world as a nation that welcomes and celebrates diversity; it is a testament to the fact that cultural variety can be a great source of strength,” he said.

Ruth Turner, chief executive of the Foundation, told The Register that besides having access to a credit course through the initiative, students at McGill and the public will collaborate on a series of projects, from lectures and public seminars to campus activities and research, including a journal and some online publications.

“Knowing about other perspectives from people of other religions has become absolutely an essential skill to be able to cope in that kind of a world, so I know we’ll be working closely with McGill to organize public programs as well as the courses for students,” Turner said.

Daniel Cere, a professor in the department of religious studies at McGill and former director of the school’s Newman Centre, said religious groups at the university tend to collaborate well already.

“Often, it’s the folks that don’t understand religious commitment that may struggle with issues of tolerance and willingness to engage and hear,” Cere said.

Although the primary focus of the initiative is academic research, tolerance and increased discussion are an expected positive spinoff, he added.

Prof. Ellen Aitken, dean of religious studies at McGill, said the main goal is to promote better knowledge of the world’s religions as they intersect with public life.

“Universities are the best places to think about the frameworks with which we approach questions of religion, religious difference, religion in public life, religion in relation to big issues of global concern,” Aitken said.

“It’s an exciting step that grows out of a lot of work that we’ve done over the last decade and in fact over much of our history.”

Until now, the Faith Foundation was mostly active in Canada through its Faith Act Fellows, young adults selected by the foundation last spring who have organized multi-faith events primarily in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. The Foundation also established a group of 40 religious leaders and youth leaders who came together to discuss social action in relation to the millennium development goals and how to take that back to their religious congregations. The foundation also works with elementary schools, and has connected Alberta students with students in Bethlehem through live video conferencing.


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