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Tony Blair joins PKU professors to discuss faith, globalization

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Peking University, June 3, 2011: Tony Blair, patron and founder of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation (TBFF), joined Peking University professors to discuss "faith and globalization" on May 31.


Among the participants were Professors Zhang Zhigang, Zhao Dunhua, and Wu Fei teaching the "faith and globalization" course at PKU, and Yan Jun, deputy director of the PKU Office of International Relations and secretary-general of the Beijing Forum.


The roundtable discussion was an opportunity to discuss the importance of the academic study of religion and in particular the Faith and Globalization Initiative at Peking University, according to a TBFF press release.


The initiative is a global network of leading research universities committed to exploring the complex interrelationship of faith and globalization. It seeks to provide current and future leaders with the tools and analysis to understand the important role faith plays in the modern world.


The public elective course at PKU, which was launched last year, offers students the opportunity to take part in a global discussion critically examining the role of faith, secularism, and interfaith engagement in today’s world.


Blair will teach the “faith and globalization” course at PKU among other scholars and invited speakers, Chinadaily.com.cn reported on June 1.


Professor Zhang Zhigang, also director of the PKU Institute of Religious and Cultural Studies, announced the decision together with Blair during the discussion, FTChinese.com reported on June 3.


The lecture at PKU will be with more "Eastern features" focusing more on Chinese, Japanese faiths and religions, said Blair. But he hoped the feature should be weakened and even replaced by an equal dialogue between Eastern and Western universities on the issue, according to the online Chinese language edition of the London-based Financial Times. 


When PKU News reporters tried to verify such cooperation on Friday, "We will discuss the details with the foundation next week," said Professor Zhang.


Tony Blair speaking at Beijing Forum 2010


At the closing ceremony of the Beijing Forum 2010, Blair, the guest speaker, talked about "Challenges and opportunities in a globalized world."


"To have China as a partner in this [Faith and Globalization] program of interfaith study, is an honor and opportunity," said Blair. "It allows us to prove that to know the world today we need to know the place of religion within it; that religion may sometimes be a force for bad but it can also, properly expressed, be a force for good and a source of values we require to civilize globalization."


Tony Blair in the discussion (Chinadaily.com.cn)


"Discussion" on twitter


During the roundtable discussion in Beijing, Blair took questions from the media. The Global Times on Wednesday published an interview with Blair titled "Religious harmony only way out for Middle East." Excerpts follow:



After the ideological clashes of the Cold War ended, regional conflicts have often been linked to religious frictions, such as clashes between Shiite and Sunni Muslims in the Middle East. Some are concerned over the possibility of a global clash between Islam and the West. The conditions of some groups in religiously diverse China has also drawn attention, as the country is officially atheist. How can we understand the role of religion in modern society? What role can religion play in the peace process? Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a Catholic convert known for his contributions to peace in the Middle East, and head of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, took questions at a roundtable discussion Tuesday in Beijing.


Q: How do you understand the role of religion in society?  


Blair: In all societies, is religion a means of producing harmony and good values? Or does religion become a means of extreme separatism? Everyone in the world today encounters two elements of religion struggling with each other.


Some people say my religion's faith is the only way, and anyone who is different is bad. That is what's I would call the extreme view of religion.


Other people say, I have my faith, but I respect yours also. Actually for all the faiths, there are usually some common values. It is important for society to have passion for people who are less fortunate, poor and in difficulty.


Although all societies have developed and more people become more prosperous, there are two challenges always.


The first challenge is whether prosperity is for all the people, or just for a few. The second is how you make sure that society is more than just about prosperity.


All societies face these two challenges, and faith can be positive in meeting these challenges, or it can become focus of extremism. To study the role of religion both in China and the outside world is an important part to understand the world.


Q: How do you view the religious freedom in China?


Blair: Actually there are lots of diverse religions in China. You have Christian, Muslims, and philosophy of Confucianism. When I say to people in the West that there are so many Muslims in China, people are very surprised. People in the West don't know the role of Confucianism, its philosophy or the relationship with moral values and faith.


As societies become more prosperous, people will think more about religious issues. Another question people will ask is "Do you accept the possibility of higher spiritual things?"


A very general question like that, I think when you ask it in China, you actually get a quite high percentage of people saying "Yes, we accept the possibility." That's not part of a specific religion, but an indication that spiritual things are important.


Q: Materialism is often accused of eating away at traditional Chinese values, and people begin to talk about the resurgence of Confucianism. What do you think about it?


Blair: The study of society shows that the society needs some shared values. All societies, especially strong societies and good societies, have some values that the people share. You don't have to get those values from religion. But I think you don't get values without philosophy.


What is interesting to China is to rediscover the values that came from the revolution in 1949 as well as the values that date back many centuries in China, in which Confucianism is an important part.


I think what is dangerous is when a society is only interested in material prosperity. I think what is important is to have these values be a part, they can come from religion, they can come from Confucianism, disaster, revolution and so on.


But I think the study of faith and values is important, because they can tell you something about the society.


Q: The 9/11 incident has cast a shadow of discrimination over Muslims in the US and some other parts of the world. Now that Bin Laden has been killed, do you think this will change?  


Blair: I think the question is very simple — Is the type of religion that Bin Laden represented very extreme? The question in the Middle East is, how will the religion develop? For example, most people in Egypt today are Muslims, but the country also has a strong Christian population. Will they live in harmony or will there be conflict?


This is a big issue for the Middle East now. Will those societies develop in a way that has a modern view of religion, which is about helping harmonious development, or will the extreme religion take over?


In an opinion poll, if you ask "Is religion important or very important to you?" in the UK, the answer is just over 30 percent people saying it's important or very important.


In the US, it's just over 60 percent, and in the Middle East, it's over 90. If the answer is 90 percent, that means you can't understand the region unless you understand religion.


Q: In the past it was argued that the Islamic world has some elements incompatible with democratic values, but now we can see people there are also struggling for their liberty and for democratic values. Do you think these changes will bear fruit?  


Blair: The answer is I hope so. Yes, one level is good, because people are wanting great democracy and equality. But the thing about revolution is that it never begins where it ends. It started there, and it's very important now we help countries like Egypt to become stable again.


They may have a new democracy, but it's got to operate in a stable way. The other thing that is very important is that part of the pressure for change came from economic factors.


So what is important is as long as there is a political change, they have to have economic change.


And then they have to overcome those groups that really want to exploit the situation for extremist ends. There are lots of challenges in the situation. It's good that people want democracy. But we have to help them stabilize.


Q: Northern Ireland has been able to move beyond long-running religious and ethnic disputes to peace. Can this process be repeated elsewhere?  


Blair: I am spending a lot of my time as the representative of the international community for the Middle East peace process. When I was in the office I did Northern Ireland peace, now I am doing Middle East peace.


I think the most important thing about Northern Ireland was to try to create a situation in which people understood their religious identity, but which should not exclude their commitment to a peaceful society.


Although different religions have different doctrines, you will always find that all the main religions have something in common, the idea that you should do to other people what you would like them to do to you. That is the golden rule and a good philosophy for society. 



Extended Reading:

Tony Blair: Challenges and Opportunities in a Globalized World

Peking University, Faith, and Globalization

Tony Blair Joins Int'l Advisory Board of Beijing Forum

A Collection of PKU News Coverage of Beijing Forum 2010


Qian Xin and Li Xiaomeng contributed to report. 



Edited by: Jacques

Source: Agencies