Templeton Prize

  • Religion
  • 1972

“How little we know, how eager to learn.” That was the motto that guided John Templeton through much of his success as an investor, and that animated much of his philanthropy. Religion is one of the areas where Templeton believed man has the most to discover. Concerned that modern intellectual life often neglects metaphysical wisdom, and particularly the role of religion in undergirding human advancement, he created the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion in 1972, with a purse (currently around $1.6 million) engineered to be larger than the Nobel awards.

The Templeton Prize honors a living person who “has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.” It aims to identify “entrepreneurs of the spirit” who expand our vision of human purpose and ultimate reality. The prize celebrates no particular faith tradition or notion of God, but rather many diverse manifestations of the divine. Templeton stipulated that there would be at least one judge from each of the five major religions “so that no child of God would feel excluded.”

The first recipient was Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who six years later would win the Nobel Peace Prize. Other Templeton laureates have included religious leaders like Billy Graham, Baba Amte, Charles Colson, and the Dalai Lama, philosophers and theologians such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Michael Novak, and Charles Taylor, and scientists including Freeman Dyson, Stanley Jaki, and Martin Rees.