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What is the Templeton Foundation? Part I

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In 1987, Sir John Marks Templeton (1912-2008), an American-born British financier, founded the John Templeton Foundation in Sewanee, Tennessee. It is now based in West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, which is an exurb of Philadelphia.

He expected it “to stand apart from any consideration of dogma or personal religious belief and to seek out grantees who are ‘innovative, creative, enthusiastic, and open to competition and new ideas’ in their approach to the Big Questions,” according to the Templeton Foundation.

Sir John Marks Templeton served as Chairman; his son, Dr. John (“Jack”) Templeton, Jr. served as President; his niece Ann Templeton Cameron as Treasurer, and his nephew Harvey M. Templeton, served as Secretary. Dr. John M. (“Jack”) Templeton, Jr. retained the presidency of the foundation when he succeeded his father as chairman. The founding five trustees were Sir John Marks Templeton; his wife, Lady Irene Butler Templeton; Dr. Templeton; Rev. Professor Thomas Torrance (who had won the Templeton Prize in 1978); and Professor Robert L. Herrmann.

Frances Schapperle became the first executive assistant. Indeed, she was the first employee of any kind. Ms. Schapperle divided her time between Sir John Marks Templeton’s home on Lyford Cay in the Bahamas and her office in a garden house at Jack Templeton’s home in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.

One of the early projects she documented was the Templeton United Kingdom Projects Trust. According to Herrmann, writing at the turn of the century, “The… Templeton United Kingdom Projects Trust… has been administered by clergy at Windsor Castle since 1984. It has provided four awards yearly totaling £12,000 to honor British individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to progress in religion in the United Kingdom.”

The Templeton Foundation is probably best known for awarding the Templeton Prize, but the Templeton Prize predates the Templeton Foundation. In 1972, Sir John Marks Templeton created the Templeton Prize. Originally, it was called the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.

In 2002, the name changed to The Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries About Spiritual Realities. According to the Templeton Foundation, the Templeton Prize “honors a living person who has made an exemplary contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.”

The monetary portion of the Templeton Prize always exceeds the Nobel Prize and is currently £1,000,000 sterling ($1,800,000). His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh agreed to annually present the Templeton Prize, and did so through 2011. The first recipient of the Templeton Prize was Mother Theresa of Calcutta (1910-1997) in 1973. There have been forty-four laureates.

Originally, Rev. Wilbert Forker administered the Templeton Prize with the assistance of Sir John Marks Templeton’s personal executive secretary, Mena Griffiths. After Templeton founded the John Templeton Foundation, it assumed the duty of organizing the nomination process and giving out the Templeton Awards.

The last time Prince Philip presented the Templeton Prize was a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace in 2011 when he gave it to Martin Rees, Baron Rees of Ludlow, Astronomer Royal, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge (2004-2012) and President of the Royal Society (2005-2010). The prizes continue to be awarded in ceremonies held in London, but it was Dr. Jack Templeton, Junior, the Chairman and President of the Templeton Foundation, who presented the Dalai Lama with the Templeton Prize at St. Paul’s Cathedral in 2012.

His daughter Heather Templeton Dill presented Archbishop Desmond Tutu with the Templeton Prize in a ceremony at London Guildhall in 2013. Dr. Templeton presented Monsignor Tomáš Halík with the Templeton Prize in 2014 at a ceremony at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, an Anglican parish church on Trafalgar Square in the City of Westminster, Greater London.

A group of advisors for the Templeton Foundation originally called the Center for Humility Theology evolved into the Humility Theology Information Center in 1993, and finally the John Templeton Foundation Advisory Board. To Sir John Marks Templeton, humility was central to theology. The Templeton Foundation's motto is "How little we know, how eager to learn."

Sir John Marks Templeton once told an interviewer, “I grew up as a Presbyterian. Presbyterians thought the Methodists were wrong. Catholics thought all Protestants were wrong. The Jews thought the Christians were wrong. So, what I'm financing is humility. I want people to realize that you shouldn't think you know it all.”

The Templeton Foundation established the Templeton Press in 1997. Three years later, the Templeton Foundation Press published Sir John Marks Templeton’s book Possibilities for Over One Hundredfold More Spiritual Information: The Humble Approach in Theology and Science.

In 1998, the Templeton Foundation Press published Sir John Templeton: Supporting Scientific Research for Spiritual Discoveries by Robert L. Herrmann, with a revised edition in 2004. By 2013, the Templeton Press had published 210 books.

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