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What is the Templeton Prize?

Dr. John M. Templeton, Jr., Chairman & President of the John Templeton Foundation, presents Monsignor Tomáš Halík with the 2014 Templeton Prize in a ceremony on Wednesday, May 14, 2014 at St. Martin-in-the-Fields.
Dr. John M. Templeton, Jr., Chairman & President of the John Templeton Foundation, presents Monsignor Tomáš Halík with the 2014 Templeton Prize in a ceremony on Wednesday, May 14, 2014 at St. Martin-in-the-Fields.
Paul Hackett / Templeton Prize

In 1972, Sir John Marks Templeton, an American-born British financier, 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 Including Research in Love, Creativity, Purpose, Infinity, Intelligence, Thanksgiving and Prayer. It is called the Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries About Spiritual Realities for short.

According to the Templeton Foundation, the Templeton Prize “honors a living person who has made an exemplary contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.” There have been forty-four laureates.

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.[1] Other early Templeton Prize Laureates were the Reverend Billy Graham who received the Templeton Prize in 1982 and the novelist Aleksander Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008), who received the Templeton Prize in 1983.[2]

Winners have tended to be either religious leaders who favored some level of ecumenism or struggled against tyranny or scientists who have either been supportive of religion (a few of whom actually scientist-priests) or conducted research that the Templeton Foundation otherwise considered worthy. The latter category included the marine biologist Sir Alister Clavering Hardy (1896-1985), who won in 1985; the physicist, theologian, and Roman Catholic priest Stanley L. Jaki, (1924-2009) O.S.B., who won in 1987; the physicist Paul Davies, who won in 1995; the physicist and theologian Ian Graeme Barbour (1923-2013), who won in 1999; the physicist and mathematician Freeman J. Dyson, who won in 2000; the physicist, theologian, and Anglican priest Reverend Doctor John Charlton Polkinghorne, who won in 2002; the cosmologist George Francis Rayner Ellis, who won in 2004; the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Charles Hard Townes, who won in 2005; the cosmologist, theoretical physicist, and mathematician John David Barrow, who won in 2006; the physicist Charles Alfred Taylor (1922-2002), who won in 2007; and the cosmologist and Roman Catholic priest Michał Kazimierz Heller, who won in 2008.

In 1989, for the first time, the Templeton Prize was awarded jointly to two people. The winners were the physicist, philosopher, and aristocrat Carl Friedrich Freiherr von Weizsäcker (1912-2007) and to The Very Reverend The Lord MacLeod, George Fielden MacLeod, Baron MacLeod of Fuinary (1895-1991), founder of the Iona Community. In 1990, the Temnpleton Prize was awarded jointly again, this time to the East Indian philanthropist Baba Amte (1914-2008) and the Australian geneticist and theologian Louis Charles Birch (1918-2009).[3]

Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso (shortened as Tenzin Gyatso), born Lhamo Dhondup, the 14th Dalai Lama, won in 2012. He wrote, in part, “When I heard today your decision to give me this quite famous award, I really felt this is another sign of recognition about my little service to humanity, mainly, nonviolence and unity around different religious traditions.” Desmond Tutu, the former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, won in 2013.

Monsignor Tomáš Halík, a Czech philosopher and priest, won in 2014.[4] A full list of winners can be found online here and here.

Recipients have included Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and at least one atheist, as well as Christians. From the beginning, the nine member panel of judges have included representatives of five major religions.

Judges have included Presidents Gerald Ford (1913-2006) and George H.W. Bush; Baroness Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013), former Prime Minister of the U.K.; the Dalai Lama; U.S. Senators Orrin Hatch, a Mormon, and Mark Hatfield (1922-2011), an Evangelical Protestant; Her Majesty Fabiola, Queen of the Belgians; Sir Mohammed Khan of Pakistan, former President of the International Court of Justice at the Hague; Lord Yehundi Menuhin, violinist from England; the Reverend Dr. Norman Vincent Peale (1898-1993), minister of New York’s Marble Collegiate Church; the Reverend Dr. Arthur Peacocke, former Dean of Clare College, Cambridge, and subsequently Director of the Ian Ramsey Center, Oxford; and Princess Poon Pismai Diskul of Thailand, the former president of the World Federation of Buddhists. The 2002 judges were Francis Cardinal Arinze; Mehdi Golshani, Ph.D.; Sir Brian Heap, C.B.E.; Robert L. Herrmann, Ph.D.; Max Jammer, Ph.D.; Monshu Koshin Ohtani; The Viscountess Brentford, O.B.E.; and Metropolitan John Zizioulas.

Originally, Rev. Wilbert Forker administered the prize with the assistance of Sir John Marks Templeton’s personal executive secretary, Mena Griffiths. After Sir John Marks Templeton founded the John Templeton Foundation in 1987, 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. John M. 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 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.

[1] Blessed Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity, which had 4,500 sisters active in 143 countries by 2012. An ethnic Albanian, Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu was born in Skopje, now the capital city of Macedonia and in 1910 was in the Ottoman Turkish Empire. Her father, who died under mysterious circumstances in 1919, was the only Catholic member of the city council. At the age of eighteen, she joined the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Sisters of Loreto), who sent her to the order’s worldwide headquarters, Loreto Abbey in Rathfarnham, Ireland, to learn English, before sending her to India to teach. In 1929, she began her novitiate in Darjeeling, where she learnt to speak Bengali and taught at St. Teresa’s School. Two years later, she made her first profession of vows and adopted her religious name in honor of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897), but with the Spanish spelling Mary Teresa to avoid being confused with a Sister Thérèse who was already at the convent. Sister Teresa took solemn vows in 1937, while she taught at St. Mary’s School, the convent school for girls at the Loreto Entally community in eastern Calcutta, where she became headmistress in 1944. She was distressed by the famine in Bengal that year and by the Muslim-Hindu violence in August of 1946 that helped lead to the Partition of British India. In 1946, she received her calling while on a religious retreat at the Loreto convent in Darjeeling. Two years later, after receiving permission, she replaced her Loreto habit with a white sari with a blue border, left the Loreto convent, received medical training at Holy Family Hospital in Patna, and began to work with poor people in the streets of Calcutta. Her first followers joined her in 1949 and she received permission from the Holy See to establish the Missionaries of Charity in the Archdiocese of Calcutta in 1950. Two years later, on her forty-second birthday, she opened her first free hospice in an abandoned Hindu temple dedicated to Kali, with help from city government officials who donated the space as the Kalighat Home for the Dying. [The idea was to provide utterly destitute dying people medical attention and a dignified place to die. Catholics receive the Last Rites while members of other faiths hear their sacred texts read aloud. It is now called Kalighat, the Home of the Pure Heart.] She soon thereafter opened Shanti Nagar (City of Peace) for people suffering from Hansen’s disease (leprosy). In 1955, she opened her first orphanage, Nirmala Shishu Bhavan, the Children's Home of the Immaculate Heart. In 1963, she founded the Missionaries of Charity Brothers. They are also known as the Active Brothers. She found a leader for the brothers in an Australian Jesuit priest, Fr. Ian Travers-Ball, who took the name Brother Andrew and served as General Servant (Superior General) until 1986. There are 370 Active Brothers working in India and twenty other countries. She founded the Co-Workers of Mother Teresa in 1969 and the Sick and Suffering Co-Workers in 1953 for Catholic laymen and non-Catholics who wanted to help the Missionaries of Charity. In 1979, she co-founded the Contemplative Brothers with Fr. Vazhakala. In 1984, she founded the Lay Missionaries of Charity for the benefit of Catholic laymen who wanted to help her and the sisters. In 1976, she founded the Contemplative Sisters or Contemplative Branch of the Missionaries of Charity in New York on the Feast of the Sacred Heart (June 25, 1976). At that point, within the order, the much larger number of sisters who worked out in the field, as it were, became known as the Active Sisters. In 1981, she founded the Corpus Christi Movement for Priests and three years later she and Fr. Joseph Langford (1951-2010) co-founded the Missionaries of Charity Fathers. In 1979, she won the Nobel Peace Prize. At the age of eighty, she attempted to resign as superior general of the order, but in a secret ballot, the sisters re-elected her. When she died, she received a state funeral. A.B.C. exhibited hostility to her by hiring her enemy Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) to comment on her funeral. He had written a hostile biography with the fatuously juvenile title The Missionary Position. On October 19, 2003, Pope John Paul II beatified her, the first step toward canonization (recognition as a saint).

[2] Ordained a Southern Baptist minister, Billy Graham is a Protestant Evangelical preacher who has advised several American presidents, including Eisenhower, Nixon, and Johnson. Obama visited Graham at Graham’s home. Graham earned a degree in anthropology from Wheaton College in west suburban Wheaton, Illinois. Instead of preaching in churches, Graham traveled the world, renting large venues and preaching for a day or two in enormous revival meetings, events he called “crusades,” consciously evoking Christian defensive and counteroffensive wars against Muslims and pagans in Europe, Asia, and North Africa from an earlier age. In 1957, he invited Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak with him at one such event in New York City. In 1974, Graham convened the First International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland, which attracted 2,700 participants from 150 countries. In 1950, he founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. It would be fair to say he is the face of Evangelical Protestantism. Aleksander Solzhenitsyn was a decorated soldier of the Red Army during World War II. A religious Orthodox Christian and Russian nationalist, he criticized the Soviet penal system of which he was victim. He had won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970. The U.S.S.R. expelled him and stripped him of citizenship in 1974. Solzhenitsyn returned to the Russian Federation after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1994. He is buried at Donskoy Monastery in Moscow. His books include One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and The Gulag Archipelago.

[3] Mr. Amte was an affluent Hindu lawyer who founded centers for people who suffered from Hanson’s disease (leprosy) and Dalits (the Untouchables). He funded hospitals, schools, rehabilitation centers, and a community with a bank, a library, a post office, and cooperative shops. Professor Birch was an expert on population ecology. He found that weather and other external factors had a much larger impact on animal populations than previously realized. Eventually, he developed what he called “an ecological model of God.”

[4] Monsignor Tomáš Halík is Rector of the University Church of the Holy Savior and Professor of the Sociology of Religion in the Faculty of Art and Head of the Department of Religious Studies at Charles University in Prague. Under the old Communist regime, the Czechoslovakian secret police labeled him an enemy of the state. He was an advisor to Václav Havel (2011), the essayist and philosopher who served as the last President of Czechoslovakia (1989-1993) and the first President of the Czech Republic (1993-2003). In 1998, Havel indicated to the press that Fr. Hailk would make a worthy successor in the office of the president, but the priest wisely refused to get directly involved in politics. Pope Benedict XVI gave him the title monsignor in 2009.

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