top of page
Check back soon
Once posts are published, you’ll see them here.

July 8 John Templeton and the Templeton Prize

Today we travel to the Bahamas and remember the death of Sir John Mark Templeton at the age of 95. The year before he died, Templeton was named one of Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People under the category of "Power Givers". Templeton was given this honour for his "pursuit of spiritual understanding, often through scientific research" through his establishment of the John Templeton Foundation.


He made his fortune investing in the stock market. Borrowing $10,000 when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939 he invested $100 on each of the 104 stocks on the New York Stock Exchange, valued at under $1 a share. All but four made a profit and in 1940 he opened his own fund management company. One of the first to spot the value in global stock investment, Money magazine called him "arguably the greatest global stock picker of the century". Templeton attributed much of his success to his ability to maintain an elevated mood, avoid anxiety and stay disciplined. He became one of the most generous philanthropists in history, giving away over $1 billion to charitable causes. He is probably best known for his Templeton Prize, an annual award granted to a living person, who harnessed the power of the sciences to explore the deepest questions of the universe and humankind’s place and purpose within it. For the first years , the name of the prize was "Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion", originally awarded to people working in the field of religion (Mother Teresa was the first winner in 1972). When criticised for this he argued that business had similarities with religious aims, which he claimed "enriches the poor more than any other system humanity has had"

The scope of the prize was broadened to include people working at the intersection of science and religion and then it was called the "Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities". Sir Alister Hardy, a marine biologist, becomes the first scientist to win the Templeton Prize. This shift of focus let to criticism by atheist scientist Richard Dawkins, who criticised the prize as "blurring religion's well-demarcated border with science" and cycnically commented that it was being awarded "to scientists who are either religious themselves or say nice things about religion". However, his comments were widely discredited and the 2011 laureate, British cosmologist Martin Rees, is an atheist himself but has criticised militant atheists for being too hostile to religion. Responding to Dawkins he suggested that laureates research in fields such as psychology, evolutionary biology, and economy could hardly be classified as the "promotion of religion"

When setting up the prize, Templeton felt that "spirituality was ignored" in the Nobel Prizes. In acknowledgement of this his would adjust the monetary value of the prize so that it exceeded that of the Nobel Prizes; and recently it reached £1.1 million. He has left an endowment of $1.5 Billion to his foundation - insisting that science has no monopoly on truth and that religion and science can cooperate productively. Refusing to slip into the ultimately unproductive religion versus science stalemate, he showed the open mindedness and independence of thought that made him such a successful investor. His optimistic insight was that "Scientific revelations may be a gold-mine for revitalising religion in the 21st century," In his older years he became increasingly fascinated by the idea of using scientific methods to validate religion. "No human has grasped 1% of what can be known about spiritual realities. So we are encouraging people to start using the same methods of science that have been so productive in other areas." In 2004 he put another $550m into his foundation, allowing it to distribute $60m a year to fund interesting project such as a multimillion-dollar study of forgiveness, and a two-year study to demonstrate the effect of prayer on 600 patients about to undergo surgery.

A Yale graduate, and then a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford he was a Presbyterian who deeply valued open-mindedness and eschewed literal interpretations of Scripture. He became an elder of the Presbyterian Church and believed in a shared divinity between humanity and God. His growth funds' annual meetings in Toronto were magnets to investors, and like all his business meetings, they started with prayer. It was, he argued, not a plea for success but a way of calming the mind. "If you begin with prayer, you will think more clearly and make fewer mistakes. "In 2005, he also started a Kairos prize for spiritually uplifting screenplays


bottom of page