Charles Taylor, a Canadian philosopher whose work has touched on questions of spirituality, violence and culture, was awarded the 2007 Templeton Prize on Wednesday, March 14.
Taylor, 75, teaches law and philosophy at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and is a professor emeritus at McGill University in Montreal. He is the first Canadian to be awarded what is often called the most prestigious prize in the world of religion.
The award valued at 800,000 pounds sterling, or about $1.5 million has been given out annually since 1973 by the John Templeton Foundation. The Nobel Prize, by comparison, is valued at 10,000,000 Swedish kronor, or about $1.4 million.
The foundation said Taylor has long been engaged in cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary questions about the role of spirituality.
"Throughout his career, Charles Taylor has staked an often lonely position that insists on the inclusion of spiritual dimensions in discussions of public policy, history, linguistics, literature, and every other facet of humanities and the social sciences," John M. Templeton Jr., president of the Templeton Foundation, said in announcing the award.
Taylor's winning the annual honor officially known as the "Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries About Spiritual Realities" appears to mark a new path for the prize. In its early years, the prize went to prominent religious figures such as Billy Graham and Mother Teresa. More recently, the prize has been given to scientists, theologians and ethicists whose work has been focused on the burgeoning field of science and religion.
In remarks prepared for delivery at the announcement of the award at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York, Taylor said both the spiritual and the secular are imperiled without the other.
"The divorce of natural science and religion has been damaging to both," he said, "but it is equally true that the culture of the humanities and social sciences has often been surprisingly blind and deaf to the spiritual."
He spoke of the need to gain new insight into what he called "the human propensity for violence." That would include, he said, "a full account of the human striving for meaning and spiritual direction, of which the appeals to violence are a perversion."
In an interview before the official announcement, Taylor said he has only recently begun writing on the subject of violence particularly organized and political violence that has religious overtones but his interest in the subject stems from the wave of political violence in Europe and the Middle East that began in the early 1970s.
Such violence has been explained in terms of political tactics, but Taylor said such explanations left him wanting. "I always felt something else was there," he said, suggesting that there was a "metaphysical feature" stemming from a larger "human search for meaning."
Even so, he said he rejects easy notions of a clash between "the West" and "the Islamic world," saying there are multiple interpretations and schools of Christianity and Islam.
Given the prize's recent emphasis on science and religion, Taylor said his win had "knocked me over." The Templeton Prize is the largest annual monetary award given to an individual even exceeding the Nobel Peace Prize.
Taylor, the author of more than a dozen books, will formally receive the honor at a May 2 ceremony at Buckingham Palace in London.
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Taylor's site at Northwestern has some professional and biographical information as well.
Christianity Today's earlier coverage of the Templeton Foundation and Templeton Award includes:
The $1 Billion Handoff | Sir John Templeton's born-again son takes control of the famous foundationbut there are strings attached (Aug. 19, 2005)
The Dick Staub Interview: John Polkinghorne | The 2002 Templeton Prize winner sees the Bible as "the laboratory notebook" of the Holy Spirit. (Nov. 4, 2002)
Bottom-Up Apologist | "John Polkinghorneparticle physicist, Gifford lecturer, Templeton Prizewinner, and parish priest" (May 24, 2002)
Examining Peacocke's Plumage | The winner of the 2001 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion rejects everything resembling Christian orthodoxy, but that doesn't stop him from co-opting the language. (March 12, 2001)
Physicist Wins Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion | Freeman Dyson, "midwife of Quantum Electrodynamics," futurist, and popularizer of science, honored for work on responsible science. (March 20, 2000)
Physicist Wins Religion Award | A physicist-theologian who has studied the religious implications of the Big Bang theory has been awarded the 1999 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, the world's richest annual prize. (April 26, 1999)
Bright Wins Religion Award | Campus Crusade for Christ International founder and president Bill Bright is the 1996 winner of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, the world's largest annual award, valued at $1,070,000. Investor John Templeton, 83, awards the prize "to a living person who has shown extraordinary originality in advancing humankind's understanding of God and/or spirituality." (Apr. 8, 1996)