The John Templeton Foundation funds those who seek basic truths—what it calls “the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality.” Its work is ambitiously interdisciplinary, bringing together scientists, philosophers, theologians, and the public for discussions on matters of universal import. To the foundation, there is no intellectual rigor without open-mindedness, no clarity of definition without free dialogue, and no progress without humility—an attitude exemplified by its motto, “How little we know, how eager to learn.”
While the foundation supports projects in a variety of fields—genetics, the development of character, freedom and free enterprise, the nurturance of genius in young people—it pours much of its energy into questions relating to basic phenomena such as altruism, creativity, free will, and generosity. In 2009, last of these became the subject of a $5 million grant to Notre Dame’s Science of Generosity initiative.
The initiative’s ideas grew from the work of Prof. Christian Smith of the Department of Sociology, author of Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money. Smith’s book examines the complex reasons for the illiberal financial giving of American Christians. It also considers the potential for world-transforming change should this trend be reversed. From this work came a collaboration that exists to support, conduct, and share scientific research on the origins, manifestations, and consequences of generosity. It’s a type of project that John McGreevy, dean of the College of Arts and Letters, called “integral to Notre Dame’s academic mission”—one that investigates “broad moral questions and the common good” while bringing diverse scholars into conversation.
Another Templeton-funded ND initiative is “The Problem of Evil in Modern and Contemporary Thought,” which explores philosophic and theological answers to the question of belief in an omnipotent, omniscient, and all-powerful God in the face of moral and natural evils. A four-year project incorporating fellowships, research grants, conferences, seminars, and other opportunities for new alliances of thought, it is co-directed by Prof. Michael C. Rea, professor of philosophy and director of the Center for Philosophy of Religion, and Samuel Newlands, assistant professor of philosophy and associate director of the Center for Philosophy of Religion.
Sir John Templeton chartered his foundation with the goal of discovering “new spiritual information”—progress in our conception of religious truths and in our understanding of the deepest realities of human nature and the physical world. Notre Dame, grounded in the Catholic intellectual tradition, is uniquely suited to explore such challenging truths.