Famed primatologist Jane Goodall, who garnered world attention for her intimate study of chimpanzees over six decades, is the 2021 recipient of the $1.5 million Templeton Prize for her “unrelenting effort to connect humanity to a greater purpose.”
Templeton Foundation President Heather Templeton Dill said Ms. Goodall’s “discoveries have profoundly altered the world’s view of animal intelligence and enriched our understanding of humanity in a way that is both humbling and exalting. Ultimately, her work exemplifies the kind of humility, spiritual curiosity, and discovery that my grandfather, John Templeton, wrote and spoke about during his life.”
The annual science/religion prize, which has been awarded to some of the world’s most important spiritual leaders, scientists and philosophers, honors a more unconventional choice this year in the 87-year-old Ms. Goodall, whose “spiritual curiosity” is less formal than that of former recipients.
Born in 1934, she was raised as a Congregationalist Christian in Britain during a period that included the Great Depression and World War II.
At one time infatuated with a new minister at her local congregation — “there were never enough services for my liking,” she recalled in a 1999 memoir, “Reason For Hope: A Spiritual Journey” — Ms. Goodall later backed away from explicit Christian beliefs, saying in a 2010 Reader’s Digest article: “I don’t have any idea of who or what God is. But I do believe in some great spiritual power.”
Earlier that year, however, she answered an interviewer at Britain’s Guardian newspaper “I suppose so,” when asked if she was still a Christian, noting that she’d been raised as one.
“I have learned more about the two sides of human nature, and I am convinced that there are more good than bad people,” Ms. Goodall said in an acceptance statement for the award.
“I understand that the deep mysteries of life are forever beyond scientific knowledge and ‘now we see through a glass darkly; then face to face,’” she added, quoting 1 Corinthians 13:12.
Previous Templeton Prize winners had more direct ties to established religious faith, including St. Teresa of Kolkata (the prize’s first recipient in 1973), the Dalai Lama (2012), the late Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu (2013), the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (2016); the late Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson (1993) and the late evangelist Billy Graham (1982).
According to evolutionary biologist Craig Stanford, who co-directs the school’s Jane Goodall Research Center at the University of Southern California, Ms. Goodall’s spiritual worldview informs her ecological and conservation work.
“She has a kind of a karmic sense about the world in life,” Mr. Stanford said. “Her own brand of spirituality absolutely motivates her. I can’t tell you what exactly that consists of. But she is driven by a very deep feeling that everything on the planet is connected, and you must work hard to save the essential parts of the planet.”
According to the Templeton Foundation, Ms. Goodall’s interest in science and spirituality was highlighted in her early work among primates in East Africa: “She was the first to observe that chimpanzees engaged in activities, such as creating tools, which were previously believed to be exclusive to humans. She also proved that they have individual personalities, forethought, and complex societies, much like human beings. Through her observations, [Ms.] Goodall showed that under certain circumstances they wage war and also, like us, show compassion.”
Mr. Stanford said Ms. Goodall had concentrated solely on primate research until attending a conference in Chicago in 1986. Until that time, he said, “she had not thought globally on environmental issues. Beginning with that conference, she had an epiphany to have the drive and zeal to work on environmental issues.”
Now, Mr. Stanford said, Ms. Goodall “stays 100 percent of the time on these two issues in her life, and uses her prominence to do good things.”
The $1.5 million in prize money is provided by the fortune of the late Tennessee-born investment guru John Templeton, should enable her to do many good things. Recipients Colson and Graham each donated their seven-figure prize checks to their respective ministries.